From Antivist

The first tip is that container gardens need to be watered more often then if you were gardening in the ground. You certainly don�t have to be a slave to watering, but it is important to be aware of your plants' needs.

The second thing is that you can put a container wherever you want, which offers some nice mobility. So, if you do plant a container tree and you don�t like where it is, you can move that container.

Additionally, it is much less intimating for a beginning gardener to plant a few containers than landscaping an entire yard. When you are gardening for beginners, it is much easier to get started if you can break it down into smaller sections.

Container gardening is beneficial for a number of reasons. If you have limited space they don't take up much room. If you have limited mobility they raise the garden to a higher level so that you can reach it more easily. If you have limited time container gardening can be perfect because each container doesn't require as much effort as a large garden plot. Container gardens are portable (for those plants such as rosemary which need to come in every winter), and can be easily rearranged to 'resculpt' your garden should you so desire. If you don't have a patio, balcony, or other space for your contained garden consider the use of window boxes (inside or outside) or hanging baskets. Obviously not everything that can be grown in a large container (such as dwarf fruit trees) is suitable for these containers, but herbs, some fruits (such as strawberries), and some vegetables (lettuce, perhaps a bean plant, a dwarf pepper plant) will grow in these containers.

What type of container do you use? Well, that mostly depends on what you like and what you want to put into it. The points to keep in mind are: the size of the plant, does the container have appropriate drainage (if not either drill a hole for drainage or get one deep enough to put a good layer of gravel on the bottom), will the pot be left outside in the winter (if so terra cotta is not a good choice because it will crack). Container choice is mostly aesthetics or availability once you have determined the needs of the plant. Don't forget that one way to increase space when you garden in a container is to go vertical. There are special stands that you can buy (or make) that sit firmly in one container and contain either a hook or a fitted space to put another container in. You can also put a trellis behind your container to allow things that need to climb someplace to go.

As with soil gardening (my term to define the difference) you still need to make sure that you are using adequate soil and that the plants get appropriate water and nutrition. Just because you are planting in a container doesn't mean that you don't need to pay attention to the soil requirements of the individual (or grouped) plants. However, there are several things that you can do to and/or with the soil to improve your success. There are several products on the market that can be added to the soil before the plants are put into the container that are water release products. The product holds 5-8 times it's weight in water and releases the water slowly, helping to keep the soil moist. One source of this is Gardener's Supply which is available by catalog or on the internet.

Another product which I have heard about but not seen are soil protectors. These are bits of pottery which are shaped like leaves and can be placed on top of the soil to help slow down the rate at which it dries out. As a frugal alternative you can either put broken bits of pottery on top or some sort of organic mulch. This is especially crucial for those contained gardens that are going to be in a very sunny area.

If you are planning to use your container garden to grow vegetables or herbs don't forget that as well as being utilitarian container gardens can and should be attractive. Try a tomato plant with maybe a few basil plants and a couple of marigolds. Perhaps a few ears of corn with some nasturtiums spilling out of the bottom. Or mix different kinds of herbs together in the same pot. It's up to you and your imagination.


Crop In-Row Spacing Light Requirements** Where to Plant***
Snapbeans (Bush) 2 to 3 FS Borders
Snap beans (Pole) 6 to 8 FS Borders and screens
Beets 3 to 4 PS Containers of medium depth
Broccoli 15 to 18 PS Single plant in deep container or borders
Brussels Sprouts 15 to 18 PS Single plant in deep container or borders
Cabbage 10 to 12 PS Borders
Cantaloupe 20 to 24 FS Along fences or trellis
Cauliflower 20 to 24 PS Same as for broccoli
Carrots 3 to 4 PS Deep container such as basket
Collards 12 to 18 PS Borders
Cucumbers 6 to 8 FS Along fences or on trellis; good temporary screen
Eggplant 24 to 30 FS Basket or border; only 1 or 2 plants needed
Leafy Greens 1 to 2 PS Containers of medium depth (5 to 6") or borders
Onions (Sets) 2 to 3 FS (bulbs) PS (green) Medium deep containers
Peppers (Sweet) 10 to 12 FS Deep containers or borders
Potato (Irish) 10 to 12 FS Single plant in basket or deep bed
Radish 1 to 2 PS Window boxes; container of shallow to medium depth
Squash 12 to 15 FS Deep container or borders
Tomato 12 to 15 FS Large, deep container (basket) and beds
    • Vegetables indicated as growing in partial shade can also be grown in full light. When plants can only get light part of the day, such as beside a building, the morning sun exposure is preferred. FS = Full sun; PS = Partial shade.
      • All crops can be grown in ground beds. Where suitable for container culture the size or depth of container is indicated. Some containers are baskets, flower pots (clay or plastic), wooden boxes, tubs, cans, etc.

