A Complete Guide To Container Gardening For Beginners
For beginners looking to start gardening, and even for seasoned gardeners often times container gardening is one of the best options for growing your favorite herbs and vegetables.
Especially if you live in a small space with little or no land, container gardening is an excellent option that can allow you to grow some of your own food without the need for lots of land. While there are many opinions about what you can and cannot grow in containers generally speaking the most important factors have more to do with the container size, sun, and soil quality and less to do with not being able to grow a specific vegetable in containers. If you have a big enough container you can pretty much grow anything.
But for those folks who are just getting started, container gardening can feel a little bit overwhelming. Depending on how large you want your container garden to be gathering all the necessary tools and materials can be a bit of an investment, but moving forward container gardening can help you can hundreds of dollars on fresh herbs, flowers, and produce that you now are capable of growing your own.
With seed packets costing less than $5 on average and yielding an abundance of food, learning how to container garden I would argue is one of the best ways that you can feed yourself and your family organic, nutrient dense foods and save a ton of money in the process.
A Complete Guide To Container Gardening For Beginners
To get started container gardening there are a few things you will need to get you going. While there are many options when it comes to containers and soil my best advice is to come up with a budget that you have this year for your container garden. Maybe you need to start small and grow from there, which I would argue is the smartest option if you are just getting started gardening. I also find that utilizing your local gardening store and online second hand outlets list craigslist and facebook marketplace are great places to find affordable containers, and gardening supplies.
Choose Your Containers
The size of the containers you use will be dictated by the kind of plants you want to grow. Remember that when it comes to container gardening the container you plant in is the only home for this plant. If you want your plants to grow healthy and provide an abundance of fruit then you have to make sure the container you plant them in is large enough.
Terra Cotta Containers: Terra cotta containers are some of my favorite to plant in. They look beautiful in a garden but they do have their downside. They can be more expensive and heavier to move and are breakable. They also tend to get very hot and can bake easily in the sun so they may require more frequent watering.
Ceramic Glazed Containers: Ceramic containers are similar to terra cotta containers and once again look beautiful in a garden. They tend to hold moisture a little better due to the glaze on the container and wont typically get as hot as terra cotta containers, but they are usually more expensive. In my opinion they are a great investment but may be too expensive to do an entire garden of.
Plastic: Plastic is going to be the cheapest option and is the lightest to move around. My only issue with plastic containers is that they are viewed as disposable so if you choose to purchase them for your garden make sure you use them year after year.
Wood: Wooden containers, especially raised bed containers are beautiful in gardens. These planters are on my wish list for our garden next year and are an excellent option for plants that need more room.
Cement: Cement planters are expensive but incredibly durable. They are heavy though, especially once dirt has been added into them so these are better to choose for more permanent containers that you don't plan to move around.
Ultimately, almost anything can be turned into a container and I personally love the more unexpected options to bring some character into your garden. The most important point is that whatever you are using it is large enough for your plants.
Make A Plant "Wish List"
When you are first starting out you will quickly find that your container garden can get quite expensive. So my best advice is to start small and make a container garden wish list. What do you absolutely need to have? What could you do without? What can grow in smaller containers that require less soil (which will be less expensive).
Once you have your list now it is time to shop for containers. I would recommend writing the necessary container size next to each of your "wish list" plants that way when you are at the store you will easily be able to prioritize how you are spending your garden budget.
Some Container Garden Ideas To Get You Started
To give you an idea of what we have grown in small spaces I have listed below what we grew when we only had balcony access and window boxes, and then what we grew when we had a small patio.
window box container garden (four large window boxes)
hanging cherry tomatoes
patio container garden (80sq ft/full sun)
lettuce (three varieties)
vine tomatoes (hanging)
Choose Your Container Sizes
Your containers are going to depend entirely on the plant you are looking to grow. Often times the necessary container size will be listed on your seed or seeding packet but to give you an idea of general container sizes needed for different herbs and vegetables here is a good list to go off of.
lettuce - 10 inch pot
kale - 1 gallon pot
garlic - 5 gallon pot
arugula - 8 inch deep pots
beets - 2-3 gallon container
beans - 12 inch deep pots
spinach - 2 gallon container
radishes - 8 inch deep pots
carrots - 1-2 gallon
tomatoes - 10 gallon pot
zucchini - 18 inch deep pot
peppers - 3 gallon pot
onions - 12 inch deep pot
lavender - 12-16 inch pot
basil - 18 inch deep pot
mint - 8-12 inch deep pot
parsley - 18 inch deep pot
Invest In A High Quality Organic Potting Soil
One of the biggest mistakes that people make when starting their container gardens is not investing in quality potting soil. Think of the potting soil for your container garden as the foundational nourishment those plants will have. Feeding your plants with cheap, non-organic soil from a giant manufacture is like feeding your body with junk food...it will only get you so far before you start feeling pretty crappy.
So if you are going to invest in anything when it comes to your container garden, invest in a high quality organic potting soil from a local greenhouse. Most greenhouses will make their own potting soil or will have a premium supplier that you can buy.
purchase an organic fertilizer
Your potting soil isn't going to cut it when it comes to feeding your plants, you need a fertilizer to make sure that all season long they are fed and are able to grow healthy. While there are plenty of conventional fertilizers I think that one of the best parts of growing your own food is the control you have over what chemicals your food is exposed to. So when it comes to choosing a fertilizer I would look for an organic option from your local nursery that you know will be both healthy for your plants and your body.
There are many types of fertilizer but typically it is good to use a slow release fertilizer and mix it according to the fertilizer package directions into your potting soil. Then every two weeks add a liquid fertilizer to help keep your plants fed and growing strong all season long.
Study The Sun
You can grow healthy plants in lots of sun and in little sun, the important part is just knowing what your plants need and how much direct sun your container garden space gets throughout the day. This is another great part about container gardening because you can move your containers around as needed...just keep in mind that containers can still get pretty heavy so I always recommend studying the sun before you go ahead and fill all your containers.
Don't Underestimate Proper Watering And Drainage
Container gardens need to be watered frequently, especially during the hot summer months. Because they are above ground the containers can have a hard time holding moisture and it is important to make sure that your soil remains damp.
You can tell that your plants really need watering if the soil is pulling away from the side of the pot. Similarly, too much water can drown the roots of your plants causing them to die so make sure you don't overwater your plants and ensure that there are holes in the bottom of all your pots to allow for proper drainage.
The general rule of thumb when it comes to watering your plants is to stick your index finger into the soil to the knuckle. If it feels damp you can wait to water, if it feel very wet it has been overwatered, and if it feels dry it needs to be watered. Soon you will begin to understand how much water your plants need and wont need to do this everyday.
Plant Your Seeds/Seedlings
Planting your actual container garden is probably the quickest part of the whole process. Once you have your containers, potting soil, fertilizer, and seeds/seedlings ready to go you are ready to start planting.
I like to put a thin layer of small potting rocks at the bottom of each container to help with draining. Then add your potting soil and fertilizer mixture to the pots, filling up to 1 inch of the top of the pot. Next dig a hole into your soil and place your seedlings, or add your seeds per the directions on your seed packet.
Make sure to water very well and then sit back and enjoy your new container garden. Within a few weeks you will have plants sprouting and as early as a month may have some food to begin eating straight from your garden.
Interested in starting a container garden of your own? Leave your own experience gardening or any questions you may have in the comments and get growing!