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21 Container Vegetable Gardening Tips

Last updated : 11 November 2014

container-vegetable-gardening If you’ve chosen to try your hand at container vegetable gardening, there are a few things to consider that normally don’t apply to ordinary gardening projects.

In this piece, we’ll discuss some trouble-shooting tactics and ideas for first-time container gardeners that will help get you on your way to enjoying the produce of your labors.

1. Measure Your Space

Depending on the availability of space you can allot to your new garden, you’ll want to measure before you head to the garden center to purchase your supplies.

This will help you to avoid backtracking or purchasing more containers than you can use.

2. Plan Ahead

Much like traditional gardening, planning plays a big part in what you end up growing. Be sure to do your research.

Some plants require more room to spread or depth in which to root—this determines what sort of containers you purchase.

3. Track the Sun

Most vegetables require at least six hours of full sun. Don’t optimistically guess how much sunlight your space gets, because it could cost you in terms of time and money.

Use a sun calculator or just stay home with a book one day and use an the old-fashioned method of watching the clock.

4. Some Like It Hot

Most plants, while they love the sun, don’t like their roots to get too hot. Unlike traditional gardening, with container vegetable gardening the soil is exposed to the radiant heat of the sun.

Use a candy or meat thermometer to get an accurate idea of how hot the soil in your containers becomes. It may be necessary to rig a sun-shade for your pots during the most intense heat of the day.

5. Container Choice

When shopping for your containers, be careful to consider color and material. Stay away from metal containers entirely. Choose light or neutral colors in plastics or ceramics.

And always remember to flip them over and check for drainage holes in the bottom. If your favorite pots don’t have them, don’t buy them. They may look pretty, but choosing these will cost you in the long run.

6. Rootbound

On the topic of size, know what your veggies are doing under the dirt. A plant that becomes rootbound will not flourish. This happens when you try to grow a plant in a container that is really too tight a fit.

7. Crowds Are For Concerts

Don’t over-plant your containers. Observe the specifications for spacing between plants—they will thank you by growing and producing, something crowded and unhappy plants don’t do as well. This is because they’re in competition for limited space and resources.

8. Matching Is For Fashionistas

Don’t be afraid to have a variety of styles and colors among your container vegetable garden. Sometimes, price is no object and you can coordinate your containers with each other.

Sometimes, what fits your space doesn’t match the other containers. Don’t let that bother you—your carrots won’t care that they’re in a yellow container covered with daisies. I promise.

9. Getting the Dirt

Soil type is especially crucial with container vegetable gardening. First, because you’re effectively isolating your plants for the ecosystem of a typical garden, you’ll want to use good potting soil.

Don’t use soil from your garden. Not only may it not have all your growing plants need, but it may also be liberally laced with seeds from undesirable plants, like grasses or other weeds.

Remember, the definition of a weed is any plant that grows where you don’t want it. Even if it’s a pretty weed.

10. Log Your Water

Veggies are thirsty little things! You’ll want to be sure to water enough, but not too much. How can you tell?

If you’re uncertain how often you need to water, try sticking your index finger down into the first inch of soil—about to the depth of your first knuckle. If it feels dry, you’ll want to add a little water.

11. When to Water

As a corollary to the above point, know what times of day are best to water. Anyone who has ever had any sort of garden that they’ve had to water know that you never want to water when the sun is fully up—or more to the point, when your plants are in full sun.

First, there’s the fact that you’ll boil your garden with the radiant heat of all that sunlight. Then there’s the idea that, especially in warmer weather, you’re pouring away dollars in evaporation.

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Either way, you’re giving your plants moisture they can’t use. That being said, water in the early morning or in the evening, just before or sometime after sunset.

12. Know Your Limits

Even if it isn’t your first time gardening, know what you’ll be able to take care of, and what will grow best in the space you have.

Some things are easier to grow that others. For example, peas, beans, tomatoes and squash are generally cooperative vegetables and grow with little assistance.

Things like corn, large melons, and berry bushes can prove heart-breakingly difficult to maintain. This is usually because there are lots of other “outdoor neighbors” who want to eat the berries as soon as they ripen, melons require space, and corn is downright finicky about where it will consent to grow.

13. Don’t Fear Novelty

Having said that, if you’re into experimenting with the limits of your gardening prowess. Try everything and anything. Do your research in the planning stage and take on those more difficult denizens of the vegetable world.

If the possible prospect of a non-responsive crop doesn’t bother you, take the plunge. It’s totally up to you.

14. In the Zone

North America is divided up into a series of growing zones. If it’s your first time gardening, familiarize yourself with what vegetables grow best in your zone.

If you have traditional gardening experience, you may still want to look into frost and heat sensitivity, as these will be escalated by the planting method.

15. Elevate Your Garden

If you’ve elected to garden with containers because all that bending and twisting associated with traditional gardens has gotten to be a bit much for you, no worries.

Design your garden on multiple levels to suit your energy and flexibility levels. Low maintenance crops can go in containers that sit on the ground or deck, and higher maintenance crops can be set on tables, shelves, and railings.

Deck boxes and special railing boxes can often serve you well in this aspect.

16. Ph is Crucial

Keep your vegetables happy by knowing the Ph factor they favor. Do they grow better in acidic or basic environments? If your tomatoes aren’t doing well, try adding some spent coffee grounds.

17. Stir It Up

A small container of composted soil can be a good thing to maintain, so you can add fresh nutrients naturally to your garden as needed. It need not be the full-scale ambitious compost heap.

With a bit of potting soil, occasionally put vegetable peels, coffee grounds, or fruit ends here, turning well and watering every now and again.

18. A Little Blue

If light composting is not for you or isn’t ideal for your space, don’t worry. You can give your plants a little, healthy boost by mixing up a half-strength batch of liquid plant food, and feeding everyone once a week.

