There are so many benefits of container gardening that it’s hard to believe more people aren’t doing it. Planting in containers gives you flexibility regarding accessibility, the location the plants are in, their ability to resist common plant diseases, the ability to easily feed your plants nutrients if needed and the ability to better control the weather that they are exposed to.
Let’s take a look at these benefits then proceed on to the planning stage, container selection and plant selection. Each of these things plays a vital role in the success or failure of your garden.
5 Container Garden Benefits to Consider
Not everyone can handle the physical requirements of a traditional garden. Planting in containers allows you to limit the amount of digging, weeding, bending over, etc. that is required in a normal garden environment.
With a properly planned setup you can make the plants readily available to the elderly and even to people that require the use of a walker or wheelchair. Placing the plants at a height that is comfortable to work with is also a bonus.
Even children find container gardening to be much easier than traditional gardening, because they don’t have to weed and rake and hoe, and they don’t have to have an adult till soil for them.
Another major benefit of container gardening is the ability to move your plants if you need to.
If you’re growing your plants outdoors and there is a cold snap in the forecast, you can bring your plants inside until the weather improves.
If you find that your plants are getting too little sun or too much, you can easily move their containers to solve the problem.
You can also move your plants to a different area to change the way your garden area looks. This allows you to be able to reconfigure your area if you have guests over for example.
Plants grown in containers typically don’t have the same issues with diseases that traditionally grown plants have. Although some container-grown plants do get diseases, it is far less likely than it would be if those plants were grown directly in the ground. Potting soil is generally free of disease causing organisms, so your plants will be safer.
Keeping your plants well fed is also easier when they’re grown in containers. It’s much easier to ensure the plant nutrients you use gets to your plants if they’re confined to a small area of soil. When you feed plants that are growing directly in the soil, the nutrients may wash away or be absorbed by other nearby plants. This is not as likely when plants are grown in containers.
So you can rest assured that your plants are probably getting more of the nutrients before it does wash away than they would probably get if they were in the ground. When you grow your plants in containers, you’ll also be able to extend their growing season because you can move them inside when necessary.
By carefully insulating pots by wrapping them in blankets or other insulating materials, you can keep their soil warmer than the ground soil. You can start your plants early indoors or in a cold frame, then you can easily move them to larger pots outdoors when the time is right.
You can also use careful insulation to continue to grow plants after the first frost, and you can even bring plants indoors once it becomes too cold to keep them outside even when insulated. Saving space is another great benefit of container gardening.
Many people live in apartments or in homes with very little yard space. Container gardening allows you to have a garden on a porch or patio, or even indoors. Many people have small herb gardens in a sunny windowsill in their kitchen, or in a sun room or spare bedroom.
Some people even grow plants in a closet by using a grow light! Growing plants in pots really makes it easy to have a garden when you don’t have the space for a traditional one!
Planning Your Container Garden
The first thing you need to decide when planning a container garden is whether you’d prefer to grow your plants indoors or outdoors.
If indoors, do you have an area that you can dedicate to growing plants or will you be using windowsills? What types of plants do you want to grow? Your plant choice may determine how much space you will need.
A lot of people think container gardening is only for indoor growing and patios, but containers can actually be useful for any garden situation. Let’s take a quick look at indoor vs. outdoor container gardening.
Container Gardening Indoors
If you have your plants indoors, you’ll need to be sure to select an area that is fairly warm and gets a good amount of sunlight unless you intend to use grow lamps. If you have a dedicated area for the plants then you might be able to close the air conditioner vent in that room so that the plants don’t get to cool (unless you are growing plants that prefer cool weather like many lettuces).
Plants thrive best with natural light. If you don’t have a room with a lot of sunlight, you’ll have to use special plant lights for your plants. You can’t use just any fluorescent lights, because plants won’t thrive. You need to use lights that are specially designed for growing plants. They contain a broad spectrum of light, which is closer to natural light than standard bulbs.
You may also have to adjust the humidity in the room with your plants. Some plants thrive better in higher humidity, and others do well in lower humidity. You may need to invest in a humidifier or a dehumidifier depending on your plants and the ambient room conditions.
