Grow Your Own Container Gardens

Container gardens can exist in just about any spot that gets good sun, such as a patio, deck or balcony. In fact, some say that a container garden is easier to maintain than a conventional garden.

| April/May 2008

If you don’t have the space or time to have a garden in the earth, you still can grow a significant amount of healthy, tasty food ... in containers. Any sunny spot will do, whether it’s in your yard, on your patio, deck or balcony, or even inside your home or apartment. Not only is growing a container garden possible, but it’s fun and fairly easy to grow virtually anything grown in a conventional garden.

In some ways, gardening in containers is easier than gardening in the ground. Container-grown vegetables have slightly smaller yields than plants grown in the ground, but there are fewer, if any, weeds. Some pests are less likely to be a problem, because your container garden is in a location that pests don’t expect to find food. Diseases also are easier to avoid, because your 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. Container gardens, at least the smaller ones, can be moved around and brought indoors when frost threatens. And you can set your container garden at whatever height is comfortable and convenient; you can even garden sitting down if you like!

A Garden in a Flower Pot

There are two container options. The first is what I’ll call traditional containers, which consist of anything that can hold some soil and has a hole in the bottom to drain excess water. The second option is self-watering containers, which arrived on the market a few years ago. They have a reservoir for water that is connected to the soil in the rest of the container, which ensures that the water is continually available to the growing plants. As long as there’s water in the reservoir, soil throughout the container is evenly moist.

For vegetable plants, most of which are larger than the flowers typically grown in containers, a suitable container can be either a large flower pot, or something originally meant for some other use: an old wash tub; a pail or sap bucket; half of a whiskey or wine barrel; or a plastic bucket that once held doughnut filling or sheet rock compound. And because they can be recycled objects, traditional containers often are inexpensive or free. Just 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. Fill the container with moist container soil (see “Selecting Soils,” below) and add water. Then add more water.

You can grow large plants such as corn or squash in containers, but make sure your container garden site has full sun. The same is true for tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. You can get away with partial shade for spinach, lettuce, bok choy and other leafy greens.

Amanda Chisholm
6/21/2012 4:57:16 AM

I am unclear on how to proceed when you get to the funnel. I will end up with a very wide part of the funnel in the bottom of the reservoir, a few inches in diameter, and so if that part is filled with soil, when i fill the pot, won't it filter into the reservoir? Thank you!

Cathleen Drew
3/17/2012 12:02:47 AM

You can also now get self-watering containers "city pickers" at Home Depot.

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