Get a Great Container Garden Started With This Guide

by Tisha Tolar on 24 January 2014 1 comment

As the price of fresh, organic produce keeps some consumers away from healthy eating habits, there is a remedy practically anyone can try to keep the crisper drawer full. Even if you don't have the yard space to create a garden at home, you can still use a variety of containers to grow your own vegetables, herbs, and even flowers. (See also: Foods You Can Grow in Your Home)

Here are some quick steps for getting started on the road to container planting success.

Gathering Your Containers

The general rule of thumb for container planting is the bigger the better. You want to have a container large enough to hold the plant as it grows. A container too small will require replanting but could also hinder the growth of your vegetables.

The good news is you can use a variety of containers including items you repurpose from around the house like plastic drink jugs, milk cartons, old tubs, and five-gallon buckets. Your local home improvement store will also have starter containers for plants but at a higher cost. (See also: Disposable Products You Can Reuse)

Each planter will need drainage holes, so before adding soil or seeds, make several small holes at the bottom of your container. Make the holes large enough to release excess water but not so large that you lose all of your soil. You will then need to supply each container with something to catch the excess water like a plastic planter dish or an old baking pan. You may also want to line the bottom of each container with small rocks to aid with water drainage.

Choosing Your Soil

Ideally, you'll want to choose a soil that is sufficient for containers, which can be found at plant nurseries. Container soil may not even contain soil at all, but often includes a mixture of bark and peat moss. This is to help keep it moist and well aerated for proper drainage since a container is more confined than a backyard garden. (See also: 4 Things a Vegetable Garden Needs)

You can opt for a good quality potting soil that has a mixture of peat moss and sand, but don't import dirt directly from your yard, as it will not promote plant growth. You can also add extra materials like crumbled Styrofoam to hold moisture.

When adding soil to the container, make sure to have a sufficient amount to accommodate the plant. Buy more soil than you think you will need to add when the soil has settled after watering. You'll need to read the seed packages to determine how much soil to add to a container based on the necessary planting depth.

Thoroughly water the soil in each container and let sit for an hour or more to ensure the soil is moist throughout. Fertilizer that is safe for vegetables and other plants can be added to the soil starting about a month after planting them, per the seed manufacturer's recommendations. (See also: How to Plan Your Garden)

Seed Suggestions

You can plant many kinds of vegetables and herbs in containers. Herbs can often be planted in the smaller containers and easily kept on a sunny window sill in pots with a 4–6 inch diameter. Lettuce, radishes, beets, and onions need larger containers with at least a 6–10 inch diameter.

If you plan to grow peppers or lettuce, you'll need a container that holds at least one or two gallons of soil. Taller vine plants like tomatoes and cucumbers will require the largest containers and about five gallons of soil. Carrots, broccoli, cabbage, eggplant, green beans, and peas can also do well in a five gallon or larger container.

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Plants will need room to grow in a place that receives at least six hours of sunlight each day. It will be helpful to place the plants in a location that is also easily accessible to you for watering purposes but won't be bothered by pets or children. During the warmer parts of the day or the summer months, containers can be set outside on the patio for fresh air and sunshine. (See also: High Tech Tools to Help Your Garden Grow)

When sowing the seeds, follow the package directions and plant the seeds at the same time as you would if you were planting them in an outside garden. Spread seeds out but add additional seeds than you want to compensate for those that do not germinate.

Water, Tend, Thin

Watering is the most important factor in successful container plants. You can't overwater, and you can't forget to water. Most container soil mixes have extra materials to prevent soil from losing moisture but you should maintain a watering schedule. (See also: 10 Gardening Lessons Learned the Hard Way)

As plants begin to grow, you'll need to tend to them to keep them healthy. Remove dead leaves and watch for signs of insect damage or plant diseases. Weed any excess things that grow from the soil. If too many seedlings grow, you can thin out the plants, so you have a reasonable amount left to harvest.

As plants become sturdy, you do have the option of transplanting them outdoors into a garden with high quality soil. You can continue growing plants in containers but keep an eye on their growth process to ensure the container size is sufficient.

Herbs

Harvesting herbs requires a little more detail. Depending on what kind of herbs you grow, you'll need to know when to harvest them. Herbs used for their leaves will need to be picked before they flower, or they may end up with an off taste. Herbs harvested for seeds will be ready when they change color from fresh green to a brown or gray color and should be harvested before the seeds open up. Flowering herbs like ginseng should be harvested before their leaves die off. You can freeze or dry herbs to preserve them for later use in your favorite recipes alongside your freshly picked container vegetables. (See also: Cheap Ways to Flavor Your Food)

Enjoying the Harvest

Producing your own produce is the best part of the process. Watching your plants go from seed to food is gratifying. You'll want to harvest your vegetables when they are a good size to consumer. It is best to keep picking fresh vegetables and herbs from the plants so they will continue to produce more.

Have you tried container gardening? Were you happy with the results?

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Great article! I would like to point out, though, that the little white bits you see in potting mixes are not styrofoam, but are actually an expanded mineral called perlite. It is very porous and holds water in the soil between waterings, and also helps to aerate the soil. You can find it in garden centers. As for styrofoam, you can add chunks to the bottom of larger containers to keep the weight down (for shallow-rooted plants only, not tomatoes), but you probably shouldn't mix it in with the soil.