Container gardening is one of the easiest ways to get into gardening. You can even start with 5 gallon buckets and do it with limited space. But… there are a few things to know before diving in. I’ve actually made some of these mistakes myself and hope to save you from the extra work and disappointment!
Soil – It’s Not Just Dirt
This is probably the number one most important tip! Soil makes all the difference in how your plants will perform. Don’t just grab any old bag that says for raised beds and containers as it may compact down too much for your containers. Ask me how I know? The ideal mix needs to have drainage, fluffy texture, and be alive! Alive as in happy microbes and fungi.
Soil needs also vary depending on the needs of your plants. Starting seeds requires something different that growing succulents. Check out SavvyGardening for some great homemade mixes for potting soil. She gives options for vegetables, succulents, houseplants and even cactus!
The Right Light
Ever been on a Zoom call with crappy bright overhead lighting accentuating every flaw and eye bag on your face or tried on swimsuits with those fluorescent babies shining down? Remember how it felt? Yeah plants feel that way, too when the lightings not right. Just like a soft glow or candlelight brings out better features plants have light needs too!
Some need full sun, some partial, some will wilt like crazy if they don’t have full shade all day. You should ideally track your sun for a full day going out to the location every hour and seeing which parts have sun and which are shaded. Most container gardens are near a house or on the porch so the tend to have some shade during the day.
Vegetables like a bare minimum of 6 hours of full sunlight but often 8+ is better. Remember, too that if you plan to trellis anything once the plant (hopefully) gets tall enough it is going to cast shade on its neighbors. This can be good or bad depending on what’s growing near it.
Water – Create the Perfect Balance
Pay close attention to water needs. Sure in the sweltering July Texas sun those containers may need watering at least twice a day. And those littles seedlings that are sprouting they need their water. But once it gets going and if it’s not crazy hot you actually can water too much.
It can be very stress relieving to go out and water the plants watching as they grow each day. Unfortunately, I have found I sometimes inadvertantly transfer my stress to the plants as I drown them in some sort of meditative trance. Oops. If the soil is moist when you stick a finger in it and the leaves aren’t drooping they probably have enough water.
Speaking of water balance, make sure you have a way to get rid of water, too. Inadequate drainage is never a good thing whether it’s your containers, city streets, or your sinuses.
Double check you drilled holes in all the pots so the water doesn’t build up in the bottom of the container creating some sort of rotting sludge like I did last year. It was only one pot I forgot, but man was it disgusting when I had to dig that stuff out. Blech! And then this year I filled about four new pots before I remembered I hadn’t drilled the holes. Don’t be me, drill first, fill later. Don’t give yourself double work.
Containers are smaller environments unlike a giant garden in the ground. It’s a little ecosystem that is going to need some help if you want it to thrive. A few soil amendments and fertilizers as you go along can help keep your plants thriving all season long.
The Bonus Tip is just go for it! There is trial and error along the way but hopefully you’ll find cultivating plants as addictive as me. Happy Container Gardening!