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Container Gardening 101: A Beginner's Guide

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Container Gardening 101: A Beginner’s Guide

A very useful and satisfying practice, particularly for growing vegetables where there is little space, is container gardening.

A patio, window sill, or rooftop space is ideal to make a bright show of flowers and supply the kitchen with herbs and vegetables.

Container vegetable gardening allows greater control over pests and poor soil conditions [1]. It is also less labor-intensive than caring for in-ground gardens.

How to Start a Container Garden

Below are some tips to get started with your potted garden.


Barrels, troughs, wooden boxes, crates, or attractive old urns could be used. However, if placing them on a roof or overhanging balcony, weight restrictions may be a consideration so lighter containers are necessary.

Half-barrels are very useful and attractive plastic containers. Plastic pots for growing vegetables are not as pleasing. However, they retain moisture well and are very durable while wood can rot and clay can shatter in frosty weather.

When growing in containers, you can use terra cotta pots or glazed ceramic pots. However, terracotta pots can be good or bad for plants. The porous nature of the material allows water and air to pass through the container [2]. This causes the soil to dry out quickly.

On the other hand, terra-cotta prevents overwatering. This, in turn, prevents root rot and soil disease.

A wooden planter box or DIY container such as a toy bin or laundry basket can work too.

Container Size 

The right size container for the plant matters. Choose one that is at least 12 inches deep and 10 inches wide.

Compact plants require smaller containers. However, large plants need room for the roots to spread and the plants to thrive.

In a hot climate or long sunny spells, bigger containers with good drainage will help keep the plants from drying out.

Watering Needs

Container planting needs particular care in watering. The plant roots can dry out quickly. Therefore, once or twice a day watering is wise for outdoor containers. Moreover, some plants like tomatoes are particularly thirsty.

Another good idea is to double up the containers. Put one inside the other and fill the space with sphagnum moss which can be watered as well. Self-watering containers are also well worth considering.

Plants can suffer from overwatering too. Therefore, the right drainage and potting soil are as important as the container material. Pots should have big enough holes in the bottom to release excess water.

Fertilizer Requirements

Using garden soil is a real no-no for containers unless it is amended. Garden soil will likely clog and retain too much moisture. It may also import weed seeds, diseases, and pests.

Most commercial brands of garden products will have a range of fertilizers, especially for containers. A liquid fish and seaweed emulsion can boost poor-quality soil when applied fortnightly.

Molasses and liquid kelp are other fertilizer options for your potted vegetable garden.


This is a prime consideration in pots and containers to prevent root rot, yellowing, and wilting due to excess water.

Making one middle hole and several smaller holes spaced over the bottom of containers can prevent soil from clogging up around roots.

To avoid the holes being blocked, place some pebbles at the bottom. You can also cover the drainage holes with material that allows water to drain freely.

Planting Seeds and Seedlings

When growing vegetables in pots, you can start from seeds or buy seedlings. They both have their advantages and disadvantages.

Planting seeds is cheaper than buying seedlings, especially if you save your seeds.

However, growing from seeds is not for everyone. You cannot let them dry out. You will also have to ensure that they get the right amount of light and good air circulation.

To avoid all this, purchase seedlings from your local garden center.

Easy Vegetables to Grow in Pots

With care, most vegetables can be grown successfully in pots. These are some of the best vegetables for containers:

  • Tomatoes – Any variety of tomatoes can be grown in containers. However, large pots are essential for root development. They may also need a support system.
  • Potatoes – These also need large pots, plenty of sunshine, and good drainage to thrive. Pots should be at least 15 inches deep.
  • Beans – There are different varieties of beans but those grown on poles or up trellises are attractive as well as good growers. Bush varieties do not need support. Wooden boxes, Terra-cotta pots, and barrels are ideal containers for beans.
  • Spinach – One of the best and easiest to grow in pots. Spinach thrives in partial shade but requires nutrient-rich soil.
  • Peas – Another easy crop to grow in pots with very little attention needed. Water frequently and use tall supports.
  • Carrots – Being root crops, carrots require plenty of space for root development. A large wooden trough might suit, well-watered, fluffed-up soil.
  • Kale – This fast-growing, very productive veggie needs well-draining and fertile soil to provide a highly nutritious green vegetable.
  • Onions – Onions, especially green onions, do well in planter boxes as long as you space them properly.

Other Vegetables and Herbs 

  • Lettuce
  • Arugula
  • Peppers
  • Cucumbers
  • Radishes
  • Chives
  • Beets
  • Swiss chard
  • Oregano
  • Thyme
  • Turnips
  • Basil
  • Mint
  • Parsley
  • Eggplant
  • Sage
  • Scallion
  • Parsnips
  • Garlic

Pumpkins, black pepper plants, cauliflower, summer squash, asparagus, artichokes, and zucchini are other container-friendly plants. A wooden box or large window box can provide a variety of salad vegetables for the kitchen.

Best Flowers for Containers

We are all used to seeing geraniums, pelargoniums, and petunias training abundantly from baskets and window boxes. However, there are many other choices:

  • Marigolds
  • Begonias
  • Nasturtiums
  • Lobelias
  • Flowering tobacco
  • Dwarf Dahlias
  • Dwarf Cannas
  • Day Lilies
  • Hostas
  • Lavender

Easy Fruit Trees to Grow in Pots

A delightful and easy way to enjoy fresh fruit, straight from the patio or balcony is to garden in a pot. Here are some fruits to start with:

  • Strawberries
  • Lemon
  • Orange
  • Nectarines and Peaches
  • Cherries
  • Banana
  • Apples
  • Melons
  • Pomegranates
  • Figs

You can grow other berries like raspberries and blueberries. These look attractive in pretty tubs/terracotta containers and are good choices to experiment with.

Pineapples are also fun to grow and give an exotic zing to the balcony but they need full sun.

Plant Supports

Trellis, stakes, cages, netting, and balcony railing work well for vines and climbing varieties of plants.

Additionally, some plants can be grown together in a large pot, and a tepee of bamboo sticks as support. Experimentation is the key to success.


Even with a large garden, container growing can produce eye-catching displays and a bountiful harvest for the kitchen, all within easy reach of the house.

Image via Flickr

Sasha Brown

Sasha Brown is a blogger and lover of all things natural.

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