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How to Grow an Edible Container Garden

Updated on April 14, 2017
My patio container herb garden.
My patio container herb garden. | Source

In our busy modern society it can be hard to make time in our schedules to take part in the extremely pleasurable, relaxing and rewarding hobby of gardening. Many people and families now live in houses and flats with little or no outside spaces to enjoy. Combined with the fact that many families do not have the time once work, school, shopping, housework and other day to day responsibilities have been carried out, to spend on tending a garden, even if they may like too. Some people hold the view that there is no point in having a small selection of plants growing or feel that unless they are growing a significant amount they are somehow not good enough or not doing enough. Very much in our society has become competitive and people feel pressured that bigger must mean better or that they have do as well as or better than their neighbour/friend, colleague etc. This can take much of the enjoyment out of the activity or make it feel too hard to even start in the first place.

However real they may feel, none of these factors are true. If you wish to grow some vegetables and other plants of your own it does not matter if you have a huge garden, allotment or small patio space, you can still enjoy gardening.

Strawberries growing in a wooden container.
Strawberries growing in a wooden container. | Source

There is very little more rewarding than being able to pick and eat food with your family that you have taken care of and watched develop and grow from a tiny seed. Even if you only a small amount of time to commit to your plants it is possible to reap the rewards of your efforts for a large part of the year in the form of delicious herbs, salad greens, vegetables and even fruits. The amount of work that is needed to create and maintain your own edible garden can be greatly reduced by creating a container garden. These smaller areas are easier to plant, weed and maintain than a large traditional vegetable patch and can enable even a small concrete balcony to become and beautiful, health enhancing and calming spot.

Container gardening means that plants can be placed close to the house in larger gardens making them more convenient to use and easier to access. Some varieties of vegetables and plants such as strawberries and salad leaves can be grown in plants and fit easily into small spaces such as a doorstep, along a garden path or hanging baskets and window boxes.

A selection of commercially available containers.
A selection of commercially available containers. | Source

There are many types of vegetables that can be grown in pots. Far from limiting what can be grown, container gardening can in fact increase the amount and variety of plants that can be grown in any given space. Using a range of containers can utilise more of the available space, for example: using hanging baskets above pots or beds creates a second level for planting without needed any more physical space. Containers and tubs mean that more delicate plants can be grown and brought inside over the winter, whereas in a traditional plot they may die if left exposed to the colder weather.

The soil in containers can also be more specifically tailored as needed. Alkaline and acid loving plants can easily be grown alongside each other in pots without either coming to any harm, which would be far harder to achieve in the ground. In the case of fast spreading or invasive plants such as mint, growing in pots provides a way to control growth and prevent them from taking light, food and space from other slower growing or more delicate plants. Container gardens are idea for spaces where there is no soil at all such as balconies, car parks, paved areas and pathways.

An old clothes draw reused as a container to grow beetroot.
An old clothes draw reused as a container to grow beetroot. | Source

Creating your Container Garden

When growing plants in pots, there are two generally used approaches: some people prefer to hide the pots among the plants whereas others enjoy making the pots and other containers part of the garden. You could use a variety of containers and even items not originally intended for gardening. Examples of these include welly boots, watering cans, old baths, sinks and even toilets, wooden crates, buckets, tyres and children’s plastic paddling pools. Whatever type of contain you choose to use, they can be lefts as they are, painted or covered to help them blend into the garden or decorated in bright colours or patterns to create pretty garden features. If you wish to take a more traditional approach there are a wide range of pots and tubs available to buy from garden centres and DIY shops.

Most edible plants do best in a sunny or mostly sunny open space where they can be sheltered from winds and colder weather. Your container garden can be all together in one part of your space or it can be spread out. For example you may grow your herbs close to your front or back door so that they can be accessed easily but grow taller plants or those that need support such as tomato plants or beans by a wall or side of the house. Plants that can be cared for and harvested easily are far more likely to be a success than if they were planted at the end of a long garden or in the case of flats, downstairs outside.

