Container Gardening 101, Part 1 - My Favorite Containers

This post is part one of a several part series on container gardening. 

There may still be snow on the ground, but that doesn't stop gardeners who are itching to plant from gathering their supplies! 


Container gardening is popular option for city dwellers, apartment dwellers, and those who don't have safe soil to grow in. However, it can be a bit trickier than growing directly in the soil, so it is important to start out with certain truths in mind:

Truth #1: Vegetables grown in containers need more attention to water management. They may need to be watered daily (or even twice daily in hot weather!), or else planted in self-watering containers.

Truth #2: Vegetables grown in containers need more attention to growing medium and nutrient management. It's not simply a matter of tossing garden soil into a bucket; you need a potting mix specifically designed to hold water without becoming compacted. They also will need more frequent fertilizing to perform their best.

Truth #3: Planting in a deep enough container can make all the difference between a satisfying harvest and a disappointing one. When planting, it's important to take into account how deep the roots of your plants will need in order to flourish. 

Choosing containers is one of the first decisions a container gardener will make each season, and it has a big impact on the ease of growing and the productivity of the plants.  

Here are my favorite container options, in no particular order, that I used to grow over 100 pounds of food in my driveway last year.

Option 1: Fabric planters such as Smart Pots


These are great for fruiting crops such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. They keep the roots cool, and they don't crack if dropped or with temperature changes. Tip: always go for at least 7 gallon capacity to allow plenty of room for the roots. If planting tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, one plant per pot is ideal.

A related item available is a fabric raised bed

Pros: Relatively inexpensive. Since they can fold up, they don't take up a lot of space to store during the off season. Keeps roots cool. Easy to move. Difficult to break!

Cons: If appearance of the container is important to you, these aren't that aesthetically pleasing. These are NOT self-watering and will require frequent attention to water management.

Option 2: Self-watering planters such as City Picker Raised Bed Grow Box

These are excellent for crops that don't require space for very deep roots (or even tomatoes planted using the trench/sideways method). 

Pros: Great for decks, porches and balconies. Since they have wheels, they are easily moved to optimize sun exposure. They are self-watering, which means they need less frequent water management. They come with instructions that make the set-up very beginner-friendly. My mom used this planter on her balcony last year and was very pleased! 

Cons: These are on the shallow side, so if growing root vegetables such as carrots, make sure to choose shorter varieties.

Option 3: DIY Containers


Depending on what is already in your home, you may have everything you need to make your own containers. Large Rubbermaid-style totes work great for this purpose. In my neighborhood, many people use the 5-gallon buckets that can be found at hardware stores (or even for free from restaurants sometimes). A person in my neighborhood has an entire row of buckets that once contained Costco laundry detergent powder, and they grow beautiful greens and herbs along the side of their house. Make sure to choose containers at least 12 inches deep (preferably 18 inches), and drill plenty of holes in the bottom to ensure adequate drainage. 

Pros: Can often be found for cheap or free!


Cons: If aesthetics are important to you.....well, your planters will only look as beautiful as what you have. However, you can always plant flowers around the edges that trail over the side! Once the plants grow, nobody will be looking at their boxes!

Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3....

Ready to get growing? Download your free guide to four crops anyone can grow in a small space (yes, even you!). 

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