Choosing a Container

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.

growing containers

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.

growing containers

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!


4 thoughts on “Choosing a Container

  1. I use a lot of Crescent Garden planters because they are good looking, light-weight and durable. Their double walled planter help insulate from our vacillating cold winters and hot summers. These past two years I also used their Trudrop self-watering planters and could go weeks between watering! I grew all my Botanical Interest vegetable seeds in Crescent’s Dylan containers for the past two years – love how much easier it was that all that soil prep in my hard clay soil. I’ll send you some pictures!

  2. I just started cleaning mine in the fall but I never use bleach/water. I guess I will have to add this into my routine. Thanks!

  3. Have used Smart Pots the last 3 years with great success. Cloth material, available in black or tan, variety of sizes and also available with or without handles.
    Use the Smart Pots to grow tomatoes and red peppers.
    Have a small property so am able to move the Smart Pots with handles to follow the sun at different times of the growing season.
    Need to fertilize tomato plants 3 times a year, at time plants go in the pots, mid June and early August. Bring pots in garage in Fall to dry out over the winter. In spring, bump soil from pots in wheel barrow and rejuvenate soil with Natures Yield, 5/10/5 ferilzer, scrub out dry soil inside the cloth pot by turning fabric inside out and fill pot with new rejuvenated soil and set in vegetable plants which I grow from seed. Have never had a desease issue. Easy to water in dog days of summer with hose and fill pots until water drains out the bottom

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