A fantastic way for beginners to enter the world of gardening is to start a container garden. Container gardening is perfect for apartments, balconies, patios, decks, and along fence lines. Containers can be big or small, colorful or plain, round, square or rectangular … you get the idea and let you put your personal touch and design to your garden. Use one container or many to convert any available space into a beautiful and functional garden.
An added benefit of container gardening is that they are portable and can be moved anywhere, as long as the conditions are right. Anyone can start a container garden with a bit of creativity, some planting skills, and just a few simple tips to help them get started.
Start a Container Garden- Select the Container
Pots are the foundation for your container garden, and choosing the right ones is crucial when you start a container garden. Here are several of details to consider when picking your container for your garden.
Size: Here size is important when talking about selecting the container size for your plants. The container must accommodate the root system of the plant you want to grow. Too small a container can lead to a host of problems including waterlogging, root damage, and stunted growth. Too big and you’re just wasting some of your precious space. Most vegetables would grow well in a container size of 3 to 5 gallons, though for those looking for more specific recommendations for the container size for each vegetable, click here for a list of popular vegetables to help select the correct container size.
Consider the material of the container both for functionality, durability, and your personal style. The main types of containers are plastic, terracotta, and fabric. Metal containers are available but are not breathable and even drainage can be a problem. They tend to attract heat which stunts growth and can lead to disease problems.
Plastic containers tend to be lightweight, affordable, and come in various shapes and colors. They are also less likely to crack or break than terracotta. For growing vegetables look for containers labeled food-grade plastic so you are not exposed to any chemicals that may leach out of the plastics.
Terracotta (ceramic) pots come in sealed and unsealed. Traditional terracotta pots are easily identifiable by their brownish-red color, are readily available at many stores, and are less expensive than sealed clay pots. Terracotta is quite porous and because of this, moisture is difficult to regulate. You can add your one plastic liner or seal the terracotta pot yourself to help with water retention. Additionally, all clay pots are prone to cracking due to repeated freezing and thawing. Plastic or resin pots are lighter in weight and easy to handle, and they also retain moisture better than clay pots.
Fabric pots have seen an increase in popularity recently and make great additions to container gardening due to their lightweight nature and breathability. They can be moved from area to area with ease and can be washed out and stored or repurposed quickly. Their breathability promotes root production, which improves the uptake of water and nutrients. This breathability does have a downside which is these containers can dry out quickly and therefore requires frequent watering.
Start a Container Garden – Preparing The Container
When you start a container garden it isn’t as easy as throwing dirt in a container. There are several steps to prepare your container to give your plants the best possible start and to maximize your plant’s growth and production.
Ensuring proper drainage: Most containers that are sold for growing plants will have pre-drilled holes, but if you are repurposing a container, be sure to drill or punch holes into the base of your container to ensure adequate drainage. Then before adding soil add a layer of gravel or small stones which will serve as a filtration system and help drainage holes not to be plugged with compact soil. Without proper drainage, water can accumulate and become stagnant in the pot, leading to root rot and other issues.
Choosing the right soil: Soil provides life to your plants as they grow. It needs to contain the proper nutrients and moisture for the plants that you want to grow. To be honest, most commercial potting soils are good for most plants and vegetables. Potting soil is recommended for container gardening because its makeup is peat moss that is enriched with perlite or vermiculite which improves soil drainage, aeration, and water retention. This helps keep moisture levels more consistent which reduces changes of root rot and plant death.
I would recommend against using topsoil or dirt dug up from outside as typically aren’t as nutrient dense and do not drain well in containers.
Some specific plants such as azaleas and blueberries grow better in acidic soil. There are supplements available and pH monitoring kits that are helpful when preparing and maintaining the soil for these types of plants.
Watering Your Container Garden
In container gardening, like all gardening, watering plays a significant role in ensuring successful output. With limited soil volume, containers dry up faster, making it necessary to regularly check on the soil moisture levels. Sun and windy environments will increase the need for frequent watering. Most plants prefer moist soil but too much water can cause roots to rot or suffocate them due to lack of oxygen. Make sure to pick containers with sufficient drainage holes in the bottom. Too much water and poor drainage can cause root rot and plant diseases.
