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What is container gardening? It’s exactly as it sounds: growing plants in containers, rather than directly in the ground. 

Container gardening is an ideal method if you’re short on space, if you want to grow plants indoors, or if you want to be able to move your plants into or out of sunlight at certain times of day. It can also help protect your plants from bugs and diseases that they might pick up outdoors. 

If you want to give it a try, there are a few tips and tricks you should know for successful container gardening. Read on for more information on the best plants for container gardening, container gardening ideas, and how to do container gardening as a total beginner. 

How to Start Container Gardening

Step 1: Gather Your Pots (Er, Containers)

plants
Source: Unsplash
What is container gardening? It involves plants and containers.

Container gardening wouldn’t be container gardening without, well, containers—so gather them before you start. Choose containers that are appropriate for the size of the plant, or the size that you hope the plant will grow into. For example, if you want to grow a thriving, tall tomato plant, a mug-size container that gives it no chance to grow isn’t the best choice. That said, it’s OK to germinate seeds in smaller containers and transfer them to larger pots when they’ve grown roots.

Step 2: Place a Layer of Gravel in the Bottom of the Pot (Optional)

stones in pot
Adding stones to the container helps with drainage.

Place a layer of gravel, rocks, or pebbles in the bottom of the pot. This will help with drainage so your plant doesn’t get too wet, as plants don’t do well with wet roots. You can skip this step if your container already has a lot of holes in the bottom (the stones would fall out anyway!).

Step 3: Fill the Container with Potting Mix

potting soil
The best potting mix for container gardening is pre-made.

Next, add potting mix to the container. Don’t fill it right to the top—stop at about three-quarters of the way up. Potting mix is somewhat like soil from the garden, but it’s softer, moister, and packed with the nutrients that young plants need to thrive. 

Step 4: Add Seeds or Seedlings

plant
Space your seedlings apart in the pot.

Scoop a small indentation into the surface of the potting mix and place the seeds in, covering them up with a bit of soil. If you’re transplanting seedlings, scoop a hole for the whole plant with a trowel. The roots of the seedling should be fully buried in the potting mix. 

Step 5: Monitor and Tend to Your Plants Appropriately

tiny plants
Source: Unsplash
Plants will flourish when looked after properly.

Different plants require different amounts of water and sunlight. Too much water can be as damaging as too little, and too little sun as bad as too much. Do some research on what each of your plants needs and care for them accordingly. For example, tomatoes and cucumbers need a lot of water, whereas succulents don’t. The best way to check whether your plants need watering is to insert your finger about an inch into the soil and check whether it is moist.

Get Container Garden Ideas from the Pros

Turn Your Thumb Green: Expert Concepts Behind Successful Plant Growing

How Can You Grow Vegetables or Herbs in a Container Garden?

tiny plants
Herbs are some of the best plants for container gardening.

Growing vegetables and herbs in containers is a great way of reducing your grocery bill and having access to fresh food right at your fingertips. Vegetables and herbs can be grown in containers just as well as other plants. Unlike growing these out in the garden, when you use containers you don’t have to worry as much about pests that could ruin your crop (although there is still some risk, especially if you move your plants outside sometimes).

A key to successful container vegetable gardening is tending to them appropriately. As mentioned above, different plants require different levels of water, sunlight, and care. The stakes are a little higher when growing edible plants in containers rather than decorative ones because the wrong level of care could lead to an inedible plant. 

What About Succulents?

succulents
Looking for creative container gardening ideas? Succulents can be grown in containers directly from leaves.

If you’re just getting started with container gardening, succulents are a good place to begin because they’re super easy to care for. These plants are thick, fleshy, and somewhat like cacti but without the harsh thorns (although some are still spiky). They’re also attractive and make good decorative indoor plants. Water the soil directly and make sure they get enough light.

3 Tips for Beginners

Follow these tips to make vegetable container gardening for beginners easier.

1. Use Proper Potting Mix

When starting out with container gardening you might be tempted to scoop some soil out of your garden rather than going to the trouble of buying a bag of potting mix. But don’t! Soil from the outdoors may be contaminated with pests that can damage your plants. One of the benefits of container gardening over outdoor gardening is being able to protect your plants from these bugs.

2. Give Your Plants Growing Room

Don’t place seeds or seedlings too close together in a pot, as they need enough room to grow. If they do end up being too crowded, you can transplant them into individual pots later, but this risks damaging the roots so it’s best to avoid it if you can.

3. Choose Practical Over Decorative Containers

Some plant pots are more decorative than others—which is fine—but don’t make the mistake of trying to grow a plant in a decorative pot without drainage holes. Some of the more attractive pots are meant as the outer layer only, into which you place a smaller, sometimes plastic pot with drainage holes. Putting the soil and plant directly into a decorative outer pot is one of the biggest beginner mistakes you can make!

FAQs for Container Gardens

tiny plants
Seedlings growing in containers made from newspaper.

How Deep Should a Container Garden Be?

This depends on the plants you’re growing. If you’re growing root vegetables like potatoes, beets, or carrots, a container that’s 8-12 inches in depth is ideal. Plants that grow higher above the surface than beneath it, like salad greens and herbs, only need 4-5 inches.

What Type of Soil Should You Use for a Container Garden?

Potting mix is better than soil from outside, as the latter can be contaminated with pests and bugs. The best potting mix for container gardening is a combination of soil and compost. You can buy ready-to-use bags at garden stores.

What Are the Best Pots to Use?

Terracotta clay pots with a drainage hole at the bottom are good as they’re inexpensive and strong. Plastic pots are also fine, and they retain water better than clay pots. They don’t always look as aesthetically pleasing as clay pots, but they’re very cheap. They’re often black, though, so retain more heat when in direct sun. This may or may not be bad news for your plants, depending on the climate where you live. Just make sure to place the pots in an appropriately sheltered place outside.

If you’re growing seedlings directly from seeds, you don’t actually need proper pots. Empty egg cartons are ideal for this.

What Are the Best Container Gardening Vegetables and Herbs?

In addition to a variety of flowers, the best vegetables and herbs for container gardening include:

  • Potatoes
  • Peas
  • Spinach
  • Swiss chard
  • Lettuce
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Eggplants
  • Radishes
  • Zucchini
  • Beans
  • Chilis
  • Herbs, including basil, mint, cilantro, sage, and rosemary

Vegetable Container Gardening for Beginners

Make Newspaper Pots to Start Seeds