Container Gardening: The Ultimate Guide
Container gardening is becoming more and more popular, as people increasingly recognize the flexibility it offers and the extra growing space it provides.
This container gardening guide takes you through the essentials and offers tips for success.
Container gardening, or pot gardening, refers to the growing of herbs, fruit, and vegetables in containers. Pots of different sizes and shapes can be used. Drill holes at the bottom side of the pot and put some stones inside before you add soil.
Container gardening is ideal for people living in urban areas where building an actual garden is not possible, and also for people who actually have an existing garden but would want to extend a bit more by utilizing vacant spaces inside and outside the house.
This method is space-efficient and one that is mobile, as it allows gardeners to arrange pots in a certain location and then rearrange them in another location where environmental conditions are more suitable for growth in certain months or seasons.
Vegetables that you can plant using containers include parsley, tomatoes, onions, and beans.
Advantages of Container Gardening
There are many advantages to growing plants in containers, including:
Not necessarily zero weeds, but pretty close to zero. Container gardening usually uses new soil mixes with each crop, so the possibilities of having seeds of weeds in the soil are quite low.
There are things that you can do to prevent weeds in your planters, and three things that I personally do are:
- I use new containers every time, or I simply clean the ones I intend to use again for a new crop. Hot, soapy water is good for the job of eliminating tiny seeds that might have stuck there, or you can use a diluted bleach solution.
- The next thing I do is, I used fresh quality soil. Used soil has contaminants and often contains weed seeds.
- I also layer the top of the soil with mulch. You can use hardwood bark or pine bark. This prevents weeds seeds from germinating as the soil is cool and shaded because of mulch cover.
Plants in pots can be easily moved from one place to another, and you need to do that quite often based on the micro-climate needs of your plants.
Having mobile plants will also allow you to move pots around the garden to where the plants grow best. Be it partial shade, partial sun, or more sun or more shade, or south exposure or west or east, you can have trouble-free placement and movement, allowing you to provide your plants the environmental conditions that they naturally want to exploit.
With the ability to move pots around easily, you can avoid harsh temperatures and climate factors both during the wet and the dry season for all the varieties that you will be planting.
Take note of the benefits of moving the pots on wheels, with the main purpose of the multiple-item movement, which saves both time and energy. In case that the original spot does not receive the amount of sunlight you expected, you can transfer all of your plants to a location that is rich with sunlight quickly.
With container gardening, you can play with numerous ideas that will allow you to place pots anywhere in your house and grow your plants in the desirable direction.
Strategic planning is key. You can grow different crops in pots of appropriate sizes, with the right soil and the right climate conditions.
You can even use your walls for a mounted style of container gardening.
So, you build a frame there and attach plastic sheeting for frame backup. Then you conceptualize the irrigation system, set it up, and run it. Next, you hang your planters there, and you’re done.
This is the type called vertical gardening, from which several ideas of indoor gardening evolved. You can use plenty of ideas including terrarium indoor gardening, wooden drawers, the Kokedama from Japan, and the one that uses old pipes for wall planting.
What are the Benefits of Container Gardening?
There are numerous benefits that come with container gardening. For instance, it is a stress reliever, like other types of gardening.
Other benefits include:
Many people like gardening year-round, but that is usually impossible with the in-the-ground gardening due to the cold or inclement weather together with foraging pests and vermin that come in certain seasons. The soil also becomes unfit for gardening in certain parts of the year.
Utilizing containers will allow you to grow everything and protect them from the shifting temperatures. You can take advantage of the pot portability by moving your plants into a place with shade or with lots of sun.
Also, create maps based on seasonal changes and crop changes. Plant crops according to the best season they grow in, such as peas in summer and spring, and garlic in the autumn season.
For homes with tight spaces, pot gardening is the best solution, as it allows the hanging of plants, using tiny containers for plant varieties that don’t need a lot of soil to grow in, and making use of cabinet organizers for growing other plants. Larger pots are those you can use to provide more space for veggies that need to expand their root system.
You can also try companion gardening, which is a method where you combine different varieties of plants in a single pot. You can grow lots of produce within a limited space within your home.
