If you live in an apartment or have a small yard, growing in containers may be the only way you can have fresh herbs and vegetables. These container gardening tips will help your plants be happy and producing all season long.
Container gardening is one of my favorite ways to grow most herbs and even some vegetables. I like to keep them in little groups on the deck and outside every door. While I have space for a big garden, the convenience of containers keeps me coming back to this method. I started with just a few pots, but now container gardening is part of my regular garden routine.
Right Soil Mix
There are many ways to be creative with container gardening, and there is only one steadfast rule: you need to use the best soil you can afford. The soil should be able to hold water and also drain well. Regular garden soil will get hard as nails once it dries out, and will not drain properly once it is exposed to a hard rain, and is therefore not suitable for container gardening.
You can learn to make potting soil yourself or purchase it in bags at the local nursery. Every garden center will sell bags of soil suitable for use in containers, and they are clearly marked for that purpose. Purchasing or making soil is often the most expensive part of container gardening, but worth the effort.
Don’t let all the hard work of planting be lost once by using the wrong soil in your container garden.
Sunlight exposure for plants
Plants make a flower to produce the part you eat (think tomato, squash, pepper, and all fruit). To grow and bloom well, it needs six to eight hours of sunlight per day. If the part you eat is leafy (lettuce, spinach), or grows underground (onion, radish, carrot) it can get by with three to four hours of sunlight.
Assess the sunlight availability of your yard by paying attention to the sun patterns. As a general rule:
- A southern exposure receives the most extended and intense sunlight.
- Western exposure is next; it gets what we call “afternoon sun,” which can be intense.
- Eastern exposure gets morning sun and shade in the afternoon.
- Northern exposure gets the least amount of sun and in the winter will receive no direct sunlight at all.
Dark colored containers retain heat; light-colored containers may be a better option for those in hot climates if you cannot provide afternoon shade.
Use the Right Pot Depth
There are few drawbacks to growing your vegetables and herbs in containers. One of them is root size. Many plants need an extensive root system to set fruit, and a small pot will restrict the size of the plant’s roots, which will limit how large the plant will grow. Follow these guidelines from PreparednessMama to know which plants will thrive in 4-inch pots, 6-inch pots, 8-inch pots, and 12-inch pots.
Modern day commercial growers produce varieties suitable for container gardenings, and you can find many of them at your local nursery. Look for plants with names that include globe or mini. Many cherry tomato varieties do well in containers.
If you cannot find what you are looking for from plant starts at the nursery, consider growing your own from seed. A good seed catalog will give you the options you seek and growing your own plants from seed can save a lot of money.
You will need to add organic fertilizer on a regular basis. Once at planting and then again every month until harvest. The plants will use all available nutrients from the soil in your container garden you will need to replenish it. It’s up to you to give them what they need to produce healthy roots, leaves, and flowers, set up a schedule so you are sure to do it regularly.
Some people like to use organic fertilizer spikes (I think they take the guesswork out of it), granular slow-release fertilizer, or a liquid mix. Fish emulsion is also popular. The primary nutrients are Nitrogen (used for growing healthy leaves), Phosphorus (good for roots), and Potassium (for fruit setting).
Use whatever is easiest for you to apply and what your budget will allow. Fortunately, a little goes a long way so you should only have to purchase once a year.
Tall plants can be grown successfully in containers but trellising to keep the plants vertical will be essential. Even mid-size plants like basil benefit from light support.
Support can be accomplished by merely tying three bamboo poles together at the top to make a teepee, adding a lightweight trellis for assistance, or creating a taller structure with trellis netting and 3-foot T-Bars.
If you are growing cucumber, tomato, melon, or beans in pots adding a trellis system will increase your yields.
There is no way around it; you will need to set up a watering schedule for your container garden, especially in the summer. On sweltering days, the soil in your containers will dry surprisingly fast, much faster than soil in the ground.
When the weather turns hot be prepared to water your pots more frequently than a traditional garden, even twice a day during the hot part of the summer.
It may seem hard to keep up with their needs. If this is your primary garden, you may want to consider installing drip irrigation to keep your watering time to a minimum.
Container Gardening Tips
As you can see, vegetables and herbs will thrive in a container garden, and they only need a bit of help from you.
The harvest you’ll receive is dependent on your soil quality, fertilizing regiment, adequate sunlight, container size, giving support when needed and setting up a watering schedule. Keep these six things in check and you will have a fantastic container garden year after year.
Evelyn Vincent says
Terrific article. I’ve been container gardening for years as a renter and it’s so nice to have fresh produce outside my door. Aside from veggies, I even grow blueberries (now 6 yrs old) and strawberries (now 12 yrs old) in containers. I highly recommend others take your suggestions and start their own container gardens, it’s so easy and rewarding. BTW, you will need a handtruck when it comes time to move as the large pots can be heavy 😉