Containers are available in many different sizes, shapes, and materials. All containers, whether clay, wood, plastic, or ceramic, should have an adequate number of holes in the bottom for proper drainage. Additional holes should be drilled or punched in containers that do not drain quickly after each watering. Drainage is reduced when the container is set on a solid surface such as a cement or patio floor. Raising the container one or two inches off the floor by setting it on blocks of wood will solve this drainage problem.

The size of the container will be determined by the vegetable grown. Generally, most vegetables grown in the soil can be grown in containers as long as ample space is provided for root development. Shallow rooted crops like lettuce, peppers, radishes, and herbs need a container at least 6 inches in diameter with an eight inch soil depth. Bushel baskets, half barrels, wooden tubs, or large pressed paper containers are ideal for growing tomatoes, squash, pole beans, and cucumbers.

The ideal planting medium for containers should provide rapid drainage with sufficient water retention to keep the root zone uniformly moist. Most container gardeners have found that a "soilless" potting mix works best. In addition to draining quickly, "soilless" mixes are lightweight and free from soil-borne diseases and weed seeds. These mixes can be purchased from garden centers in various sizes under many different brand names.

The do-it-yourself individual can make a planting medium by mixing equal parts of sand, loamy garden soil, and peat moss. The mix should be heated in an oven for 1 hour at 210o F to kill any bacteria, fungi, insects,or weed seeds.

Planting and spacing requirements for most vegetables can be found on the seed packet or plant tag. A container can sustain only a certain number of plants, therefore, it is important to limit the number of plants based on the container size and the eventual size of the plant at maturity. Always plant more seed than needed in each container, because there is seldom 100% germination and emergence. After the seeds have sprouted and foliage of seedlings is touching, thin plants to the desired number.

Watering is one of the most important jobs a container gardener will perform. Some vegetables need watering every day, depending on container size and weather conditions. The best way to water is with a watering can or sprayer attachment on a garden hose. Be sure the water is cool before applying it to the vegetables, particularily if the hose sits in the sun. Hot water does not stimulate root development.

The following is a listing of some of the common container-grown vegetables, container sizes, and recommended varieties:

Vegetable Type of Container
Beans, Snap 5 gal window box
Beans, Lima 5 gal window box
Beets 5 gal window box
Broccoli 1 plant/5 gal pot; 3 plants/15 gal tub
Brussels Sprouts 1 plant/5 gal pot; 2 plants/15 gal tub
Cabbage 1 plant/5 gal pot; 3 plants/15 gal tub
Chinese Cabbage 1 plant/5 gal pot; 3 plants/15 gal tub
Carrot 5 gal window box at least 12 inches deep
Cucumber 1 plant/gal pot
Eggplant 5 gal pot
Lettuce 5 gal window box
Onion 5 gal window box
Pepper 1 plant/2 gal pot; 5 plants/15 gal tub
Radish 5 gal window box
Spinach 5 gal window box
Squash 2 gal pot
Tomatoes Bushel baskets; 5 gal pots

all purpose soil recipe

  • one part potting soil
  • one part sand
  • one part peat moss


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