How to Have a Container Garden for Beginners
There are many different types of gardens. For those just starting out, or with limited space, a container garden may be the best option. Container gardening opens the doors for those who live in apartments, rent, or just don’t have big enough yards to have in-ground planting. Soil quality can also play a factor, along with the time and effort that an in-ground garden can take. For those that are just beginning to garden, container gardening is a great option to test the waters. With a container garden for beginners, you can start really small, limit start-up costs, and get a feel for how gardening works. Not to mention there’s a lot you can grow in containers. Some people only use containers to garden, and they grow a lot. Let’s review a few items before starting a container garden for beginners.
What You Can Grow in Containers
Before we start looking into how to set up a container garden for beginners, let’s look at what we can actually grow in containers. You may be surprised, but the answer is a lot. There’s a lot you can grow in containers as long as you have a container that’s large enough. For the purposes of this article, raised bed gardening is not included in container gardening. You can grow herbs, vegetables, flowers, and fruit in container gardens.
Most herbs can be grown in containers. Basil, chives, cilantro, parsley, oregano, mint, borage, sage, thyme, and rosemary are some. Container gardening and herb gardening just go together. It’s easy to keep an herb container garden on a front or back porch. Pots and containers do need to be deep enough for the roots of whatever you are growing. And do keep in mind that when it comes to keeping herbs in containers, there are some that are better off being kept separate, and some that group well together.
- Mint: Mint is a spreading plant that will send out runners and grow sideways. For this reason, it’s best to keep mint by itself in a container. Some different plants in the mint family include peppermint, spearmint, and lemon balm.
- Mediterranean Herbs: Rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano, and lavender prefer a lot of sun and fairly arid soil.
- Moisture Loving Herbs: Basil, cilantro, tarragon, and parsley also enjoy the sunshine, but prefer consistent moisture.
Most vegetables can be grown in pots. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, onions, potatoes, zucchini, squash, beans, lettuce, and greens can all be grown in pots. If you’re interested in having a vegetable garden, starting with a few pots is a great way to get used to gardening. Try a few of your favorite varieties. If you use 5-gallon pots and are interested in how much you can plant per pot, check out the square foot gardening guide to give you a good idea.
If you’ve never grown vegetables before, I would recommend a container garden for beginners. This will limit your costs and keep your garden small as you get started.
There are so many flowers that you can keep in pots. You can have a single variety in a pot, or you can make a living arrangement. Flower pots are great to add color to your porch or yard. We have roses that have been kept in pots for years that do well. Other flowers that can be kept in pots include azaleas, chrysanthemums, chamomile, calendula, daisies, lavender, lilies, and orchids.
A single flower variety can make a statement, and an arrangement can be fun. A guideline to help with making arrangements includes “a thriller, a spiller, and a filler.” Which means having one flower variety that is meant to draw attention, and then flowers that will spill over the edge of the pot, and then finally filling in the rest of the pot with smaller flowers or plants.
Some fruit that can be grown in pots include strawberries, blueberries, pineapple, dwarf fruit trees including bananas, citrus, pomegranates. While berries can be kept in 5-gallon pots, fruit trees should be kept in 10-15 gallon pots. You can start smaller when your tree is smaller, but you’ll need to increase the size. Also, make sure to select dwarf varieties that will be better suited for container gardening. I’ve grown dwarf apple trees in pots along with citrus, and berries.
Selecting the Best Containers
When it comes to selecting the best container for your garden, a few factors will come into play. First, you’ll want to select something that you like aesthetically. You’ll also want to take into consideration the pros and cons of the materials your containers are made out of, the size of your containers, and the drainage your containers allow.
Material of Containers
There are many different materials that containers come in. Clay, plastic, metal, and wood are some popular options. When selecting the material of your containers you’ll want to take into consideration different elements like how long they’ll hold up, how heavy they are to move, do they allow for proper drainage, and are they a good fit for your climate and weather.
- Terracotta / Clay / Ceramic: Containers made out of terracotta and clay are very common, but can be expensive, heavy, and breakable. Since this material is breathable it allows for proper drainage, however, they can require more watering since they drain quickly compared to other materials. These are more sensitive to freezing temperatures and can crack, so keep this in mind depending on where you live.
- Plastic: Plastic is lightweight and inexpensive. This is a good option if you’re just starting out or if you plan on moving your plants indoors when it’s cold. Plastic pots generally need more drainage so additional holes should be drilled into them. Plastic can fade in the sun and become brittle and crack over time.
