Small garden space – no problem!
Even though I have a big yard and plenty of room to have a large garden, I still grow vegetables, fruits and flowers in containers. Over the years, I’ve learned a few container gardening tricks that give me control over my crops and allow me to raise small batches of food in a limited space. You can do it too.
The traditional method for container gardening might be to use purchased pots. These come in as many sizes, shapes and materials as you could imagine and are fantastic for growing things. Clay pots, plastic pots, half barrels and Styrofoam are all good looking and sturdy enough to grow flowers, vegetables or herbs.
Clay pots, plastic pots, half barrels and even ones made with Styrofoam are good looking and sturdy enough to grow flowers, vegetables or herbs.
If you are just getting started with container gardening it can be expensive to purchase new pots, so get creative with your containers.
Be creative with your container
Have some fun! I have been known to use just about anything as a planter. If I like the way it looks and if it will hold soil and water, I consider it fair game. It gives my garden and deck area a wonderful eclectic look. That might not be for you, but I like the character it gives my garden.
Mint in a pail and monarda in a 5-gallon red bucket will work for me.
Another unusual container you may find me using is a straw bale, which has been growing my fall garden this season until I can get new raised beds built. The broccoli and cabbage are looking fabulous!
My newest container garden is the A-Frame Pallet Planter. I’ve taken two pallets and created grow bags for containers. This new planter is giving me 20 feet of growing area in just 3.5 feet of space.
Soil is important
It is possible to have a productive garden in appropriate size containers. You just need a big enough pot size to accommodate the root requirements of your plants and good potting soil to support the nutrients your plants will need.
Regular garden soil is too heavy to use in container gardening. Look for something light but water retaining at the local nursery.
“Containers require a potting soil that will provide enough support for plants as they grow, and one that will help retain moisture while in the container.” from the A-Frame Pallet Planter eBook.
If you cannot find a potting soil that fits your needs or budget, consider creating your own. Mix your own personalized potting soil by using a few basic ingredients in place of peat moss, perlite and vermiculite (the three leading ingredients in bagged potting soil).
- Start with your best garden soil, 1/3 volume
- Add cured compost or leaf mold, 1/3 volume
- Add rotted sawdust (from untreated wood) or sharp sand, 1/3 volume
You may want to add other organic ingredients like bone meal (adds phosphorus), blood meal (adds nitrogen), and ground limestone (calcium and magnesium) to round out the nutrients.
Planting depth or planting width?
The wonderful thing about plants is that their root systems are adaptive. They will use the space they are given to grow healthy plants. That means you have options when choosing your containers.
Every plant has a certain soil depth as a minimum requirement. Think about a tomato plant growing large juicy fruit. Its root system is huge and the more room you give it to reach into the soil, the bigger your fruit will become.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t grow tomatoes in containers – they just need to have enough depth in order to grow roots successfully. People who want to grow tomatoes in containers use 5-gallon buckets or 32 gallon totes. It’s all about the roots.
Other plants – like lettuce – do not require much in the way of soil depth and can be grown in shallow containers. My two favorite ways to do that are plastic tubs and gutters.
As a general rule the shallower your container the wider it should be. Give the plants roots a chance to spread wide instead of growing deep.
How often should you water your containers? That will vary depending on several factors:
- the time of the year,
- the location of the container,
- how long the container has been planted,
- the type of container, and
- the type of plant material.
Containers will always require extra watering during the hot part of your growing season. The limited soil area will dry out faster than a regular “in ground” garden.
Plan on watering daily during peak season and consider adding a drip system if you are the forgetful type. All lush, productive gardens get that way by having adequate water, sun, and nutrients. If you are planning on using your containers for food production, paying attention to the water requirements of your plants is perhaps the biggest thing you can do to be successful.
Your plants need 3 main nutrients to thrive. First is nitrogen (N), which promotes healthy foliage. Next is phosphorus (P), which is working on the flowers and a necessity if you want to harvest any kind of fruit or vegetable, and third is potassium (K) which promotes strong roots and overall vigor.
If any one of these nutrients is missing you will not have a good harvest. When you purchase fertilizer in the store the package always refers to the N-P-K ratio and it looks something like this: 10-20-10. They are always listed in the same order, so, in this case, you would be purchasing fertilizer with 10% Nitrogen (N), 20% Phosphorus (P) and 10% Potassium (K)
- Organic forms of nitrogen include blood meal, fish emulsion, and manure tea.
- Organic forms of phosphorus include bone meal and rock phosphate.
- Organic forms of potassium include green sand, liquid seaweed, and wood ash.
Container gardening allows you to be able to grow a variety of vegetables in a way that is possible even if you don’t have a large yard. You can have a productive garden by using these container gardening tricks as part of your overall garden plan.
What is your favorite food to grow in containers?