Container Gardening Made Easy

You can grow anything, from artichokes to zucchini, in a container.

| May/June 2010

  • Herbs grow well in pots but require constant watering.
  • Using vertical space wisely can help increase the output potential of a small space.
    Photo By Kelly Kline
  • Cheery citrus trees are easy to grow in pots and can spend winter indoors.
    Photo By Rick Wetherbee
  • Bell peppers grow best in full sun.
    Photo By KHWI
  • Plants in containers offer mobility. Set up a planting station, then move them to where growing conditions are ideal.
    Photo By Sophie Bengtsson
  • Strawberries are a perfect container plant.
    Photo By Barbara Bourn
  • A planter displays the "square-foot" gardening method, designed to grow lots of produce in little space.
    Photo By Claus Mikosch
  • You can use just about any container for food crops, as long as it holds enough soil to support roots.
    Photo By Walter Chandoha
  • Rhubarb and potatoes grow in half whiskey barrels.
    Photo By Rosalind Creasy
  • Used terra cotta pots are easy to find at thrift stores and garage sales.
    Photo By Sarah Harland

Gardening in a container can be easier than gardening in the ground. Container-grown vegetable plants have slightly smaller yields than those grown in the ground, but there are fewer, if any, weeds. Pests are also less likely if your container garden is in a location where pests don’t expect to find food, and diseases are easier to avoid because potting soil is less apt to harbor them than ground soil.

You need few tools beyond a trowel, and you don’t need to cultivate the soil. Containers, at least the smaller ones, can be moved around and brought indoors when frost threatens, and you can set your garden at whatever height is comfortable and convenient—you can even garden sitting down.

When it comes to containers, you have two options: “Traditional” containers consist of anything that can hold some soil and has a hole in the bottom to drain excess water. Self-watering containers, which hit the market a few years ago, provide a constant source of water from an attached reservoir.

You can plant vegetables in large flower pots or containers originally meant for another use: an old wash tub, a pail or sap bucket, half a wine barrel or a plastic bucket. Drill a hole in the bottom, and avoid containers that previously held chemicals.

Choose a container large enough for the plant you want to grow—the bigger the plant, the bigger the pot. A large tomato plant needs about 30 to 40 quarts of soil; a pepper or eggplant can make do with 15 to 20. You can grow large plants such as corn or squash in containers, but make sure they get full sun. (The same is true for tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. Spinach, lettuce, bok choy and other leafy greens can handle partial shade.)

Vegetable plants tend to be bigger and grow faster than flowers and herbs, so they need much more water. Even in large containers, the soil often can’t receive and hold as much water as many vegetable plants need daily. If you use traditional containers, plan to water at least once a day—more often for large plants or during hot, dry or windy weather. A mature tomato plant needs a gallon of water a day. Vegetable plants that can’t get water when they need it become stressed and don’t produce as well. Rain barrels are a great way to collect water without drawing from the municipal supply. Make your own rain barrel.

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