Would you like to learn how to start a container garden? Does the idea of growing food and herbs and more in containers excite you? But maybe you don’t know where to start.

In this guide, I will teach you how to start a container garden as well as what plants you can use, what containers are best, the right soil and amendments, and the care required.

When you start a container garden you allow for yet another source of food for survival beyond the traditional vegetable and herb garden. And the beauty of it is you can do so easily right on your porch, patio or deck.

Imagine walking out your back door and picking a fresh tomato right on your porch. That’s the benefit of having a container garden.

Vegetables in containers

Why Would You Start A Container Garden

This type of garden is a great addition to growing survival foods, seeing our countries current condition with food shortages. There are many benefits and reasons to start your own today.

The most popular reasons to start a container garden are as follows;

You Can Control Soil Mixture

Anytime you plant in a container, you have the ability to control the moisture levels within that pot or bucket. This means you can keep a closer eye on the amount of water each plant is receiving and how often.

You will know right away if your plants need more water or less. You can build and install a DIY watering system to water your plants with no interaction from you other than refilling your water source.

Watering guage

Plants Grow Better in Containers than in the Ground

Container plants do not lose the nutrients like plants grown in the ground. Because they are contained, they always stay in the good, fertile soil that you started with.

The fertilizer you will use will go directly to the plant and will not leach out into the soil as far. This could mean saving on the cost of fertilizer as you shouldn’t have to fertilize as often.

Herbs in potting soil

Plants Can Be Moved Easily

With plants that are grown using this method, they can be moved easily. this is helpful when a cold season approaches or a sudden frost or freeze. Even heavy pots can be placed on wheeled trays and brought indoors quickly.

Another benefit is that when you see that where the plant is located is too sunny or not sunny enough, you can simply move the plant to another location. You don’t have to take the chance of disturbing the roots as when you transplant an in-ground plant.

Woman carrying pots

No Yard No Problem

Having the ability to grow a container garden allows those living in a dwelling with absolutely no ground to plant in to still grow their own food. From a patio or balcony to a windowsill the opportunities to start a container garden are almost endless.

Plants on a balcony

Great for Elderly, Disabled

Elderly and disabled people may have difficulties getting out in the garden. By growing a patio vegetable garden, they can still grow some food without the risk of injury.

And by adding a garden box for the railing or balcony, they can grow even more easily and within reach.

Senior gardening

Where Do I Place My Container Garden?

There are so many places to start your container garden. Anywhere that receives a few hours of sun and has a little bit of space to put containers or pots to plant in will work.

Most common container garden spaces include:

  • Patio
  • Deck
  • Porch
  • Windowsill
  • Directly on the ground
  • In a greenhouse
  • In the home near a window
Windowsill garden

What Are The Best Plants for a Container Garden?

Just about any plant can be grown in a pot as long as its basic growing requirements are met. You can grow fruits, vegetables, flowers, herbs, cactus, ferns, shrubs, and small trees almost anywhere. 

Try to keep the plants together that have similar light and water requirements to make things easier on yourself. You can group plants by color combination too.

Plants with similar watering conditions placed together

Vegetables

Many vegetables grow well in containers. From lettuce to corn the possibilities are many.

Here are some great vegetables to start in containers. Check for correct spacing and depth required.

  • Beans, Bush
  • Beets
  • Bok Choy
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Chard
  • Collards
  • Corn
  • Cucumbers
  • Eggplant
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Mustard Greens
  • Onions, Green
  • Peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Radish
  • Spinach
  • Squash, Summer
  • Tomatoes
  • Tomatoes, Cherry
  • Turnips

Herbs

Herbs are the best and easiest plants for container gardening. They are simple to grow and maintain.

indoor herb garden

Here are some great herbs to start:

Annual Herbs

  • Anise
  • Basil
  • Borage
  • Chervil
  • Cilantro/Coriander
  • Dill
  • Stevia
  • Summer Savory

Perennial Herbs

  • Caraway
  • Parsley
  • Catmint
  • Chives
  • Fennel
  • Hyssop
  • Lavender
  • Lovage
  • Marjoram
  • Mint
  • Oregano
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Sweet Bay
  • Tarragon
  • Thyme
  • Watercress
  • Winter Savory

Flowers

Flowers make any garden look beautiful! The color combinations are amazing. Some flowers are edible and can even be used in natural remedies.