This gently boosts the available nutrients in the container soil, without putting your garden into an exhaustive overdrive, and brightens everything up during the mid-summer slump.

19. Plant Complimentary Species

Don’t bother with pesticides. You really don’t want your song birds eating poisoned dinners, anyway. A really great way to deter pest species is to plant complimentary species with pest-repellent qualities.

Examples are planting a few marigolds around tomatoes—this will deter green hornworms—or garlic with your lettuces and cabbages to put snails and slugs off their appetites.

20. Ladybugs are Lucky

Along the same lines as the above tip, buy some ladybugs if they aren’t flourishing naturally. Plant a few blooms that will provide them with shelter, because they eat aphids, the bugs that love all you’re the same veggies you do.

One infestation will make certain you don’t want to eat any of the veggies they’ve gotten to, and that means more for them. Aphids thrive in most temperate and subtropical environments, even in urban settings.

So nip them in the bud, before they nip your garden’s buds.

21. Talk to Your Plants

While the evidence is anecdotal—for the plants, anyway—people who interact, use speech, and have emotional interactions have been shown to be healthier in both body and mind.

As well, when you show care to anything, you are taking extra effort, because you form an attachment to it. Plus, the carbon dioxide you produce while talking to your plants is good for them. They appreciate it.

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Comments

  1. says

    I am 76 yrs youngman with an penheart+backbone surgeries ans gall stone high bp,Arthritis etc +other God gifted ailments. This is not to frighten you but o hint my restrictions which I donot stick to. I became your member but didnot get any book or other gifts which youwrite in your letter.Well leaveit. Now please tell me the actual size of the flower pots which I will need for growing nursery,

    Please name the herbs which grow on roof garden fit for me and 4 members.The Qty and their uses so that I become excellent cook and please person called God if I ever meet him.

    Similarly please name the flowers which can grow in small pots instead of cut flowers preferably the ones which are not dependent on sun light.

    With best wishes

    M L Bhargava

  2. Bonnie says

    Thanks Mike. I love the container gardening. I have hard hard clay and rocks as soil so I do everything in containers. Enjoy reading all your ideas.

  3. C Dorr says

    Tomatoes in pots will need staking & tying up. I use the shortest garden stakes I can find (about 3 ft) & push them all the way down in the pot. And use old pantyhose or nylons knee-high socks to tie up the stems. Old pantyhose is strong, flexible, won’t damage the stems, is washable & re-useable year after year & there is an endless free supply.
    The only kind of potted tomato I usually don’t stake is “Patio” which is bred for a strong center stem & doesn’t flop over or get “viney”.
    Potting mix is all I use. It’s much better than anything else & is weed-free. I get the kind that has the moisture control additive. And a full large pot of potting mix is lighter in weight that if it were regular garden soil. Which is good when having to lift & move the large pots.

  4. cathybishop says

    thanks so much for your newsletter–I am learning so much–you give us alot of info on pots and soils and we really are staying inspired and excited!! thanks again, cathy

  5. Irene says

    Thanks to everyone’s tips, I learn a lot from them.
    Can anyone tell me where I can get seeds for Thyme?

    Thank you

  6. Charlie says

    I was thinking of using 5 gallon buckets with holes in the bottom for drainage and using the lids as trays…Homer Buckets, or the ones from Lowes, Walmart, Craigslist, etc…should all work pretty good. I had some other container ideas that would use concrete and forms, sonotubes, buckets, tubs inside of other containers…that could work pretty good too. BTW, love the newsletter and one of these days I’ll cough up the cash to purchase your system; just don’t have the funds right now.

  7. Peter says

    Hey Mike,

    So much of this applies to me, should have’s but didn’t. This is going straight to my printer since much of it also applies to my other gardening/growing endevors.

    Much thanks,
    Peter

  8. Sharon Armstrong says

    Have had some experience with house plants and have an indoor green house. But recently move from PA to TN to care for my 91 yr old father &stepmother. Dad is no longer able to do the gardening, so it became my welcome respnsibility! Whew! Haven’t gardened since my 20s. Did not know what a potato plant looked like, let alone how to dig them up. Dad is awsome with teaching & refreshing my submerged knowledge. Just want you to know, everything in this article I have been told by my father and is good stuff! (Especially the weed info. I was appalled when I was told to pull up those beautiful Morning Glorys in the garden! Now I understand.) Keep up the great letters!

  9. says

    Greenhouse plastic has a great advantage over glas in many ways. It is easy to place in any way and much cheaper, you are not bound to fixed dimension. Also when it breaks it is easy and cheap to replace.

  10. John R says

    Great articles Mike. Just read your article on Squirrels, they work. I have problems with them getting into our attic.I think they will work up there. Any suggestions besides releasing ferrets?

    Your site is my morning ESPN (Extra Special Plant Network). I bought your booklet back in ’08, I think. GREAT stuff!! Gotta dig it up.

    • Mike says

      Pam, really you can cut it back about anytime, but ideally wait until you get a hard freeze and it loses all of it’s leaves and cut away.

  11. says

    Hi Mike, Could you please tell me if I should remove the suckers from my tomato plants? They are the suckers that are in the crouch area on the plant. I have two tomatoes in two different pots on the balcony. They have only been planted recently. I used a little fertilizer in the potting mix when I potted them, but none since because I don’t know which one to use. They now have a few unripened tomatoes on them, but the leaves don’t look very luscious and are going yellow. They are in full sun and I water them every day. The tomato’s are called Mighty Red. I am in Australia.

    Please let me know what I should do Regards Barbara

    • Mike says

      Barbara,

      Unless your tomatoes are grafted which I doubt, the suckers should be exactly the same as the tomato plant itself so I’d be inclined to leave them.

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