Tips for Container Gardening

Why Container Gardening?

Perhaps you live in an apartment, have limited space in your yard, or just don’t want to have a full-scale garden. By growing in containers, you can have fresh vegetables and herbs just steps from your kitchen, and they can enhance your patio, deck, or balcony.

Kale container

Containers can also be moved to take advantage of the sun’s changing location during the season. You can use several large pots in which you can plant a salad garden, herbs and flowers..

Considerations for Container Gardening


One of the most important things for success with growing vegetables is to know how much sun they will get. While there are some edibles that grow just fine in shade, many need full sun. Sun exposure can be challenging to figure out, because the sun moves across the sky during the growing season. While an area may get sun all day during the early spring months, by the time July and August roll around, trees, buildings, even your own house or fence may obstruct the sun, creating deep shade for a significant portion of the day.

The best way to figure out how much sun an area gets is to visually check your area. If you are checking visually, you will need a watch and a piece of paper and a day when you are going to be home and able to look at your chosen area every hour or two. Most people overestimate the amount of sun that is available for their plants.

To make matters more complicated, you may need to check this every couple of years. Trees can grow and buildings appear or get additions which can obstruct your sunlight.

Many vegetables will need 7 hours of full sun. And that isn’t late afternoon, that is mid day sun. So 8 AM to 3 PM is perfect. You may have some wiggle room here, but not much (say 10-4 might work too). However, there’s a caveat here. If we have a particularly hot summer, you may need to give some veggies afternoon shade. Once the heat hits the high 90’s some vegetables can become stressed.

Full Sun Vegetables:

Part Sun Vegetables
Salad Greens

Choose Your Vegetables Wisely

As container gardeners, we usually have space constraints that other gardeners don’t have to worry about. So assuming space is at a premium, how do you decide what to grow? Part of the way to decide is figuring out which vegetables will give you the most bang for your buck and space. For example, growing cabbage takes up a lot of space and is usually pretty inexpensive at the store. Instead you may want to grow mesclun and baby greens because they are easy and fast to grow, and ridiculously expensive to buy.  You can squeeze a lot of greens into each pot, and they are also beautiful.

Tomatoes from the store never taste as good as what you can grow yourself, and cherry tomatoes are easiest to grow in pots and require less soil than other tomatoes, which  require 15 gallons of soil to develop into a full size plant.

tomato-tips-1                                               container

Herbs are also very popular to grow in containers. Again, they are expensive if you have to buy them, and they are also beautiful. It’s great to have them accessible—grabbing handfuls, without having to go to the store.

Feed Your Plants

Because potting soil doesn’t have many nutrients for your plants, you need to add those nutrients and, depending on the type of fertilizer you use, you will usually replenish them as the growing season progresses.

When you first plant your vegetables, mix an organic, slow-release granular fertilizer into the potting soil, making sure that it is distributed throughout the pot. This can take some mixing if you are using a large pot, but you don’t want all the nutrients to be at the top of the soil, you want it to also be near the roots.

Then feed the plants an organic, diluted, liquid fertilizer every few weeks, following the directions for quantity. Giordano’s has a wide variety of fertilizers to choose from.

Water Just Enough

Depending on the type of pot or container you are using, you may have to water several times a day, so make sure you have an easy access to water. Shlepping big, heavy watering cans gets old quickly, so the closer your pot is to a hose or spigot, the better and the more likely you are to water your plants.

While you don’t want to water too little, watering too much is just as deadly to plants—it just is a slower death. The best way to see if your plants need water is to stick your finger, up to the second knuckle into the soil of your pot. If it is moist, down by your finger tip, wait to water. If it’s dry add water. While it is better to water in the morning, if your soil is really dry—whatever time of day or night, give those plants a drink.

Assuming your pots have sufficient drainage when you do water, keep going until you see the water coming out of the bottom of the container. That way you will know that the roots have access to the moisture and that you have thoroughly wet the soil.

For some vegetables, particularly tomatoes, a consistent level of moisture is critical. If you let the soil dry out and then water, tomatoes will crack. Also, many vegetables can experience blossom end rot from inconsistent watering.

Using self-watering containers is a great way to give vegetables consistent water and they make it virtually impossible to over-water.

Choose the Right Pot

While anything can be turned into a container, for vegetables, bigger is often better. The more soil capacity your pot or container has, the more and longer it will retain water and that is critical for healthy vegetables.

Some materials lend themselves better than others for growing vegetables. A big terra cotta is gorgeous, but porous, so will dry out faster than many other materials. Some people line terra cotta with bubble wrap or a plastic bag so the soil will retain water longer. Food grade plastic pots can be great looking, colorful and good for veggies. Even 5 gallon buckets, that are sometimes given away by stores and restaurants, can be great for growing herbs, peppers or beans. Just make sure to drill enough holes in the bottom to insure good drainage.

Be careful with tires and other rubber as there may be a health hazard from the leaching of harmful chemicals. Metal pots, feed troughs or buckets also look great, but heat up quickly in the sun. You can line them with bubble wrap or fabric to protect the plants roots from direct contact with what can be searingly hot metal, but the soil will also heat up, and depending on your climate, might fry your vegetables.

All in all, growing vegetables and herbs in a container garden can be like having a health food store right in your backyard!