You can do container gardening anywhere your plants can get sunlight, but with the availability of UV lights, you can give the plants the same benefits they get from natural sunlight while growing them indoors.
Many full spectrum UV lights can provide just the right amount of UV that the plant needs in different stages to prepare them for high-intensity light.
With container gardening, you can enjoy no-till gardening. Aside from being free of the back-breaking task of tilling and digging, you also protect the healthy natural organisms that are in the soil by not disturbing them with the raking movements that go with soil tilling.
Plus, weeds can’t easily find their way to the small spaces in pots, so you don’t have to distract soil conditions as you would with in-the-ground gardens that usually suffer from weed infestation.
Gardening in containers also allows better soil moisture control and you will not need to be concerned about large amounts of water being wasted as it flows around and seeps into the ground. Estimates from experts put the reduced water loss with container gardening at 80%.
Reduced fertilizer loss is another benefit. When plants are confined in a small area like small pots, the nutrients in the soil are concentrated at the plant’s base and have no chance of being washed away by rain or water. This benefit is also pocket-friendly, as you will not have to frequently apply fertilizers in a container garden setting.
Insects and pests that fly or crawl around are less likely to discover the location of your potted plants as you can choose a spot that will not be easy for pests to find, but in case you have detected a possible infestation, you can just move the affected plants away from the healthy ones and put them back once the infestation is under control.
What kind of Plants Can Grow in Containers?
Vegetables that you can grow in a pot include the solanaceous group to which potato, tomatoes, and red pepper belong. Cruciferous vegetables are another type. Here you can have broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and the like.
You can also have legumes which are plants that can survive in harsh conditions such as scarcity of water. Here you can have Fenugreek and green peas.
People commonly use watermelon, cucumber, carrot, coriander, parsley, and celery. These can be grown in containers as well. You may also want to include onions, garlic and ginger, and even sweet corn.
Ornamentals are great additions as well. For this, you can have year-round options such as the golden sword yucca, Bergenia, green mountain boxwood, and the golden creeping jenny to name a few.
How to Get Started with Container Gardening
Start small, and as your experience grows together with the plants that you will put in containers, add more varieties to build a larger container garden.
You’ll be able to follow through if the garden is easily accessible at your back door, the verandah, or a window that you frequently use.
Choose the Right Location
Look for a suitable location for your garden and make sure it is a spot where you can check it regularly. Containers can be put on any level surface, so check your driveway, balcony, and decks to see if these places receive sunlight. Use window boxes and hanging baskets for some of the edibles that you want to grow.
The beauty with container gardening is that almost anything can be turned into a container for planting. As long as you can drill holes at the bottom of it, you can use that thing as a container.
I use things such as old pots, boots, an old sink, bathtub, and also ice cream containers. There are several possibilities; you only need to be creative.
Choose a Container Based on Your Climate, Budget, Space, and Style
When choosing your pots, certain characteristics need to be taken into account, including appearance, weight, and sensitivity to changes in weather.
If you’re just starting and you have a tight budget, you can repurpose plastic containers that you intend to throw, such as milk jugs and tin cans.
In hot climates, it is better to use light-colored containers, as they can minimize heat absorption and prevent the burning of plant parts.
Container Materials Based on Function and Style
As for container materials, there are several choices to go with your creativity.
Container material types include:
- Terracotta – Made of porous clay material, this container is inexpensive and versatile and is perfect for plants that thrive on dry soil, such as cacti. This type is however easily damaged under freezing temperatures.
- Concrete – Pots made of concrete can take any kind of weather, but they can be very heavy when filled with soil.
- Wood – Wooden planters will look great in any outdoor or patio setting, but they can easily rot outdoors. Use a waterproof sealer to make them last longer.
- Metal – Galvanized containers are good options, but when using this type, make sure that you put the planters under shade to prevent them from heating up. Also, rusting should be prevented, and you can do that by providing adequate in the planters.
- Plastic – This is lightweight and generally comes with a low cost, and though it can help accomplish a certain look for your garden, it can easily crack with a minimal amount of force.
