Tips for Container Gardening

tips for container gardening

If you are short on space, don’t let it stop you from gardening!  Quite a few edibles can thrive in containers–producing FREE fresh produce for you and your family. One of my goals this year is to show you that anyone can garden, no matter how much space they have.

simple garden container garden kits

Over the next few weeks I’ll be planting several different crops in containers to show you just how easy container gardening can be.

I recently planted 2 small container gardens using Simple Garden Starter Kits.  These kits are cool because they include a 12-Inch by 12-inch planter, peat moss based soil, tomato and basil seeds, and a planting grid for seed spacing, a planting stick for seed depth.

simple garden starter kit

If you have never tried container gardening, here are a few tips to get you started:

  1. Drainage, drainage, drainage.  This is the single most important consideration in container gardening {imagine trench foot in your plants’ roots–they don’t like prolonged sitting in water any more than we do}.  When choosing a container make sure you have plenty of drain holes in the bottom.  A single hole will not cut it {often times, if your pot material allows, you can drill more holes}.  I like to collect all of the river rocks I find in the soil as I’m digging {or scavenge them from construction sites} and put them in the bottom of the containers before I add dirt.  It adds additional drainage and saves a little money on potting soil.  The rocks alone would not be enough, though, so again, make sure your container has plenty of holes.  Also, do not use gravel for drainage–it is counterproductive, causing the water to back up in the soil.  {Feel free to insert something wise about physics here to explain this phenomenon.}   
  2. Fertilize your pots regularly.
  3. Get a set of wheels.  Putting your pots on wheels isn’t essential, but it does allow you to easily move your plants–which depending on your location, may allow you to make the most of the lighting.
  4. Change out the soil yearly.  This doesn’t mean a complete overhaul, but before planting new plants for the year, remove the first several inches and add in new potting soil.  If possible, thoroughly mix it in with the old.  It will add extra nutrients that were lost in the previous growing season, and if done yearly, it will save you money in not having to add new soil to the entire pot.
  5. When using smaller space containers, make sure to check to see which plants play nicely together.  Certain plants do not do well in the same pot, while on the flipside, some plants will increase yields when planted together.  Know your chosen varieties’ enemies!
  6. As with tip #5, make sure to plan to put plants with similar watering needs in the same containers.
  7. Accept death.  This isn’t a nugget of zen wisdom I am trying to sneak pass you here, I promise.  Plants die, no matter what you are growing them in {containers, garden beds, etc.}  It happens to me all of the time.  Sometimes, you follow all of the rules to the letter and they up and die anyway.   Don’t let it discourage you from pressing on.  Live to grow another day.
  8. Use potting soil.  Regular dirt you dig up from the backyard will typically not have enough drainage to support container gardening.  Choose a mix with perlite, etc.  Or plan to amend your dirt. I am a big fan of  Miracle Grow potting soil or you can also make your own potting soil as well.
  9. Consider your water source.  When placing your containers, consider the water source you will be using.  Do you have a hose nearby?  Are you going to carry a watering can out to your plants–and if so, are your containers so far out of your way that your motivation may decrease as the summer goes on?  Be realistic about how much work you want to do and plant accordingly.

How about YOU?

Do you have any container gardening tips to add?


If you would like to learn more about growing vegetable container gardens, check out The Vegetable Gardener’s Container Bible By Edward C. Smith.  Amazon currently has it on sale for $13.29.

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  1. Miriam says

    Also make sure that you water enough. Containers dry out much faster than conventional gardens. You can use self watering systems or add additives to the soil to help it hold the water better. Also, mulch, mulch, mulch. Helps prevent them from drying out.

    In containers, I have personally had horrid luck with tomatoes (but the ones in the ground did great), but good luck with squashes (vining and bushing), cucumbers, melons, raspberries and , and amazing luck with peppers (sooooo many fruits) and herbs.

  2. Lindsey says

    Make sure all the plants in the container have the same sun needs. If you plant sun and shade lovers together, one or the other won’t make it (depending on if you put the container in sun or shade).

    Grouping containers together will reduce evaporation and reduce watering needs.

    If you use a metal container, be sure to use it for heat lovers because the soil can get pretty warm—great for tomatoes, bad for cabbage family members.

  3. says

    I do most of my gardening in containers and last year I invested in a drip irrigation system designed for container gardening. I put it on a timer — no more forgetting to water plants. During the summer it automatically comes on every morning and my plants thrived.

  4. sharon says

    All my container plants have not done great. I looked into container bags, has anyone tried them? Also ideas for organic fertilizers?

    • Brandy says

      My DB got me a couple of growing bags from CB2 last year, I use them for lettuce and made sure to add a good layer pea gravel to the bottom for drainage and they work great.

  5. Diane says

    Just to clarify the watering needs – you will have to water more, but also more OFTEN, as the containers do dry out much more quickly than in-ground beds. If you have a drip system on a timer, keep that in mind when you set up your timer. I’ve had good luck with cherry tomatoes and herbs in containers, and my Meyer lemon is happy in its (very large) pot. I haven’t tried anything else in containers yet, but I may see if I can coax a cucumber to grow in a container this season.

    Physics or no, Mavis, I’ve used pea gravel in the bottom of my containers to assist drainage, and it’s worked fine. Maybe it’s the size of the gravel or the rounded edges that make it drain well – or maybe the laws of physics are slightly different down here in Portland!

  6. Susie says

    Anyone have any advice on how large a pot I would need for a cherry tomato plant? (Super Sweet 100 or Tasty Treat) I bought several of the huge pots they have a Costco right now for $17.99 each (dark brown, round), drilled drainage holes, and I think they’ll be fine for these tomatoes with a stake or trellis. But wanted to throw it out to those with more container-growing experience!

    • Diane says

      I think you’d be fine with a 10- or 12-inch pot, Susie, as long as you prep it properly, and water and fertilize regularly after planting. You can also trim the tomato vine back a bit to keep it from getting outsized. BTW, when you transplant, make sure to plant your tomato deeply enough to cover the first set of leaves. The plant will develop rootlets all along the part of the stem that’s under the soil, and you’ll end up with a stronger, hardier plant that way.

      Good luck!

      • Susie says

        Thanks, Mavis! Yep, you have 2 of them sitting out in your herb garden, one has rosemary in it. Great price on such humongous pots!

  7. Janele says

    Thank you for the reminders for a container garden. We are due to have a baby in May of this year (beginning of growing season for use ) and I hate to NOT have any time of garden. LIke last year we went crazy planting loads of edible foods and enjoy it very much. This year, I have other priorities, but I still LOVE home grown food. So thank you for he reminder on how to grow in containers, because this is exactly what I will be doing.
    Question about Fertilize your pots regularly. What do you use to fertilize your pots with?

    • Diane says

      If you’re buying ready-made fertilizer, either liquid or granular fertiizer is fine. As far as what it contains, I’d just go with the general rules for whatever you’re growing in the container – that is, if you’re growing leaf crops (like lettuce), you’d want something higher in nitrogen to produce more foliage; with a root crop you don’t want a lot of nitrogen because you want the energy to go to the root, not to the tops. But any good, balanced, preferably organic fertilizer will do. Liquid seaweed is good. Homemade compost tea is great. I don’t think you have too much to worry about as long as you fertilize regularly during the growing season. Have fun, and congrats on your new little gardener-to-be!

      • Lindsey says

        Some granular fertilizers will not commence working until the soil hits a certain temp. In places like interior Alaska, that may mean they don’t kick in until early July. For cold climates, a liquid fertilizer works best.

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