Flowers growing in pots

Some common flowers you can use are:

Annual Flowers

  • Ageratum
  • Alyssum
  • Angelonia
  • Bachelor Button
  • Bean, Scarlet Runner
  • Begonia
  • Bracteantha
  • Calendula
  • Canary Creeper
  • Celosia
  • Cosmos
  • Dianthus
  • Dusty Miller
  • Evolvulus
  • Fuchsia
  • Geranium
  • Impatiens
  • Ipomea
  • Licorice Plant
  • Lobelia
  • Marigold
  • Morning Glory
  • Nasturtium
  • Pansy
  • Petunia
  • Salvia
  • Scaevola
  • Snapdragon
  • Sweet William
  • Verbena
  • Zinnia

Perennial Flowers

  • Agastache
  • Candytuft
  • Chrysanthemum
  • Columbine
  • Forget-Me-Not
  • Gaillardia
  • Gaura
  • Gypsophila
  • Sedum
  • Shasta Daisy
  • Veronica
  • Yarrow

Cacti and Ferns

cacti in pots

Cacti make wonderful plants. if you grow the Prickly Pear variety you have the added benefit of getting some great tasting fruit also.

Ferns make for beautiful hanging baskets on a covered porch. Some parts of the ferns called fiddleheads and some root balls are even edible.

Fruit

There are many types of fruit that can be grown in a container as well as fruit trees. Although the fruit trees should be the dwarf variety there are many available for you to choose from.

Lemon tree in pot

Varieties and types include:

  • Apples (dwarf)
  • Bananas
  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Figs
  • Guava
  • Lemon
  • Lime
  • Nectarine
  • Oranges
  • Pomegranate
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries

You can also try growing bulbs and exotic plants as well. Be creative, think outside the box.

What Are The Best Containers for Plants?

Now that you know what plants you can use, let’s discuss options for what to plant in.

Most Anything Can be Used

As long as it is big enough to accommodate the mature size of the plants and provides adequate room for the roots. This can be something as small as a teacup to a large whiskey barrel.

The most important issue to consider is drainage.

Drainage holes in terra cotta pots

Supplying Good Drainage

If you wish to use a plastic pot, make sure there are holes in the bottom to allow excess water to drain. If not, it is simple to drill small holes yourself. Some pots have markings for drilling these drain holes.

If using another type of container, try to find ones with drainage holes already in place.

Man making drainage holes in pot

Pot Must Match Growth Needs

Be sure to choose the container or pot that fits the growth requirements of your intended plant. A cactus works well in a shallow pot, but tomatoes need a deep container in order for the roots to grow long and strong.

Tomato plants in pots

What Are The Best Pot Materials

Pots and garden planters come in various colors, shapes, sizes, designs, and materials. Choosing the type of material your plants will grow in is important. Here are five main types of materials that are commonly used.

Terra Cotta

Terra cotta pots are easily identified clay pots. They most commonly are a tan to tannish-red in color. These pots are porous so they can be challenging when it comes to controlling moisture.

Terra cotta pots can be sealed, placed in a tray, or have a liner inserted to help control the moisture in them while the plants are growing.

These pots can freeze. In colder climates you may want to empty them and store them upside down out of the frigid temperatures.

Terra Cotta pots

Plastic

Plastic pots are truly versatile and come in many options and sizes. Some are plain and some are designed to look like stone or wood. Plastic pots can be found anywhere.

Many people are trying to stray from using plastic so these types of pots may not be an option for you.

If you live in a very tropical and hot climate, keep in mind that over time, the sun may cause these to become brittle and crack easily. The same applies to cold climates.

Plastic pots

Ceramic and Glazed Pots

Ceramic and glazed pots come in a wide array of sizes, designs, color schemes, and patterns. Because they are kiln-fired, they are sealed. That means they will hold moisture longer. They also provide a nice stable foundation for your plants.

These pots may not fend so well in colder climates, so it is best to empty these pots and store for winter if you receive freezing temperatures. Annuals are great in these types of pots.

The downside to these types of pots is their weight. The bigger the pot, the harder it will be to move if needed.

Glazed pots

Fabric Growing Bags

These are a great alternative to traditional pots you may be used to. They are made of a breathable fabric structure that allows for self-pruning root systems, faster plant growth, efficient airflow, and excellent drainage.