There is a right container for every plant. For vegetables, it is always better to use large-sized containers. Consider also the root system of the plants you are growing, as some varieties penetrate deeper into the soil than other varieties.
Available heights for planters: under 8 inches (small), 8-16 inches (medium), 16-24 inches (large), and 24 inches and above (very large).
In terms of opening mouth width: same as the figures above
Here are some matching examples:
- Zucchini and basil: 18-inch deep pot
- Onions, lavender, and mint: 12-inch deep pot
- Peppers: 3-gal pot
- Tomato: 10-gal pot
- Radish: 8-inch deep pot
- Carrot: 1-2-gal pot
One advantage of using larger pots is that the compost you will be using has less chance of getting frozen around the roots in the winter season and will not dry fast in summer.
Holes in the bottom of the pot are important for drainage. Excess water will escape through the holes so it doesn’t remain in the pot. Place a layer of rocks and stones at the bottom as this can aid in draining water as well as keep the plant’s roots higher in the event of water buildup inside. The rock layer also reduces the amount of soil that goes through the holes.
In place of stones, you can use lighter materials, like polystyrene beads, in filling up the base of the pot.
Color and Shape
The most common colors for planters are black (for sleek, modern appeal), white (versatile, clean and crisp), gray (popular color in the industrial setting), brown (relaxing color, good for unwinding) and green (for cohesive and a smooth-flowing effect).
You can also combine different pots with varying shapes and sizes. For shapes, you have options such as square or the usual circular ones. Square pots and round dishes are the most stable ones as they don’t easily topple when the wind sways the plant. Tall pots with wide shoulders also great options for good stability.
Selecting Plants for Containers
Make A Plant Wish List
You can use the list to keep track of all the plants that you want to grow. You just cross-out the items on the list that have already found their way into your home.
You may include there some rare species or unusual ones, and show the list to your friends. They might just have the ones you have been waiting for to come and grace your home and even your table.
I would recommend that you indicate the number of each species that you want to grow and right next to the item, indicate also the container size. That way you can be clear about your budget before heading to a store.
Limit the Number of Plants You Use
Don’t overfill the containers with several plants, because if you do, you will have an overcrowded pot with the plants having limited capacity for full growth and desirable yield.
Follow these ratios:
- 10" to 12" pot: 3-4 plants
- 12" to 16" pot: 5-7 plants
- 16" to 24” pot: 6-9 plants
Think about Color Schemes and Plant Combinations
Along with the colors of the container, you can create a color scheme by considering the foliage and the flowers of the varieties you want to include.
Combine different types of plants – thrillers, spillers, and fillers. Examples of thrillers, which typically goes to the center of the setup, are the tall ornamentals. Fillers are what you use to make the container look full. If the container can be seen from all sides, you can use fillers, which are trailing plants that can be placed hanging over the planter’s edge.
Choose the Right Potting Soil
For many plants, rich, loamy soil is beneficial while others prefer sandy soil. Understanding the properties and types of potting soil can help in providing the right mix to your plants.
Characteristics of Potting Soils
Physical properties of potting soils include bulk density, pore space, water holding capacity, and texture. Chemical properties include pH, carbon-nitrogen ratio, cation exchange capacity, and soluble salts.
Moisture and Nutrient Retention
Organic materials in mixture, such as peat moss, sphagnum moss, and coir, help to retain moisture and nutrients.
Air circulation is essential for proper plant growth. Added materials, such as perlite, guarantees good air circulation.
The bulk density of your potting soil indicates how compact the soil is. Soils with bulk densities higher than 1.6 gm/cm3 tend to stunt root growth.
The three most important nutrients for plant growth are phosphorus, potassium, and nitrogen. Read the list of nutrients provided by the product’s label. It is better if the list includes other nutrients such as magnesium, sulfur, and calcium.
Maintaining Potting Soil
The quality of the potting soil will degenerate over time because the plants will drain it of its nutrient content. You can replenish the nutrients by diluting fertilizer in water and including the mixture when you water the plants. Repeat every couple of weeks.