Next, you’ll need to choose which plants you want to grow. Be careful! Too many people choose to plant far too many varieties, and end up frustrated.
Stick to growing fruits and vegetables that you really enjoy. Tomatoes are a favorite for home gardeners, because their quality in stores if often very poor.
Finally, decide whether or not you want to grow your plants organically. If you’re growing indoors, this will probably be very simple to do. But if you’re growing your plants outside, you may find the frustration of dealing with pests is just too much for you. Don’t feel guilty if you find organic container gardening too difficult. You can always try it after you have more experience.
Container Gardening Outdoors
Choosing a good location for your outdoor container garden is essential. If you choose the wrong location, it could mean disaster for your plants. The right location is one in which the plants get just the right amount of sun, are protected from harm from various outside influences, and is in a convenient spot for you to care for the garden.
The most important part of choosing a location for your container garden is choosing a place where the amount of sunlight is correct for your plants. This may mean locating part of your garden in one area of your yard, and part of your garden in another area.
If you have several plants that require a lot of sun, and several that require shade, you’ll either have to split your garden into two sections, or you’ll have to provide shade to those plants that need it.
This can be relatively simple for a container garden. If you just have a few plants that require shade, you can set up some sort of shade system. Using a tarp or other shade system, you can fashion a frame over your plants that blocks sun for most of the day, depending on how much shade the plants need. This way, you can locate your shade-loving plants with your sun-loving plants.
Next, you need to be sure to keep your plants away from the street, if possible. Pollution from vehicles on the road might damage your plants. Cars can also kick up dust that could settle on your plants, and their tires can also potentially throw rocks and other debris that could damage plants or break pots.
You should also try to keep your container garden as close to your house as possible. There are several reasons why you want to do this. First of all, you need to be able to easily reach your garden to take care of it. If you locate the garden too far from your house, you may be hesitant to tend to it.
Also, the closer to your house your garden is located, the less likely it is that it will be harmed by critters. Rabbits, deer, gophers, and other garden pests don’t like to get too close to human scent. If you keep your garden closer to your home, the animals will be able to smell your scent more strongly and might be unwilling to approach your garden.
Another great reason for locating your garden near your home is in case you need to move your plants indoors. Sometimes you might have unexpected bad weather or other problems, and you might find a need to bring your plants inside to protect them.
If you have had a garden in a particular location in the past few years, and it had heavy infestation from insects, you might consider putting your garden in another part of your yard. Sometimes pests will return the following year to a previous location in search of the same food they had the year before. If you relocate your garden, you have a small chance of keeping these insects from finding your garden this year.
If you’re growing very large plants like corn, choosing the right location from the start is extremely important. These large plants may be too heavy or too awkward to move safely, so they must be located correctly from the beginning.
Careful planning can avoid any location disasters, so be careful to plan your garden thoroughly.
Choosing Containers for Your Container Garden
Choosing the right container for a particular type of plant is critical to its success. If you choose the wrong size pot, it could seriously stunt the growth of the plant. You need to choose the right size of pot, but it’s almost as important to choose a container that’s made of the right material. Different materials will work better in different situations.
If you’re planning to grow a perennial plant, like a large herb bush, you might want to choose a large wooden container. Wood is especially attractive for use in growing plants that will continue growing for more than one season, and plants that you intend to grow outdoors in a conspicuous location.
Wooden containers are best for larger plants, and for use in highly visible areas of your yard. Wooden pots are generally one of the most expensive types of containers. Wooden pots may be expensive, but they’re generally extremely durable.
Be sure to get one that’s treated on the outside, but not on the inside. If you get a pot that’s treated on the inside, you might end up with dangerous chemicals being leeched into the soil and making their way into your plants. This can damage the plants, and potentially make you sick if you eat them.
Plastic pots are probably the most widely used type of pot for container gardening. This is largely due to the fact that plastic pots are generally the cheapest. But cheaper isn’t always better.
If you only plan to attempt container gardening for one year, then plastic may be a very good option for you. But if you think you might want to have a container garden next year, you might want to stick with something a bit more durable.
You could be tempted to think certain plastic pots are durable because they’re harder or thicker than other plastic pots, but that’s not necessarily true. If plastic is left outdoors in the elements for too long, it can start to warp and crack. Cracked pots are of little use for anything!