These fabric grow bags are super easy to move and transport making them a favorite for many new gardeners. Do your research to make sure you get the right size bag for the plant you intend to place in it.

The downside to these bags is, like ceramic pots, the bigger bags can get extremely heavy and hard to move. You can make your own grow bags, just watch the video from Empress of Dirt below!

Metal Containers

Metal containers can be very durable for planting. But keep in mind the weight. Cast iron for example, is heavy before adding the soil and plant. Once planted the weight can be doubled making it difficult to move.

Tin or aluminum pots make great planters.They are lightweight and usually require less maintenance. Make sure you allow for drainage by drilling holes in the bottom if possible.

Some metal containers may rust when allowed to have constant moisture in them. Painting these first or sealing them can help prevent rust from forming.

If you live in a hot climate please remember – metal get’s HOT in the sun.

metal plant pots

What is the Best Soil for my Container Garden?

You can have the right container, allowed for drainage, and ready to plant, but if the soil isn’t right, all will fail. Soil type matters. Get the soil right and you are well on your way to a successful harvest.

No Garden Soil From Yard

I cannot stress the point to you enough that you should NEVER use straight garden soil. Unless you have perfect soil for a container in the ground, which I seriously would find difficult to believe.

Not many people can just plant in the ground. They must first add nutrients and other elements before the soil is ready to plant. That type of original soil is not what you want in your pots and containers.

Garden soil

Specific Potting Mix for Container Plants

Instead, use the correct potting soil mix for containers, whether you purchase a bag of organic container potting mix or you make your own. I opt for buying the organic container mix at Home Depot. It is affordable, healthy for plants, and works well.

Container mix from Home Depot

If you choose to make your own, follow these 3 simple steps to create container garden soil:

  1. 1 Part Peat Moss
  2. 1 Part Perlite
  3. 2 Parts Compost

You can mix these in a five-gallon bucket or a wheelbarrow.

Mixture for great potting soil

Fertilizing

Fertilizing your plants does not have to be complicated. Many gardeners panic when using any type of fertilizer. One rule to keep in mind is that sometimes a little goes a long way, but consistency is key when it comes to feeding your plants.

What Type of Fertilizer Do You Use?

When adding potting mix to your containers, if the soil has fertilizer already incorporated, you don’t need to add any. However if it does not, mix some organic granule fertilizers to the mix before planting according to the package instructions.

Try to make sure and use a “slow-release” fertilizer. check the label to learn how long it will fertilize your plants. Most work for an average of 60-90 days.

From there after, you want to use a water-soluble fertilizer. These are designed to go directly to the roots of your plants. You can dissolve these in warm water and pour directly next to the base of the plants as needed.

If you are buying liquid fertilizer, you want an equal ratio of “N-P-K” (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium), which are the three nutrients that plants need the most of. Options may include:

  • Fish emulsion
  • Liquid Kelp
Fertilizer being sprinkled on plant

How Often Do You Fertilize?

Water vegetables with a diluted fertilizer feed about once a month. Fruiting vegetables will need a tomato type feed weekly. I fertilize throughout the growing season from spring until late summer.

Some container plants do not need to be fed as they grow. Cut-and-come-again lettuces or other salad leaves don’t typically need a regular feed. Herbs shouldn’t need to be fed at all, particularly lavender, thyme, or rosemary; they do best in nutrient-poor, drier conditions.

Watering Guidelines

Watering your new garden is fairly easy. There is no single way to water correctly. Instead, look at your plants and feel the soil. Here are some common questions and answers when it comes to watering:

Question: Is the soil completely dried out?

Answer: Start watering more often, or transfer to a pot that retains moisture better.

Question: Is the soil very wet?

Answer: Allow the soil to dry out a bit and start watering less frequently.

Question: Are the leaves drooping?

Answer: This could be a sign of the soil being too dry. If regular watering does not improve this condition, research the particular plant for common problems.

By learning your plants needs and maybe doing some research, you will establish a watering schedule quickly.

Woman watering plants

Conclusion:

Container gardening is a great way to grow some great food from vegetables and herbs, to flowers, fruit, and others. It is a great way for the beginner to become used to the fundamentals of gardening.

Whether your container garden is indoors, in a greenhouse, or on your porch or balcony, it will allow you to grow more food for you and your family and allow you to learn a new skill too on your road to reliance.

What are you waiting on? Start your container garden today.

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