When watering, water deeply, meaning water until it begins to drip through holes at the bottom. This will ensure moisture is reaching the deepest roots. Avoid watering until there is standing water in the pot as this will increase the risk of rot and fungal growth.
Also, avoid frequent light watering as this will encourage shallow root development that is more susceptible to drying out quickly.
Water in the morning, as early as possible. This will allow roots to absorb more water before the hot sun comes out and starts to evaporate the water. This also will allow the water on the leaves to dry off during the day, as wet leaves encourage the spread of disease.
Start a Container Garden In The Right Location
Sunlight: Most veggies need full sun, which means 6-8 hours at least. Containers need to be well positioned so they are exposed to the correct time frame of sunlight. Typically, south and west exposure will give the most sun and warmth, with northern and eastern exposure being cooler with more shade. This is quite dependent on your surrounding trees/shrubs or buildings, so make sure to factor that into where you position your containers.
Water source: This consideration is really for convenience alone. When organizing your container garden, having an accessible, nearby water source can make your garden and life easier.
Wind: Wind is one of the enemies of moisture. Shielding your garden from windy conditions will help keep the soil moist. In addition, as plants grow pots can become a bit top-heavy with all your plentiful veggies and strong winds may cause damage to limbs or even tipping containers over.
Fertilizer For Your Container Garden
When you start a container garden, don’t forget the fertilizer. Potting soil is preferred in containers due to its moisture retention, water drain ability, and nutrient-rich. Unfortunately, as excess water drains from the soil, it also takes nutrients, meaning as the growing season progresses, it is necessary to replace those nutrients. To accomplish this consider adding a slow-release fertilizer according to the directions on the packaging to the potting soil before planting.
As the plants grow and through the producing phase, I would recommend intermittently adding liquid fertilizer about twice a month, again per the directions on the packaging. If you can test your soil for fertilizing or need for specific nutrients that can be done once every 1-2 months or as needed.
Balanced fertilizers are a safe bet, and have equal amounts of each macronutrient typically nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (e.g. 10-10-10). Note that higher nitrogen content will stimulate more leaf development at the expense of fruit/vegetable production, while fertilizers with higher phosphorus will stimulate the high production of roots, flowers, and produce.
Choosing Plants and Container Size:
Here are some popular vegetables and the recommended container sizes for successful growth and production to start a container garden:
Green bean: 2 plants in a 10-gallon container
Broccoli: 1 plant in a 5-10 gallon container
Brussel sprouts: 1 plant in a 3-gallon container, 2 plants in a 5-10 gallon container
Cabbage: 1 plant in a 3-gallon container, 2 plants in a 5-10 gallon container
Carrot: 5 Gallon window box or container, minimal 12 inches deep
Cauliflower: 1 plant in a 3 -5 gallon container
Cucumber: 1 plant in a 5-gallon container
Eggplant: 1 plant in a 5-gallon container
Kale: 1 plant in a 1-2 gallon container. 2 plants in a 5-gallon container
Lettuce: 5-gallon window box/container
Melons (watermelon, cantaloupe): 1 plant in a 5-gallon container or 2 plants in a 10-15 gallon container
Onions: Window box, 24inch long, 8-10 inches deep
Peas – Bush: Plant 2in apart, in a 10-gallon container
Peas – Pole: Plant 2in apart, in a 10-gallon container – need support or trellis
Peppers: 1 Plant in a 3-gallon container, up to 5 in a 15-gallon container
Spinach: 3 plants in a 5-gallon container, 10 plants in a 10-gallon container
Squash: 1 plant in a 5-gallon container
Tomatoes – Large variety: 1 plant in 10-15 gallon minimum
Tomatoes – Miniature: 1 plant in a 5-gallon container
Zucchini: 1 plant in a 5-gallon container
Start a container garden today! It is an excellent way to add some greenery to small spaces. Containers allow for flexibility of location and can be rearranged with ease. When you start a container garden, making the right decisions early on, such as the first container, soil, plant, and location, container gardens can be low maintenance and extremely rewarding. Overall, Container gardening is perfect for those who want to have a garden in a small space or want more control over their plants. Embrace every season and get started with container gardening today.