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A Beginner's Guide to Container Vegetable Gardening

A Versatile Way to Grow Your Favorite Plants

-- By Bryn Mooth and Jenny Sigler, SparkPeople Contributors
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Reuse (upcycle) items that you’d ordinarily throw away when they’re empty or perhaps broken:
  • Empty coffee cans (spray paint them in fun colors, optional)
  • Kiddie pool or plastic sandbox (these make great small backyard vegetable gardens)
  • Large glass or plastic jars (ask a school cafeteria or local caterer if they have extra-large foodservice jars)
  • Plastic milk jugs or soda bottles, cut in half (you can also use half-gallon paper cartons or empty yogurt cups to start seeds for transplant)
  • A note on re-using tires in the garden: Opinions are split on whether this practice is safe, with some gardeners and environmental experts saying that heavy metals in tires may leach out over time, a particular concern with vegetables.
If you put your creative glasses on, you’ll see that practically anything can hold a plant. Scour flea markets, yard sales and antique shops for vintage items like these:
  • Vintage china cups, bowls and tureens
  • Enamelware bowls and basins
  • Old canning jars
  • Old-fashioned washtubs

Think of the items you use to hold stuff elsewhere in your home—if you have extra bins, boxes or buckets, repurpose in the garden. Even things like rubber rain boots that your kids have outgrown make cute planters.

  • Colorful plastic or galvanized metal buckets
  • Large storage bins
  • Wooden wine crates
  • Craft paint cans
  • Over-the-door shoe holders (the kind with fabric or plastic pockets)
  • Guttering—mount lengths of conventional roof gutter to a wall or fence (drill drainage holes at 3- or 4-inch intervals); fill with soil and plant with lettuce, succulents or trailing flowers
Maximize Drainage
Over- or under-watering is the No. 1 cause of plant failure—and growing in containers exacerbates the problem. Plants must never sit in accumulated water. If you’re using alternative containers, make sure there’s ample drainage. This can be a real challenge if, for example, you’re using an old enamel washbasin, glass jar or china soup tureen. If possible, drill or punch several holes in the bottom of your container. If drilling holes in the container doesn’t seem like such a good idea, then place nursery pots inside the planter (instead of planting directly in it) and be sure to pour out the excess every time you water.

Follow these links for how-tos on drilling in porcelain, glass and metal.

 

How To Drill a Hole in Porcelain

 

How to Drill a Hole in Glass

 

How to Drill a Hole in Metal



Use these proven techniques to properly water a plants growing in containers:
  • Wait for the plant to show very slight signs of wilt, then add water.
  • Feel the soil—poke your finger down about an inch; if it’s dry to that depth, then water.
  • Pick up the pot when it’s dry and gauge its weight; when the pot feels light, that’s a clue that it’s time to water.
  • Top watering—use a spouted watering can to apply water on the surface of the soil (not on the plant), until you see water pouring out the drainage hole at the bottom.
  • Bottom watering—set the container (or nursery pot) into a bucket or saucer of water, saturating the root system through the drainage hole.
Fertilize
Choose a balanced (10-10-10) fertilizer that you can add to your watering can. For continuous feeding to produce steady growth and bloom, mix at 1/10th the recommended rate every time you water.


Once you have your plants, location, and containers, the sky's the limit! Start out small with easy-to-grow plants and build from there. Soon, you'll have a new hobby that brings you joy as well as good health. Happy container gardening!
 
Sources
Joyce, David. The Complete Container Gardening. London: Frances Lincoln Limited, 2003.

McGee, Rose Marie, and Maggie Stuckey. The Bountiful Container. New York: Workman Publishing, 2002.
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About The Author

Bryn Mooth Bryn Mooth
Bryn Mooth is an independent copywriter and journalist focused on food, wellness and design; she's also a Master Gardener and enthusiastic green thumb. She shares seasonal recipes, kitchen techniques, healthy eating tips and food wisdom on her blog writes4food.com.

Member Comments

  • I like my patio herb garden. Sometimes you can find an herb kit and begin there.They have care instructions too.It depends on what you want and the time you have to start one. - 4/3/2014 2:51:31 PM
  • MARCIA_DC
    This article needs to be more tightly focused on growing vegetables. As it stands, second page has several paragraphs related to growing flowers in containers. - 3/15/2014 8:19:50 AM
  • 2nd paragraph…free some weeds? or free from weeds. Good article though... - 12/8/2013 1:08:54 PM