Last week, we explored growing your first vegetable garden here. No place to dig a garden? You can still grow your own food! This week, we’re offering tips for how to create your own container garden on a balcony, porch, patio, or deck. Read on for advice about adding herbs and flowers to your container gardening plan, too.
Container gardening has rapidly gained in popularity over the past decade. Not only is it more convenient for smaller dwellings, but containers make it easier for you to control water, soil, sun exposure, and fertilizer. Here are some tips for getting started with container gardening:
1 – Use the biggest pot to fit the space you have available. Soil dries out faster in pots than in the ground, so the greatest challenge of container gardening is watering. A larger container holds a greater amount of soil and won't dry out as fast. Glazed pots are preferable to clay pots because they help prevent water evaporation. Also, all containers need holes so excess water can drain away from the soil.
2 – Select your plants. Herbs* are the easiest way to start container gardening, but don’t be afraid to accept the challenge of planting leafy greens, tomatoes, and larger vegetables. It's also a good idea to mix compatible plants in a single large pot. Here are few combinations which grow well together that you may want to try:
Lettuce and herbs
Tomatoes, basil, and onions
Beans, carrots, and squash
Spinach and chard
Beets, broccoli, and kale
For the larger vegetables, choose the dwarf varieties like cherry tomatoes. It’s also easier to start tomatoes with transplants rather than from seed. Tomato plants are often heavy with fruit and tend to sprawl. As your tomato plants grow, add a cage to your container. This will help keep your plant upright and allow space for them to fruit more easily. You may also want to try planting your cherry tomatoes in a hanging basket as pictured left.
3 – Smart watering. Place a layer of mulch on the soil’s surface to help prevent moisture loss. Water your plants in the early morning or late evening when temperatures are cooler so the sun doesn’t evaporate the water before it can seep down to the roots. Remember to check the directions on your seed packets for watering instructions. Each plant is different. For example, most herbs, like basil, need full sun and a daily water soak. However, rosemary prefers dry soil.
4 - Move the containers around. With pots, you’re able to move your containers to get the preferred amount of sun for each plant. Place a wheeled pot trolley under a large pot and move it to follow the sun. For example, place your pots in full sun in the morning. In the evening, when you want to relax on your porch or patio, simply roll your container out of the way.
Simple Container Herb Garden*
Growing herbs is the easiest way to try container gardening for the first time and they have so many uses! Add herbs like rosemary and basil to your meals, stir a sprig of fresh mint in tea, and toss a variety of your favorite herbs into salads. Another benefit of growing herbs in containers is that you have more control over their sun and water exposure. Plus, before they get zapped by the first frost, they can easily be moved indoors to continue growing in the fall.
We suggest planting herbs of one type in individual containers. This makes it easier to manage each plant’s preferences and containers are better for aggressive spreaders like mint and basil. To start, you may want to fertilize your herbs about every two weeks to maintain leaf production. Here is a list of herbs you may want to try:
Thyme – has many medicinal uses including easing a sore throat, arthritis, and intestinal distress
Parsley – an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants
Mint – mint tea helps calm a queasy tummy
Chive - deters aphids or “plant lice”
Oregano- tastes great AND deters insects!
Genovese Basil - the most flavorful variety of this popular herb
Lemon balm – this calming herb tastes great in tea and aids in digestion
For more detailed information about sun, soil, and watering needs for a variety of herbs, click HERE.
Plant Companion Flowers That Help Protect Vegetables and Attract Pollinators
How do you select the best flowers for your vegetable garden? The key is to pick flowers that have high-protein pollen and provide sources of nectar throughout the year. Many ornamental flowers fall short on these criteria, so it’s important to select flowers that attract beneficial insects and deter the harmful ones. Here are a few of our favorites:
- Marigolds attract a wide variety of mighty pollinators like bees and butterflies. Be sure to place them around your tomatoes to inhibit tomato hornworms. These destructive insects can devour an entire tomato plant in one night!
- Nasturtium is a colorful and tasty addition to any dish (as pictured above left). They also deter beetles that attack beans.
- Comfrey is a favorite of bees. A comfrey poultice applied to the skin near an injury helps speed healing. This plant has many helpful uses, but it’s also highly invasive. Be sure to keep your comfrey plant in a container.
- Borage attracts pollinators like bees and has a fresh cucumber-like flavor that pairs well as a garnish or in salads. It’s lovely blue blooms also helps protect vegetables from tomato hornworms.
- Lavender is beautiful looking, smelling, and easy to grow. It repels flies, fleas, mosquitos, and moths. Harvest sprigs into bunches and place them around your home to help keep flies outdoors. You can also make little lavender pillows by pulling the buds off a sprig and putting them in a drawstring cloth bag. Place it under your pillow for a restful night’s sleep or in your closet to help keep your clothing smelling fresh. These lavender pillows are a thoughtful and easy homemade hostess gift, too!
There are so many ways to approach container gardening, but if you start small, you might find you really enjoy it! Please share your container gardening successes and challenges in the comments. We love to hear from you!