Grow Your Own Food In A Container Garden

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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 a few pots, but now container gardening is part of my regular garden routine.

Not everyone has access to land and if you have a small yard, or you are an apartment gardener, this may be the only way you can grow healthy vegetables and help your budget intact. Container gardening gives you the ability to move plants around easily, grow specialty plants that need a bit of TLC, and even fill in gaps in your landscape beds.

Which container should you use?

That’s perhaps the best part of all. The choice is really up to you. You may be a traditionalist and have everything growing in sturdy terracotta pots or you may go for plastic pots found at the secondhand store. Some people even use soil bags as their grow box. Only your imagination sets the limits.

I have personally used plastic laundry baskets to grow a crop of potatoes, an old wash tub to contain a big batch of mint and a big plastic tub to grow the three sisters – corn, beans, and squash.

If you are gardening on a balcony, go for the lightest container you can find. You can find good looking plastic pots at any garden center. Sometimes they look so much like terracotta, ceramic or concrete you can’t tell the difference.

No matter which container you choose – purchased or found – the only requirements are a drainage hole in the bottom and good soil.

A word about soil

There are many ways to be creative with container gardening and as far as I’m concerned there is only one steadfast rule. You need to use the best soil you can afford. It should be able to hold water but drain well, and not compact in the pot. That rules out regular garden soil, which will get hard as nails and will not drain properly. All your hard work will be lost once the first rains come and your plants drown.

I like to make my own by purchasing a bag of potting soil and a bag of garden compost. Sometimes I add peat moss too. This is the way to go if you need a bunch of soil and you are trying to save money. I never use anything that is not organic and I never use potting soil that already has fertilizer in it. I want my container garden to be “au naturale.” I keep mine mixed up in a plastic tote with a lid and scoop out what I need, when I need it.

A few other container garden planting tips

You can utilize mulch around the top of the pots to keep in moisture. Some people use dried leaves, dried grass clippings, pine needles, small pebbles, and even acorn shells.

You will need to add organic fertilizer on a regular basis. The soil will become depleted and your plants will not be able to access nutrients. It’s up to you to give them what they need. Some people like to use organic fertilizer spikes (I think they take the guess work out of it), granular fertilizer or a liquid fertilizer.

Be prepared to change (or refresh) the soil every year. You cannot continue to use that old soil and get good growing results. At the beginning of the next growing season I will remove at least half of the soil in the pot and put it in the compost pile. Then I will add new soil from my tote as I’m planting new vegetables and herbs. This gives them a fresh medium to start the season.

If your container is very large add Styrofoam peanuts or shredded paper to the bottom to adjust the interior volume. These will not interfere with plant growth or drainage and will allow large containers to be moved easily.

You should be prepared to water your pots more frequently than a traditional garden, even twice daily during the hot part of the summer. They will dry out much faster than a traditional garden plot.

Basic potting up guide

  • Start with a clean container; wash them thoroughly with soap and water. Scrub with a solution of half vinegar and half water to sanitize.
  • If you are using terracotta pots they need to be soaked in water for an hour before planting.
  • Use a few pebbles or broken pot shards on the bottom of the pot to cover the hole. This will keep the soil inside the pot. This step is not necessary for small holes.
  • If you’re using a large pot, add filler as discussed above.
  • Add potting soil to half of the pot. Press firmly because fluffy soil dries out quicker and does not give the roots a good grabbing place.
  • Remove the plants from their containers and gently tease apart the roots. This is important, especially if the plant is root bound. If the mass cannot be teased apart it’s okay to take heavier measures. Use scissors to cut three slits in the root ball. This will encourage the roots to grow out instead of in circles.
  • Place the plant(s) where you want them and add additional soil until the pot is filled to within one inch of the top. You should be compacting and pressing the soil as you go.
  • Water thoroughly to prevent air pockets. You should not skip this part, even if it’s a rainy day.

10 beginner plants suitable for containers

You can grow these in shallow depth pots in the 4-6 inch range:

  • Lettuce
  • Round Carrots
  • Cilantro

These plants will thrive in medium depth pots between 6-8 inches:

  • Basil
  • Chives
  • Spinach
  • Strawberry

These plants need a bigger root system and require a pot at least 12 inches deep:

  • Tomato
  • Potato
  • Raspberry

As you can see, there are many vegetables and herbs that will thrive in a container garden. The container is only limited by your imagination and your soil. What about you? Have you given container gardening a try? Share your success and failure in the comment section below or on our Facebook page.