Container Gardening Tips

Reader Contribution by Kirsten Lie-Nielsen and Hostile Valley Living
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You can cultivate a thriving garden even if your space is limited. The number of vegetables and herbs you can grow in pots and containers is almost boundless, and they’ll produce an excellent harvest for you with proper care.


Those starting container gardens often turn to herbs first. Even if you have a full vegetable garden, sometimes you’ll appreciate growing your culinary herbs in pots that can be kept close to the kitchen and moved indoors during the winter months. Plants like Rosemary and Lavender won’t overwinter in harsh climates, but growing them in a planter means you can move them inside where it is warm as soon as frost starts to threaten.

A number of classic culinary and medicinal herbs are hardy and spread quickly in an open garden, so keeping them contained will prevent them from taking over an area of your garden. Some of the easiest to grow herbs include mint, chives, parsley, thyme, and basil. Plants like these are perfect for growing near your kitchen, once they are healthy and established you can clip a pinch off for a recipe whenever you need to.

Depending on the herb, occasional fertilization is needed for container plants along with regular watering. The first challenge with any container garden is making sure you keep your plants happy with enough water. All plants need water, but plants growing outdoors in the earth will reach their long taproots down to get all the moisture they can from out of the deep soil.  Plants grown in pots cannot reach deeper for more water, so make sure you keep them watered on a regular schedule.

A surprising abundance of vegetables can be grow in containers. Some unexpected successes include carrots and squash, which just need a deep enough container to spread their roots. Classic, easy to grow potted vegetables include tomatoes, eggplants, beans, and lettuce.

As with herbs, make sure you are watering and fertilizing your vegetable plants consistently according to their requirements. Check that your pots have proper drainage (many pots come with small holes in the bottom, or holes can be created with a small drill bit) so that the plants will not become waterlogged.

Use potting mix for your soil, not soil directly from the earth. Potting mixes are combined to retain moisture and also will often contain some fertilizers in them, which help potted plants thrive. Use the largest pots you have available to allow your vegetable’s roots to spread, which will reflect in larger plants and higher fruit yields.  Also, make sure to place your containers where they will get plenty of sunlight — most vegetables prefer at least six hours of sunlight per day.

Tomatoes are a classic container garden favorite and will often produce high yields when grown in pots. Zucchinis and cucumbers are also quick to flourish. It is important to leave your plants enough space to grow once they have started to leaf out. Sometimes when planting seedlings in a container or raised bed, it can feel like they’ll be tiny forever. Remember they’ll often grow many times their size as seedlings, and especially plants like zucchinis need plenty of room for their vines to spread.

A gardener with limited space can often yield as full of a harvest as those with a planted bed, as long as they properly care for their plants and pay attention to each individual plant’s needs. With enough room for roots, almost any vegetable or herb can be grown in a planter. And the advantages to planting in containers isn’t limited to the space you’ll save, you can also move your plants easily and keep them in convenient spots for easy harvesting.

Kirsten Lie-Nielsen is rebuilding a 200-year-old homestead in rural Maine, using geese for weeding and guarding purposes, raising chickens for eggs, bees for honey, and maintaining vegetable gardens for personal use. Find Kirsten online at Hostile Valley Living’s site, Facebook page, and Instagram, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS blog posts here.

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