Recently, someone messaged us with lots of container gardening questions. This got us thinking about two things, neither of which are directly related to their questions:
- We’d do a lot more article writing if people asked us questions that we could answer publicly (like a ‘Dear Abby’ for gardening advice!); and
- We want you, yes you, to ask us any gardening questions you have so we can write about them while answering your questions! Chances are, other people have the same questions, so you’d be helping us help them too!
Without sharing the entirety of the container gardening questions we received, here’s a general summary:
- What exactly is a container garden?
- Why do people do container gardening – e.g. are there any benefits?
- What types of plants should be used in container gardening and do we have any other tips/advice we could share about indoor and outdoor container gardening?
Container Gardening Questions Answered!
Our answers to the sender’s container gardening questions are below, and we hope they help answer questions you might have too! If you have other questions, please ask away in the comments or if you prefer more privacy, by sending us a message here or on facebook.
1. What is a container garden?
Simply put, container gardening is growing plants in containers versus growing plants in-ground. A container garden can be as small as a few plants in a pot or as large as a backyard full of raised beds.
People like and use container gardens for various reasons. Five reasons people choose to use container gardens:
- To make it easier to reach the plants at harvest without bending down.
- To grow plants on surfaces that wouldn’t otherwise be able to grow food, like a concrete patio or wood porch.
- For beauty/aesthetic reasons – container gardens can be downright beautiful.
- To grow plants that wouldn’t normally thrive in your agricultural zone (example: tropicals that you can bring inside during the winter).
- Due to concerns about lead, arsenic, or other contaminants in the ground soil. Certain types of plants can uptake those soil contaminants into their cells, meaning you can actually poison yourself if you eat something like mustard greens from an area with high levels of lead in the soil. So bringing in containers with new soil is a safe and easy way to garden in urban environments.
Here’s our list of top-recommended container gardens/raised bed gardens you can buy online that we wrote for the GrowJourney blog. Some of these container gardens can literally be set up and ready to plant in a matter of minutes.
2. What types of plants can you grow in a container garden?
You can grow virtually any type of plant in a container garden.
As an extreme example, last year my wife and I successfully grew and harvested bananas we grew in pots. Nope, it wasn’t easy. We live in Ag Zone 7B, not the tropics, so getting a harvest required overwintering banana “pups” indoors in pots during the cold months, and the pups had grown quite large by the time we put the containers outdoors once the weather warmed.
Generally, you want to match your plant size to the pot size, and not grow huge plants in small containers, otherwise the plants will quickly become “rootbound,” meaning their roots will run out of space and growth medium, wrapping around themselves inside the pot, and potentially choking and killing themselves.
3. Do you have any other container gardening tips that could help me?
- Growth medium/soil – Use good organic potting soil, not garden soil (our personal favorite potting soil is FoxFarm). Topsoil or soil straight out of your garden is not ideal for growing plants in containers because it’s not “light” enough, thus leading to soil compaction and poor plant root growth. Potting soil has been amended with ingredients like perlite and vermiculite. Perlite lightens the soil allowing for good aeration and vermiculite helps with nutrient and water retention.
- Fertility – Even if you’re starting with a good organic potting soil that already has nutrition in it, you’re still very likely going to need to fertilize the containers during the warm months when the plants are growing rapidly. (Unlike in-ground plants, the roots of potted plants are limited with how far they can travel to get nutrition.) We recommend an organic, slow-release granulated fertilizer. If it’s too late and your plants are already looking sick and anemic, use an organic liquid emulsion fertilizer, such as Neptune’s Harvest. If you want to save a few dollars, you can also use “liquid gold,” a DIY fertilizer that you make in abundance every day.
- Irrigation – The biggest challenge, especially for people growing in pots, is keeping the soil moisture levels good throughout the summer when it’s scorching hot outside. Two things that really help here:
- SIPs – If at all possible, use SIPs (sub-irrigated planters). We’ve written more about SIPs and provided recommendations here on GrowJourney. SIPs let the plants water themselves and save you a lot of time since you may only have to put water in the containers once every few days, rather than watering the pots 1-2 times per day in the summer.
- Mulch – Put a layer of mulch 1-2″ deep on the soil surface of your container. We use wood chips and/or chopped leaves. This mulch layer reduces evaporation, increases water retention, and also serves as a slow-release fertilizer that protects and promotes the beneficial microbes in the soil. Healthier plants = more flavorful and nutritious food!
3. Can you container garden indoors?
Unless your floor is made of soil, container gardening is pretty much the only way to grow plants indoors. If you’re growing container plants indoors, whether edible or non-edible, you can still follow all the tips above.
One extra thing that you’ll need to pay careful attention to is plant selection when growing indoors. Assuming you don’t have a sunroom that lets in 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day, you’ll need to get shade tolerant plants. Think ficus, snake plant, orchids, etc. We both use and recommend growing these plants indoors because they also do a great job of improving your indoor air quality.
We hope this article helped answer your container gardening questions! If not, let us know in the comments.