Container gardening is a growing trend as new gardeners start out, and veteran gardeners look to expand their growing opportunities. Almost anything can be a container. Upcycling buckets, watering cans, and wine barrels are great ideas. But I’ve seen some great containers made from tree stumps, baking pans, bags, and nylons! Just be sure they’re clean, have drainage, and are the right size and material for your needs. See our Creative Containers blog for some inspiration.
SIZE. Bigger containers hold more soil, and therefore, potentially more water and nutrients. This gives your plants more resources and room to grow, while also reducing how often you need to water.
Lastly, size has two dimensions—volume and depth. If you are growing long- or deep-rooted things, like carrots or Echinacea, in a container, then your plants will be better served by a deep pot than a wide, shallow one.
What’s the right size? Picture a wine barrel. One half of a wine barrel holds about 20 gallons of soil. That’s enough for 1 pole/large, or 2 bush/small tomato plants, or about 10 bush bean plants, or 6–8 heads of lettuce, or about 3 pepper plants. For flowers look to the mature size of the plants. If you want an airy look, give them a little more space. If you want your container fuller and spilling over, then give them a little less space. I tend to ambitiously jam them in, fertilize, and let them fight it out.
Lastly on size—volume and depth. If you are growing long- or deep-rooted things, like carrots or echinacea, in a container, then your plants will be better served by a deep pot (18” or more) than a wide, shallow one.
DRAINAGE. Let me say it again, DRAINAGE. Make sure that your containers have a few holes in the bottom to allow excess water to drain out. Containers that don’t drain lead to soggy soil that suffocates plants’ roots. If your container is watertight (and it’s not a water garden) drill some holes in the bottom. Test water the pot to make sure it drains; you may need to add a couple bricks or risers to the bottoms to raise the pot off the ground.
MATERIAL. Almost anything can be a container if you consider the material’s performance. For example, unglazed terra cotta is porous, allowing water to escape through the side of the container. This is helpful if you live in a wet area, are growing dry-loving plants, or tend to over-water, as it will release the extra water as necessary. But it could be challenging if your containers are small or you live in a windy or dry area, which would evaporate the water more. By comparison, plastic or glazed pots resist evaporation.
CLEANLINESS. If you are reusing or repurposing a container, be sure to clean it thoroughly. Scrub away all dirt and debris. Wash it well and if you want to get it really clean, rinse it with hydrogen peroxide or a 1:10 bleach solution, or if you have the time, let your clean containers bake in the sun for a week before filling them with soil.
Once you’re set up, you’ll be a container gardener in no time!