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.
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.