Lack outdoor space to plant? Try using pots

This week, vegetables and fruit trees dominated the questions. Here are my responses:

Q: I live in an upstairs apartment and want to grow vegetables but I don’t have any space. What can I do?

A: It’s surprising the amount of food you’ll get from a few pots and it’s very practical. Note these advantages:

■ Pots are portable so you can protect them from the sun and wind.

■ Potting soil gives you complete control so plants get exactly what they need.

■ Don’t forget to use hanging baskets on your balcony.

■ Plant your vegetables closer together to accelerate growth. Once the roots get to competing, you’ll get earlier yields.

Q: We have a small space for gardening and wonder if interplanting some vegetables will work?

A: Yes, you can intermingle them. Some of the best tomatoes, beans, squash, melons and pumpkins I saw last year were mixed in with sweet corn. I am sure there are other mixes. Most vegetables need some form of shade, especially afternoon shade.

Q: My Swiss chard is still producing tender leaves. Do I have to remove it?

A: Stay with it until it goes into seed production. I’ve seen chard produce well into the summer. That’s why it is a better choice than spinach when going into the heat.

Q: If we have a late frost, what can I do to protect my fruit trees?

A: Cover them with tarps that reach the ground. They trap the warmth coming from the ground. If it gets real cold, hang Christmas tree lights on your trees under the tarp.

Q: When will our 2-year-old apple tree start producing fruit?

A: It takes apples three to four years to begin production, but you’ll get a few this summer. I might add figs; grapes, nectarines, peaches and plums take three years to start. Apricots, citrus, pears, pecans and persimmons take a year or two longer to yield fruit.

Q: What should we be doing with our houseplants now?

A: The return of longer daylight means you’ll be getting new growth. Remove any dead or spindly foliage and repot overgrown plants to larger containers. Fertilize them monthly using a water-soluble fertilizer.

Q: When do I cut the leaves off my amaryllises?

A: As long as leaves are green, they are replenishing your bulbs. Later this spring, plant them outside. In about two months, flowering stalks will reappear. But this time each stalk will be topped by a cluster of four to 12 fragrant trumpet-shaped flowers. Amaryllis grows in a well-drained soil, and since they are from South Africa, they love our dry summers.

Q: Is there anything we can do to prevent dog burn spots on our lawn?

A: I understand that if you dilute the urine with water within eight hours the urine turns to fertilizer rather than killing the lawn, so irrigate sooner after they’ve had the run of the yard.

Q: What zone am I in? “Sunset Western Garden” book says we are in Zone 11 and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has us in Zone 8 and 9.

A: There isn’t one “right” zone. Sunset’s zones are in much smaller divisions than USDA zones. Sunset considers more factors such as summer high and low temperatures, elevation, rainfall, humidity, proximity to mountains and coasts and length of the season. This is why we refer to the Sunset zones more. The USDA divides the country into climate zones based on minimum average winter temperatures.

Q: What can we do to clean up the weeds caused by rain?

A: A neat tool called a hoe works well when plenty of moisture is in the ground. You can spray weeds with an herbicide, but weeds are much easier to pull while they are living, so break out the hoe.

Mustard, the yellow-flowered weed that is really coming on right now, has little bugs called false chinch bugs feeding on the plant right now. When the muster dies, these bugs head for greener pastures. They move in herds by the millions. They live only until they run out of moisture; that stops their migration. You can avoid the problem by hoeing and pulling those weeds now.

Q: What are some shrubs I can plant on the north side of a house that gets very little sun?

A: Here is a starter list: gold dust plant, Japanese aralia, mock orange, fern pine and yew pine.

Linn Mills’ garden column appears on Sundays. You can reached him at or call him at 702-526-1495.