10 Tips for Container Gardening (and Variety Recommendations)

April 9th, 2014

tom_thumb_pea_2_Garden anywhere! For those of you who don’t have gardens, or your deer population is hungry enough to be unafraid of your back yard, container gardening is a great way to grow. Many of the varieties we offer can be grown in pots.

10 Tips for Container Gardening:

1.    The bigger the plant, the bigger the pot should be.
2.    The longer the plant takes to mature, the bigger the pot.
3.    Fruiting plants (tomatoes, peppers etc) need more soil and more nutrients than greens (lettuce, Tatsoi etc)
4.    Don’t over crowd. You can plant varieties a bit closer than normal in a pot, but crowding leads to weak spindly plants. One tomato plant in a big pot will actually produce more tomatoes than 4 tomato plants in the same size pot.
5.    Pots are thirsty. They dry out quickly. Keep pots evenly moist, trying not to let them dry out between watering or get too saturated.
6.    Make sure there are drainage holes. (Some folks say gravel or sand at the bottom helps as well but see comment below about possible problems with this.)
7.    Container plants still need lots of sun. If you have part shade stick to herbs and greens.
8.    Rooftops can be windy. If you’re growing containers on the roof, consider setting up some kind of windbreak, like lattice, that won’t cast shade.
9.     Use a light potting mix but make sure you have nutrient rich compost mixed in.
10.   Succession sow. Since you are growing in a small space, plant some seeds, let them grow, eat your harvest, and plant some more. Just make sure to add compost and nutrients between sowings. Learn more about succession here.

11. BONUS TIP: Check out Kerry Michaels. She’s an expert northeast container gardener up in Maine. Her about.com page is full of photos, ideas, instruction, and inspiration for growing in containers. Also, take a look at this Container Gardening Factsheet from Cornell University, which includes a container size chard for various vegetables as well as comprehensive pest and disease information.

Blog post continues below!

This blog is provided by the Hudson Valley Seed Library, a small group of dedicated growers and plant lovers working to provide good seed to gardeners and small farmers. Your purchases support our work. Thanks!

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Here are a few recommendations. But don’t limit yourself! Gardening is about experimenting. We’ve heard of people growing all sorts of unconventional varieties successfully in containers.


The right size boot for Tiny Tim’s feet



Genovese Basil and Garlic Chives, contained and content



Root Pouches waiting for their spring blooms







10 Responses to “10 Tips for Container Gardening (and Variety Recommendations)”

  1. kay on March 22, 2011 10:57 pm

    it is wonderful to think of gardening again. I am very interested in container gardening since my knees are not what they used to be. so I am looking around for some large inexpensive containers, any ideas?

  2. Ken on March 23, 2011 7:30 am

    Sounds like a good solution to keep you gardening! Here’s a great resource for container gardening ideas. Check our the gallery for container ideas- everything from juice boxes to kiddie pools: http://containergardening.about.com/

  3. Barbara on March 23, 2011 8:14 am

    Kay, try local bakeries and diners for 5 gallon food-grade plastic containers. Drill a few holes in the bottom for drainage and I would recommend raising them up on pot feet or bricks to allow the water to freely flow out. You’ll have large containers at very little or no cost.

  4. Kerry on March 23, 2011 9:07 am

    Thanks for the shout out Ken! You really can grow a farm’s worth of food in containers particularly a good method of growing if you have space issues or bad soil. I love grow boxes (Earthboxes are my favorite) and you can also make similar self-watering containers yourself. A less expensive and really effective way to grow is in straw bales (http://containergardening.about.com/od/vegetablesandherbs/ss/Straw_Bale_Gardening.htm).

    I totally loved your calendula last summer and all of your lettuces completely rocked. I want to try them all!

  5. Ned on March 23, 2011 9:13 am

    Actually, adding gravel or sand to the bottom of a container is a bad idea, since it may push the “perched water table” up into the root zone. (The PWT is the horizontal wet zone in the pot where gravity pulls down & the water retention properties of the medium pulls up. It is dependent upon uniformity of particle size in the pot.) If you have huge pots, adding 1/4 to 1/3 of mulch to the bottom can be ok to save on potting soil, but for most pots the adding of pot shards or whatever on the bottom for “drainage” is a myth. And a detrimental one at that. If the PWT is hovering at the root zone, (and not below) the plant will either suffocate, or its roots will rot.

  6. ken on March 23, 2011 9:41 am

    Thanks for the info. I had not heard that before and we’ve never had problems adding a single layer of gravel at the bottom. I’ll make a note in the blog post for people to read your comment.

  7. ken on March 23, 2011 9:42 am

    Thanks Kerry! Let me know if there are any of our varieties you want to trial in pots for us this year. Also, I’d love to see any pics you have of our seeds growing in your containers.

  8. Kerry on March 23, 2011 10:50 am

    Hey Ken – Your newsletter actually inspired me to write a short piece about why you shouldn’t put gravel in the bottoms of containers. The physics is a little beyond my pay grade, but there have been studies that have shown that it’s a bad idea. I’m not sure why it’s still the conventional wisdom.

    Here’s the piece:

    So glad you put the tip about not crowding tomatoes. I don’t get why people grow other things in their tomato pots. They are so difficult to keep hydrated and other plants in the same container will just make it harder to keep their moisture supply even – which is one of the the most important keys to growing tomatoes in containers.

  9. Mitch on March 24, 2011 5:53 pm

    Last year, I started composting my organic wastes. I want to use it on my container garden. What would the proportion be? Thanks Mitch

  10. Sno Valley CrossFit on April 1, 2011 12:17 am

    [...] Tips For Container Gardening [...]

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