Gardening Rookie: Maintaining Container Gardens

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Last summer, my first as a gardener, I started a container garden in my front yard. I learned the basics of planning and planting in containers through a bit of careful research and plenty of trial and error.

Once my plants got growing, I discovered my work was just beginning. To reap the rewards of a great harvest (and keep my container plants healthy and happy all summer long), my pots needed:

The right amount of water

To make certain my fledgling plants had enough water, I gave them a hearty drink from my watering can each day–but was careful not to drown them. Installing a drip irrigation system (yep, they work with pots) would have saved time, but I enjoy watering by hand and prefer to use water from my rain barrel. To help your pots hold in moisture, consider topping the soil with compost, straw, or grass clippings.

Frequent, deep watering keeps potted plants healthy. Use a watering can rather than a hose to conserve water. Photo By Julie Collins.

Great light

How much light do the plants you picked need each day to thrive? Figure that out from the get-go, so you can position your pots appropriately. Pots are portable, of course, but trust me: Once that tomato takes off, it’s going to be a pain to lug around. That’s why I situated all of my pots right in front of the house–where they get plenty of direct sun most of the day–and let them be.


I didn’t fertilize like a madwoman. In fact, I hardly fertilized at all, aside from the addition of a purchased organic fertilizer halfway through the summer.

This lack of attention to my container garden’s soil probably explains a few of last year’s lackluster plants. My big boys, yellow tomatoes, and green peppers were awfully shrimpy. Although my cucumber plant blossomed like it had potential, eventually it faltered. Much to my chagrin, none of the cucs ever made it past their tiny, spiky stage.

Because nutrients escape from the soil every time you water your plants, it’s important to fertilize your containers every couple of weeks. Photo By Julie Collins.

To avoid my plant problems, try natural fertilizers that provide the nitrogen, potassium, phosphorous, and micronutrients your plants need–compost tea, worm castings, liquid organic fertilizers, fish emulsion, and kelp meal all work. Heck, you can even dump some used coffee grounds on the soil to up its nitrogen content.

Pest control

When I started my container garden last summer, I knew I didn’t want to use chemical pesticides. That led me to a natural gardening technique I call “watch and wait.” In other words, I didn’t do much aside from picking off bugs and trimming any infected portions of my plants.

Placing pots of marigolds and other companion plants next to potted veggies can help ward off pests naturally. Photo By Julie Collins.

One reason this hands-off approach worked: Prevention was my friend. I began with healthy, organic soil, kept an eye out for weak and infected plants (and removed them when necessary), and planted a variety of crops so pests couldn’t spread easily.

Another trick: When I watered, I avoided watering the foliage and concentrated on the base of the plants. Wet leaves attract insects and may cause fungal damage–neither of which are any fun.

If pests are problematic, there are easy, natural steps you can take to remedy the situation. Try introducing beneficial insects to do the pest control work for you. Or spray a nontoxic, homemade remedy customized to the pest problem you’re facing. Traps and barriers are other options, depending on the pests you’re dealing with. Learn more about safely pest-proofing your garden.

Harvest appreciation

When it came time, I harvested the fruits of my labor and enjoyed cooking fresh from my container garden. My eggplant was a workhorse and produced big, beautiful purple fruits for a good portion of the summer. My lettuces and herbs grew fast and furious. Although, as I mentioned above, a few of my plants struggled due to lack of nutrients, all in all I was happy with my first year’s attempt at container gardening.

Follow the pointers above, and hopefully you will be too!

Mother Earth Living
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