Prerequisites for Using Potting Soil
For large containers, make sure that you put them in the best spot where you will not be required to lift them to another location. Next, drill holes at the base of the pot; the more holes it has, the lesser the chance for water buildup.
Choose the Right Compost
Using compost is one of the best ways to provide nourishment to your plants. You can either make your own compost and contribute to the zero-waste drive of the government, or you can simply look in gardening stores for ready-made products. These products come in different types.
This is the most versatile type and one that has plenty of ingredients in the blend. You can use this in most of your gardening activities, including seed-sowing, container planting, and potting.
Potting compost is what growers use for container gardening, but basically, this is a soil-less product. You can use this as is, or for some people, they find mixing it with soil on a 20% to 50% ratio as the best blend for growing their crops.
Peat or Peat-Free Compost
Peat compost is made of peat moss and has an acid pH, so this type is ideal for plants thriving in an acidic environment. Blueberries and camelias are examples of these plants.
Peat-free compost is preferred for its ability to retain water, so during hot summers, you can switch to it. However, during wet winters, peat-free compost can cause your plants to rot.
Special compost is the one you need for plants with specific requirements, like the ericaceous plants. These plants don’t grow well in alkaline soils. Some examples of special compost medium are mushroom compost and mushroom mixed with manure compost.
Proper Watering and Drainage
Two things to take into account when considering the right amount of water that plants should receive: location and weather. In cool, non-windy climates, watering every other day might be a healthier approach.
In places where there is hot and windy weather, plants might need to be watered daily. The amount of rain that goes into each container is one more thing to consider.
Here is a tip: You should rather err on the side of being too dry. Plants have a better chance to survive when it’s dry than when they are too wet. Too much water prevents roots from breathing and causes them to easily rot.
On that note, you must also ensure proper drainage. Good drainage is a must for your containers, which you can conveniently provide by poking a sufficient number of holes at the base.
Also, place a saucer under each container, but make sure you empty the saucers after the plants have absorbed what they need from them.
Consider the Right Amount of Sunlight
Place the garden where there is lots of sunshine. For best results, give vegetables 6 to 8 hours of direct sun. Generally, the sunniest exposures would be western and southern, while eastern and northern exposures will be cooler and shadier.
Container Gardening Care
Here’s how you can effectively manage your container garden:
Water plants thoroughly and frequently as required. You should not allow your containers to dry out completely. Add mulch for better moisture retention.
Container plants are voracious eaters of nutrients, but you can sufficiently supply that high demand for nutrients by watering them with diluted seaweed extract, compost tea, or fish emulsion.
Since these containers will be also used as focal points in your home, give them special attention to make them always looking their best.
Watch out for pests like aphids and mites and dutifully cut off tattered leaves and spent flowers.
For mixed pots, remove unhealthy plants and plants that clash.
Container gardening comes with a lot of benefits, including the provision of food right to your table, and it is one of the great ways to increase the value of your property if you’re selling. So, with container gardening, you will be able to cut down on food costs and provide aesthetic enhancement for possible property sale in the future.
For beginners, it can be a little challenging to start as there are various options for choosing plant varieties. What you can do is start with the veggies that you love eating and flowers that excite your senses and make you unleash your creative side.
So, choose your plants, pick the right pot sizes for them, employ beautification strategies with your pots and planters, feed and water your plants based on their needs, take good care of the entire garden, and after some months had passed, harvest the fruit of your energy-consuming but enjoyable labor.
Frequently Asked Questions
What can be grown in a container garden?
Small bushes and trees, along with ornamentals and veggies, can be grown in a container garden. You can grow almost everything, including ferns, perennials, annuals, and other unique plants.
What type of container should be used?
You can actually use many things in your home without spending money on containers. Common items include plastic bottles, paint and ice cream cans, old sink, and so on.
Metal containers should be placed in a shaded area to prevent overheating.
You can practically use anything that you can drill holes at the bottom.
How often do we need to water plants in a container?
Watering potted plants can be done once a day, but if the weather is hot or your pots are situated in full sunlight, watering a second time each day may be necessary.