Table of Contents

Easy Container Gardens Anyone Can Make

Discover the Joy of Growing Your Own Herbs and Vegetables in Pots

I could talk about growing vegetables in pots for days, and judging by the length of this article, I have! While there’s nothing quite like wandering through row after row of plants in a large plot in the early morning sun, coffee in hand, inspecting the results of the previous day’s growth, I’ve developed an enormous appreciation for having potted plants on my deck, right outside my kitchen door.

Container gardening is a game-changer, especially for those of us with limited outdoor space. As an urban dweller and apartment resident for many years, I can attest to the satisfaction of harvesting fresh, homegrown produce from the comfort of my own balcony. And even now, with a bit more land to work with, I’ve found that container gardening has become an essential part of my gardening journey.

The Benefits of Container Gardening

One of the significant benefits of container gardening is the level of control it offers. By taking advantage of open space on a sunny balcony, patio, or deck, you can still enjoy an abundant harvest of herbs and vegetables, regardless of the soil quality or growing conditions in your yard.

I’ll put containers anywhere – on an outdoor windowsill, in a hanging basket on the deck or porch rail, or even on a raised garden bench that my brother built for me. This beautiful creation is absolutely my favorite gardening thing in the whole world. One season, a Black Swallowtail butterfly laid eggs all over my dill and parsley plants on that bench, and I was treated to this amazing spectacle. Yes, of course, butterflies lay their eggs in gardens all the time, but these caterpillars would not have survived out in the bird-heavy environs of the yard. They were protected from predators by the shade screen I keep draped over this bench. So yes, I give all credit to container gardening for that gift during a pandemic when we needed all the beauty we could get.

Planting your herbs and vegetables in containers also allows you to control their environment to a greater degree than plants in the ground. Some plants, such as celery, benefit from partial shade during the day, and I can reposition the pots as needed. Others, like tomatoes, need full sun at all times. During heavy periods of rain, it’s easier to protect vegetables in pots from becoming waterlogged for days. And of course, preventing damage during severe storms is much easier with container gardens.

I was very lucky to be a home gardener during a hurricane that hit my area a few years back. While it knocked out power for days and decimated a few of my September-tall tomato plants, there was no way to sufficiently stabilize those plants against the wind shear out in the yard. But on my deck, in their containers, I had several options to protect them.

Accessibility and Comfort in the Garden

When I first started container gardening in earnest, I was young and hardy, and accessibility wasn’t even a consideration. Today, it’s a different story. I greatly appreciate being able to remain fully vertical during my gardening tasks, from planting to watering to harvesting and clean-up. Container gardening opens the door to people with a wide variety of disabilities, from back injuries to those using supportive devices like canes, walkers, or wheelchairs.

I highly recommend that everyone set up a potting bench of some sort, even if it means just commandeering some space on a table in the garage. Thirty-year-old me could pop up and down off the ground in the blink of an eye, but fifty-something me has to use awkward maneuvers that would probably go viral on TikTok. To help reduce reach and bending over challenges, I also recommend buying small plant stands to set some of your smaller pots on. All of my peppers, green beans, and eggplants are elevated, and they come in various heights and styles.

Customized Soil for Healthy Plants

One of the few disadvantages of container gardening is the need to provide a customized soil mix for your plants. Commercial soil mixes available today leave much to be desired, and I’ve had to take matters into my own hands.

Here’s the DIY soil mix that I use in all of my vegetable pots:
– 1 part potting soil
– 1 part compost
– 1 part peat moss
– 1 part perlite
– Handful of Plant-Tone

By “part,” I simply mean some volume of measure. It doesn’t have to be precise because you need to fill your pots with soil, whatever the final amount is. I use a food storage container or a large, handled mixing bowl from the kitchen as the part and measure out each component with that tool into a large bucket or storage tub. Mix well, and then scoop into your pots.

All of these components, including compost, can be found at your local garden center or home improvement store. Potting soil and compost are most economically purchased in large, awkward bags. Potting soil and peat moss can be found in large, medium, or small bags, while perlite and Plant-Tone are usually packaged in smaller bags and might be shelved elsewhere with the fertilizers.

Herbs are less fussy, and I usually use mostly potting soil with some peat moss and perlite worked in. As for moisture control potting soils, I’m a bit conflicted. They do work well for container gardening, as one of the biggest challenges is keeping up with water requirements. Vegetables in containers are thirsty, and moisture control soils do retain water quite well. However, the companies that produce these soils also add fertilizers that I personally do not use because I maintain fully organic gardens. If you’re new to vegetable gardening and are not concerned about organic products, a moisture control soil is not the worst choice you can make.

Choosing the Right Containers

Ah, one of my favorite questions about container gardening – there are so many options! When choosing a container of any size or material, make sure there are drainage holes, or that the container is made of a material where you can create drainage holes yourself.

I do not recommend so-called self-watering pots, which store water at the base of the plant where you can’t see it. These pots fail in both directions; they give plants wet feet, retaining too much moisture during wet weather, but they also dry out more quickly than expected, giving you a false sense of security that the plant is being watered when it’s not.

If your container has large drainage holes, you can semi-plug them with a pebble before adding your soil mix to the pot. If I have extra window screen cloth lying around, I’ll cut a piece to shape and line the bottom of the pot. Both prevent soil from falling out of the hole as the season wears on.

When it comes to large growing plants, such as tomatoes, my go-to containers are large storage tubs. Yes, storage tubs! They’re incredibly sturdy and roomy, low to the ground so they won’t tip over, and they have built-in handles on the sides, making them easy to maneuver. And it’s no problem to drill drainage holes in the bottom. They’re also quite economical when compared to large containers you’ll find at the garden center.

For plants that grow tall but not wide, like peppers, green beans, and eggplants, I add a 1-2 layer of pebbles to the bottom of the pots when planting. This not only helps with moisture retention and drainage but also adds weight to the pot, helping to keep it upright when conditions are windy.

Watering and Feeding Your Container Garden

The most relentless challenge you’ll have with container gardening is keeping up with watering, unless you live in a rainy zone. Plants in containers dry out faster than their counterparts in the ground because they have less protection from the heat of the sun and less soil surrounding them to retain moisture.

I water my plants early in the morning, filling the pots until water drips out of the drainage holes. During periods of high heat, I check the plants throughout the day and give them an extra sip if the top inch of soil has dried out. One of my favorite water management techniques is using ollas – unglazed clay pots buried in the soil and filled with water that allow for the slow release of moisture directly to the plant roots. This not only conserves water but also ensures a steady supply of hydration, minimizing the risk of over- or under-watering.

Vegetable plants are also heavy feeders, so regular fertilizing is a must. I maintain organic gardens, both in the ground and in containers, so I use fish emulsion and side dressings of Plant-Tone as needed throughout the season. A balanced, general vegetable fertilizer will also serve your container plants well. I find that applications every other week or so are sufficient, unless there’s a stretch of heavy rains, in which case I’ll fertilize everything as soon as it stops to replenish the soil.

A Thriving Container Garden is Within Reach

I hope this guide has encouraged you to try container gardening and that the tips within will help produce a beautiful and satisfying harvest of herbs and vegetables. Remember, you don’t need a large yard or perfect growing conditions to enjoy the joys of homegrown produce. With a little creativity and the right container setup, you can have your own thriving oasis, right outside your kitchen door.

Happy patio planting! And if you’re looking for more gardening inspiration, be sure to check out Today’s Gardens, the premier destination for all your garden design and landscaping needs.

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