- Resin: Resin is durable, weather resistant, and lightweight. They can withstand varying temperatures and don’t fade like plastic. They can be made to look like clay.
- Wood: Wooden containers can give a classic rustic/country appearance. However, wood can rot over time so precautions should be used when using wood. A plastic liner or weather resistant wood like cedar can help. Overwatering should also be avoided.
- Metal: Like wood, metal can make a gorgeous planter, but they require more maintenance. Metal can rust and conduct heat, so a plastic liner can help. Locations that get especially hot may want to avoid metal planters.
Size of Containers
When it comes to containers, the larger the pot, the easier it is to grow plants in them. Small pots can look cute but may be better suited for indoors or well-shaded areas. The larger the pot you have, the more soil your plants have to grow in. The more soil you have, the less often you’ll need to water your plants. Depending on the size of your plant’s roots, you may also need a deeper or wider pot. And if you plan to make an arrangement, you’ll need a larger pot to fit all your plants together.
When it comes to the maximum size you can have, you’ll need to take into consideration the space you have, and whether or not you’ll be moving it around. Large clay pots can be very heavy even without dirt. And if you’re keeping your containers on a balcony or deck, you’ll also want to consider how much weight it can hold.
The pots I use for vegetables and herbs are generally 5 gallons. Pots used for dwarf trees should be 10-15 gallons or more.
No matter the type of container you select, it is very important to make sure it has proper drainage. Most plastic containers need to be drilled to include holes. And if they come with holes, you’ll want to drill more. Trust me. Plants can actually drown when you have them set in water. Roots need aeration.
To create your own holes, I recommend using a drill and bit set to create the holes at the bottom of your pot. A 1/4″ drill bit is what I use to create about half a dozen holes at the bottom of each of my plastic pots. If the planter comes with a saucer I drill the holes through both the bottom of the pot and the dish. I also prefer pots that have feet to allow for better drainage.
Once you’ve decided what you want to plant and what containers you’ll be using, the next important step you’ll need to take is selecting the right soil for your garden. When using containers it’s important to use potting soil. Potting soil can be a soil-less mix, sometimes referred to as potting mix instead of potting soil. Once you understand what potting soil is and why you should use it you’ll face the decision of purchasing a premixed bag or mixing your own.
What is Potting Soil?
Potting soil, or potting mix, is better suited for container gardens than topsoil. Potting soil can contain a mix of peat moss, bark, and other organic materials like perlite or vermiculite. Perlite and vermiculite both help create aeration, while vermiculite is also designed to retain water. Potting soil and mixes are designed to have the right mix of air- and water-holding properties.
When you lift a bag of potting soil and regular garden soil or topsoil you’ll be able to tell a difference because potting soil is so much lighter in weight.
Purchase Potting Soil
You can purchase potting soil if you would like. If you’re just starting out, then I would recommend just doing this. It doesn’t make things too complicated and you get your garden up and running in no time. You have a few options. There are different potting soil brands you can choose from. There are also both organic and nonorganic options.
Stores like Home Depot and Lowes carry Miracle Grow potting soil. This is a common nonorganic option that includes fertilizer. Miracle Grow also offers an organic potting mix called Nature’s Care, though I know some prefer to purchase from a different brand that doesn’t also make nonorganic fertilizers.
Other organic options include Jiffy Organic Potting Mix, Fox Farm Organic Potting Soil, and Epsoma Organic Potting Mix.
I also recommend purchasing Black Kow or another compost and doing 2 parts potting mix and 1 part Compost.
DIY Potting Soil
If you’d prefer to make your own potting mix and have better control over the ingredients you can. This can be more cost-effective in the long run. By buying in bulk you can blend your own ingredients together and know exactly what you’re putting into your soil. If you’re just starting out, then purchasing a potting mix might be a better path for you.
There are many different potting mix recipes out there for you to explore and try out. Here is an example potting mix recipe.
DIY Potting Mix:
- 2 Parts Peat Moss or Coco Coir
- 1 Part Vermiculite
- 2 Parts Compost
When mixing these ingredients it’s good to add some water since the light ingredients of peat moss and coco coir can easily be picked up by the wind. Your container gardens can contain other ingredients like worm castings and blood meal. The amount you add will depend on the size of the pots you’re using.
Do you grow anything in containers? Comment below!