By Matt Gibson
QUESTION: How do I start a container garden? — Jeremiah W.
ANSWER: Starting a container garden is a lot more simple than you might think. Most plants grow really well and can even thrive in containers. Your plants will love growing in containers as long as you give their roots ample space to grow into, use pots that have adequate drainage holes, and provide plenty of sun and water. A huge advantage to growing in containers is the flexibility that it offers you. Need to move your plants indoors due to a big storm heading your way? No problem! Need to move your plants to a shady area during the hottest part of the day? Plants are always ready to relocate quickly and easily when they live in containers. If you are thinking of starting a container garden of your own, just follow these guidelines, and you will be on your way in no time.
First of all, you need to pick out your containers. Your imagination is your only limitation here, because planters can be made out of just about anything that will hold a decent amount of soil. You can repurpose household items, build your own planters out of a variety of affordable materials, or purchase pots or planters of your own. The choices are endless. Here are a few ideas to jumpstart your brainstorming:
- Drill drainage holes into the bottom of large plastic buckets (you can often get these for free from restaurants or businesses in your neighborhood). Milk crates can be lined with burlap to keep the soil from falling through the holes.
- Repurpose various household items, such as old wine crates, wheelbarrows, drawers from an old dresser, coffee cans, baskets, trash cans, filing cabinets, ect.
- Make your own planters out of recycled wood from an old fence, or some 2 x 4’s that have been taking up space in your shed.
You will also need lots of potting soil and compost, seeds or seedlings to plant in your new container garden, a clean water source and a small set of gardening tools. The most important tools you will need are gloves, a small shovel, a hand-held cultivator (which looks like a claw), and a stool, or a knee cushion to kneel on (as you will likely be spending a good amount of time near ground level).
The location you choose for your container garden needs to get good sunlight exposure throughout the day. Some plants enjoy shade more than others, but most plants need an ample amount of sunlight every day in order to grow and thrive. Preferably, you will also need to pick a location that is near to your water source, as lugging water long distances is a task you will want to avoid if possible.
Now that you know what materials you will require to start up your new container garden, where do you start? Just follow these simple steps to build your ideal container garden.
First, plan out your ideal container garden. Decide upon everything that you want to grow in your garden. Are you wanting to grow your own food to save on grocery costs? If so, you should focus on herbs and vegetables. Pick out your vegetables that grow well in containers. Some great options are tomatoes, peas, potatoes, lettuce, spinach, and other leafy greens for salads, radishes, peppers, eggplant, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, and carrots. Stay away from large plants like corn, pumpkins, and melons, as they don’t usually grow well in containers. Herbs are great choices for container gardens as well. The best herbs to grow in containers are rosemary, basil, thyme, mint, greek oregano, parsley, and lemon balm. Chives, shallots, and garlic can also perform very well in container gardens.
If you are not looking into growing food in your container garden, you are probably more interested in growing plants for decorative purposes. If you want your container garden to be filled with colorful blooms, check out these container lovers: impatiens, begonias, zinnias, verbenas, angelonias, and nasturtiums. If you want decorative foliage plants, try out some coleus, persian shield, sweet potato vine, elephant ears, hostas, coral bells, and ferns. Even edible leafy greens and herbs can make for attractive foliage plants as well, with the added bonus of being able to put them to use in the kitchen.
Once you have decided what plants you want to grow, you want to choose your containers to best fit their needs. For your herb garden and for lettuce, and other salad greens, choose a shallow planter with lots of surface area. Plants like tomatoes, carrots, and other vegetables with long roots will require deeper containers, such as a bucket.
Next, fill your planters with compost and potting soil, or a potting soil that has lots of compost in it. When planting seeds, you can plant more than you really need and thin them out later on as needed. When planting seedlings, you will want to give them a little bit more space so that their roots have room to expand. If you are growing something that you use a lot of, like lettuce, for example, it’s a good idea to keep multiple containers of lettuce growing simultaneously. This way, once you’ve harvested one plant, there’s still more to enjoy down the road. Replant herbs and lettuce every two to three weeks throughout the growing season to keep a supply on hand throughout the year.
Water your plants frequently, especially during dry periods. Most plants like a consistently moist, but never soggy soil. Do not allow your containers to completely dry out. Water at the base of the plant and try to keep the leaves and stem as dry as possible when watering. Gently aerate the top soil in your containers using your cultivator, being careful not to upset the roots.
When your plants are ready for harvest, use garden shears or scissors instead of plucking the leaves or fruit off the plant by hand. Clip the leaves at the bottom of your plants to encourage more growth. Rejuvenate your potting soil every year between growing seasons. Do not reuse the soil from previous seasons, as it will be drained of most of its nutrients.