Container Gardening 101

Container gardening is a fun and relaxing hobby enjoyed by many people around the world. It offers many of the same benefits as traditional in-ground gardening while requiring less space and maintenance. Tending a container garden is not as difficult or costly as you might think. Below are some basic tips on how to grow vegetables in containers to help you get started.

Selecting Containers

From watering cans and old boots, to teapots and wheelbarrows, almost anything can be used to hold your plants. Just remember that choosing the right container helps ensure the healthy growth of your garden. Among the many factors you need to consider are the size, appearance, and material of the container.

If a container’s appearance is important for you, look for containers that suit the style and structure of the area you selected for your garden.

When choosing the size of the container, consult the label on the package of seeds or plants you purchased. The label will usually indicate the size of the pot your plant will need.

Each planter material has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Terracotta pots complement a wide range of foliage and plants, but they are fragile and tend to dry out rapidly.

Flowering plants in large terracotta planters
Photo by J. Lumb via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Plastic pots are inexpensive and come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. However, sunlight can cause them to deteriorate after several seasons.

Most plants do well in wooden containers. Wood absorbs less heat than ceramic or plastic pots, which helps keep plant roots cooler. Plus, they can be built to specific sizes and shapes to suit almost any location. Choose boxes made of hardwood, like redwood or cedar, as these are less susceptible to rot over time.

Choosing the Right Soil

The right planting medium is crucial for a successful container garden. Ordinary garden soil usually lacks the proper consistency and level of nutrients to sustain your plants. Instead, invest in some good quality potting soil.

Potting soil comes in organic and non-organic mixes, and both are suitable for container gardening. Keep in mind that non-organic potting mix has a limited amount of fertilizing agents and must be discarded after one growing season. Organic potting soil, although slightly more expensive, can be used more than once.

Flowering plants in a hanging basket planter
Photo by S. Jones via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

If you’re starting a hanging garden, choose a lighter potting mix.  Likewise for herb plants that thrive in partial shade, such as basil, parsley, and mint. Heavy potting soil can become waterlogged in the shade, resulting in damaged plant roots.

Caring for Your Container Garden

After planting your vegetables according to the package instructions, keep them healthy with regular watering and feeding. Container plants dry out faster and require frequent watering, especially on hot days. To check if a plant needs watering, stick your finger in the soil a few inches. If it feels dry, water the plant thoroughly.

Frequent watering tends to wash plant nutrients out of the soil, so it’s important to establish a regular feeding program. Using a time-release plant food is a good start, but for best results, feed your plants with a water-soluble fertilizer every two weeks.

Choosing the Best Plants to Grow

Fresh tomatoes in the garden
Photo by L. Addison via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Herbs, tomatoes, and peppers are popular choices among first-time gardeners. After you’ve had some gardening experience, you may want to move on to carrots, strawberries, or onions. Other vegetable varieties that grow well in containers are lettuce, beans, peas, potatoes, and eggplants.

Whether you live in a compact city apartment or in a large country estate, growing vegetables in containers is a great way to enjoy the wonderful bounty of nature. Set up your personal garden in no time with these container gardening ideas.

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