Anyone with a sunny windowsill or small balcony can try container gardening! There is something magical about growing your own food, no matter how small your garden is.
Container gardening is accessible for most, and is a great way to connect with nature, try new flavors, and save money. There are many types of food you can grow in a container.
Container gardening is something most people can do, even if they don’t have a lot of space to garden in. Even with a big yard, a few containers can add interest and allow you to grow plants that might not survive Maryland winters by bringing them inside.
If you have a patio or a windowsill, you too can grow some of your own food in a container garden. Farmers markets are great, but you can’t beat the taste and freshness of a warm tomato from your own patio. A juicy strawberry picked at the perfect time is incredible.
Salad greens, in particular, are best eaten fresh. They are also one of the easiest plants to grow in a container garden, indoors or out, and can be picked as needed rather than all at once and stored in the fridge.
Fresh herbs are expensive, and are easily grown in container gardens. Fresh herbs can elevate your cooking and save you money. They don’t take up a lot of space, and you can keep them growing all summer, picking leaves as needed.
Growing tasty treats in containers is a great idea if you have kids as well! Kids raised with cherry tomato plants and other small tasty veggies and fruits are much more likely to try other fresh produce.
My mom would laugh every time my brothers ran outside to steal veggies when she had told them “no more snacks”. They thought they were getting away with something.
If you don’t have the space or time for a full sized garden, you can still grow food in a container garden to tempt your kids and yourself!
Choosing Containers for your Garden
There are all kinds of containers out there to use for growing your own food. From bags to pots to creative recycled items like boots and bathtubs, you can find a container to meet your needs.
When choosing your containers, pay attention to the material they are made of. Wood looks pretty but will rot. Plastic and ceramic hold in water while adobe dries out quickly. Metal may rust. A darker pot will get hotter. Ceramic and adobe will crack in winter.
Besides the material, you want to make sure your pot is deep enough and has enough drainage for the plants you want to put in them. You don’t need a big pot for a lettuce plant, but something like a tomato will need a lot more space.
If you plan to move your containers around, the bigger they are, the more difficult to move. A bigger pot will hold more plants and keep soil moister for longer. You might compromise with a lighter weight pot.
Containers that are at least 10 inches wide and 12 inches deep are good to start with. As you learn more about growing in containers you might branch out to smaller or shallower options, depending on what you want to grow and how often you plan to water.
A container garden usually needs more water than an in ground garden does. Self watering containers can help here, as they have a reservoir and a wick to keep the soil moist.
You can also plant into hanging baskets. There are lots of creative ideas to recycle bottles or buckets out there. Potatoes can be grown in tires. Look around your house, and search for ideas online. Just make sure you won’t have chemicals leaching out and that there is good drainage.
Plants for Container Gardening
You can grow anything if your container is big enough! Gardeners grow exotic dwarf trees and bushes in containers and bring them inside in the winter to keep them going. For annual vegetable plants, you probably want to stick with small sized plants.
Some of the best vegetables to start with would be peas, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, radishes, eggplants, bush squashes and bush cucumbers, leafy vegetables (like lettuce), and peppers.
Looking for small varieties or those labeled determinate (meaning they don’t keep growing) for your pots. Searching for container vegetables can also yield great options.
Carrots, for example, are traditionally long and skinny. There are other options, as you can find ball shaped carrot varieties that would work well in smaller containers.
Bush squashes still need a larger container, but they will grow compactly compared to their big siblings. Look for dwarf, container, or small sized in plant descriptions.
Plant spacing and sizes of pots are important. Pay attention to spacing when you plant, especially if you mix your plants into a container.
Look for fun varieties, too, that you might not find locally. Plants can offer a lot of beauty to your balcony or deck. Mix them up and enjoy a beautiful place that has tasty snacks on hand!
Taking Care of your Container Garden
When growing your container garden, you have the same concerns as an in-ground gardener. You need to make sure the plants get enough light, water, and nutrients. You need to monitor for pests and disease.
Most vegetables and fruits need 6-8 hours of sunlight each day. Things like tomatoes and peppers need full sun, but leafy plants like lettuce and spinach could probably get by with less.
If you don’t have enough light, you can get creative with bouncing it with reflectors, or you might stick with veggies that can handle some shade.
Look for a sunny window if your deck has too much shade. Herbs and greens may grow there instead!
Soil moisture needs to be checked daily, sometimes more often. A lot of wind and sun can dry out your pots much faster than an in-ground garden does. Larger pots and self watering containers stay moist longer.
Especially during hot or windy weather, keep an eye on your plants. Mulching your pots, adding amendments to store water, and covering the surface with plants can all help.
The soil is what keeps your plants healthy and happy. Don’t use garden soil, as it can have pests and weeds and diseases in it. Container gardens do best with potting mixes that are meant for containers.
Adding some compost to your potting mix will help with nutrients and organic matter, keeping your soil moist for longer.
Some gardeners add dry organic fertilizer or compost to their containers before planting. They then use dilute liquid fish emulsion or liquid seaweed to fertilize their plants about twice a month. Don’t overfertilize, as the plants will grow too fast and fall over.
When planting your containers, add soil to 2-3 inches below the rim. That way you can water deeply and let it soak in. Water the soil before adding your plants or seeds. Check on the moisture level twice a day at first.
If you have trouble with your pots drying out, you can try double potting. Put a smaller pot inside a larger pot and fill the space between with moss or crumpled newspaper. Soak the medium between pots when you water.
If you have trouble with your pots staying too wet, you can add a layer of coarse gravel to the bottom in the future. A inch of gravel at the bottom will help with drainage.
Some plants may need trellising as they grow. Plan for that so that they have adequate stabilization and can grow well.
Harvest your plants regularly. Snack on your treats as they grow, and enjoy their beauty. Using leaves and eating the vegetables will keep your plants growing well.