Unused every day items can be successfully re-purposed into containers for growing plants. Here raspberry canes are shown growing in an old toy box.
Unused every day items can be successfully re-purposed into containers for growing plants. Here raspberry canes are shown growing in an old toy box. | Source

Planting your Container Garden

The basic principles of planting are the same regardless of the size or shape of the container or the material it is made from. Taking care at this stage will give the plants the greatest chances at a happy, healthy and productive life.

  • All containers should have drainage holes in the bottom to prevent waterlogging and flooding. Too much water can be as bad for plants as too little and can be very hard to rectify. A tub of waterlogged compost can take a long time to dry out and be useable again. If a container does not already have holes, you can create some using a drill and large drill bit. If it is not possible to create holes in a container you will need to reconsider whether it is really suitable.

  • Broken pots, crockery or stones can be laid over the bottom to the help water drain from the pots. In the case of large or heavy pots a light material such as polystyrene can be used. This helps to keep the overall weight down and also means that less compost will be needed to fill the pot. Just be sure that there is plenty of compost for the roots to grow, especially in the case of root crops.

  • If you are planting more than one plant in the container they can be arranged while still in their current containers until you are happy with how they look. Taller plants should be placed in the centre, with shorter and hanging or ground cover plants placed around the outside. It is important not to overfill containers at this point as the baby plants need space to grow if they are to thrive and produce a good edible crop.

  • Once you are happy with the layout each plant can be carefully planted in position. Gently remove them from their current containers, ease the roots apart and place into a hole in the container compost. Press the soil down around the plant.

  • Once planting is complete the plants can be watered and the container placed in position. If you are using a large, heavy or difficult to move container such a bath or tyre, it is better to position it before filling with compost and plants.

Potatoes growing in a recycled container.
Potatoes growing in a recycled container. | Source

Caring for Plants Growing in Containers

Other than the essential feeding and watering most container plants will be trouble free. The use of good quality compost from a reputable source will ensure that the plants are healthy and strong. This will also limit the risk of pests being introduced or there being any lack of particular nutrients. General good hygiene will further cut down this risk and prevent any infection. Fallen leaves and dead or ailing plants should be removed as these are more likely to fall to infection or pest attack, which will then spread to other plants. Do not place any disease plant material into your compost heap as this creates a risk of spreading the infection further. Carefully remove any dead or dying leaves from plants causing the minimal amount of stress and damage to the plants. Small sharp garden snips are ideal for this purpose, especially on young tender plants.

Hanging baskets can be successfully used to grown a range of crops, including strawberries without needing any ground space at all.
Hanging baskets can be successfully used to grown a range of crops, including strawberries without needing any ground space at all. | Source

Hints and Tips for Successful Container Gardening

  • A piece of plastic pipe inserted into a container can help direct water down to a plant’s roots when watering. Pour the water directly into the pipe rather than on the compost surface.

  • Water retaining granules and drip feeders can be invaluable when time is short or you are unable to attend to your plants every day. Mulching can also help to keep moisture in and to suppress weeds, saving you time and work.

  • Many flowering plants encourage beneficial insects such as bees into the garden. This aids with pollination and the production of fruit. Some plants act as a natural repellent to insects or attract creatures that will eat pests. One example of this is planting French marigolds (Tagetes patula) with tomato plants as they will help to keep away whitefly. This practice is known as companion planting and can be of great value to a gardener, especially those interested in organic gardening.

  • Grow mini varieties of vegetables where space is very limited. Many varieties such as mini cabbage, onions, cauliflower and cucumbers are available and are ideal for growing in containers.

  • Place support stakes into the compost when first planting to minimise damage to the roots of the plant.

  • Reuse containers and other items such as lengths of drainpipe, 2 litre drinks bottles cut in half and car tyres as unusual planters.

© 2014 Claire


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