Terra Cotta Containers
Terra cotta clay pots are the second most economical type of container. They’re pretty cheap, but they are very delicate and do break quite easily. They also don’t stand up very well to freezing temperatures, so you shouldn’t leave them out during the winter.
Fired ceramic pots are a pretty good choice. They can be a bit delicate, but many of them are pretty durable. They’re usually glazed on the outside for appearance, but are left unglazed on the inside. This is good since the glaze can damage plants if it leeches into the soil.
You can also make your own containers by using things you find around the house. Most cheap plastic containers can work if they’re large enough for whatever you want to grow, as long as you cut drainage holes in the bottom.
Some good examples are milk jugs and soda bottles with the tops cut off and holes cut in the bottom, empty margarine tubs, trash cans with holes cut in the bottom, and large plastic tubs with drainage holes drilled.
Lots of people like to use 5 gallon buckets to grow in. You can get these at Home Depot or Lowes as well as at many restaurants. I have quite a few that I bought from a Firehouse Subs restaurant near me. They are food grade buckets because they originally held pickles (plus they are stamped as food grade plastic by the manufacturer).
Some people even use bags of soil as their containers, simply cutting a hole in the side of a bag of soil that’s lying on its side and sowing seeds directly into the exposed soil! You don’t have to use standard purchased containers. Almost any container can be used for growing plants as long as it is safe and allows the plants adequate drainage.
Choosing Plants for Your Container Garden
Most people choose to grow edible plants in their container gardens, because they don’t think of flowers or houseplants as being the same thing as container gardening. While it is the same basic principle, it’s not generally classified the same way.
Most people just think the term container gardening refers to growing edible plants, so that’s what we’ll focus on here. You can grow many types of vegetables and herbs in containers, and a few types of fruit.
Herb Container Gardening
Herbs are the most commonly grown edible plant for containers. Many varieties of herbs do well in containers. Parsley is perhaps the most popular herb for container growing. Basil and chives are also extremely popular for growing in containers. Cilantro can be grown successfully in containers.
In fact, almost all herbs can be grown successfully in containers. The key is finding a large enough container. Some herbs can easily be grown in relatively small containers. Chives, parsley, and basil can all grow in smaller pots.
But some plants grow a bit larger. Sage, for example, is a bush. It needs a pretty big pot. Oregano also grows rather large, and needs a large container. Although technically a fruit, tomatoes are probably the most popular “vegetable” for home gardeners in general.
Vegetable Container Gardening
Vegetables come in second, and fruit isn’t grown in containers as often – probably because a lot of people think it would be too difficult to grow fruit in containers.
Most tomato varieties can be grown very well in containers, especially cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, roma tomatoes, and small salad tomatoes. Other plants that are commonly grown in containers include lettuce and other salad greens, cucumbers, squashes, many types of beans and peas, radishes, carrots, scallions, all types of peppers, and even corn and potatoes.
Most vegetables can be grown in containers if you use the proper procedure. You can easily grow most of your plants from seeds. If you’re growing plants indoors, you can sow directly into the pot if you like, but you can risk damaging delicate seedlings during thinning.
Fruit Container Gardening
Strawberries are one fruit that grows particularly well in many types of containers. Strawberries are generally quite hardy, and can even be grown in special grow bags that can be hung on a wall outdoors.
Dwarf fruit trees can often be grown in large pots. Many smaller dwarf citrus trees grow nicely in pots, and if kept well-pruned they can make beautiful indoor decorations. Many types of dwarf berry bushes will grow in containers, although they are usually very heavy and can’t be moved easily. Dwarf varieties of blueberries and raspberries have been successfully grown in containers.
Container gardeners are no exception, and they plant tomatoes in droves. It’s probably due mostly to the fact that good tomatoes can be very difficult to find. The tomatoes in most grocery stores are picked green and artificially ripened so they survive shipping without bruising and last longer on the shelves.
You should probably grow most of your plants from seedlings that you purchase locally, but you can also start your own seedlings indoors in smaller pots, and then transplant them into larger pots later. It’s easier to start plants from seedlings when you can, but you may find a lot of satisfaction in starting your own.