A big part of being healthy comes from eating the right foods.
The fresher foods are, the better. Warmer seasons are a great time to source more locally grown fresh fruits and veggies. It’s also a great time to grow your own food!
Now I get it; you may not have lots of time to garden or room to garden. That’s why I want to introduce you to my container gardens and show how easily you can grow a few of your favorite veggies and herbs right at home with just a little bit of space and time. You may also come to agree, it’s a great way to relax and have fun too!
– Get it? Let. Us. Garden. (My husband thought of that.)
While I am able to get a “head start” living in Central VA and my containers are planted in mid May, its nearly Memorial Day, the typical ‘safe-to-plant-outdoors’ date in most of the US. I have very limited space and after losing access to a convenient community garden, I retreated to the porch and balconies of my town home. It’s a joy to harvest from my container garden and use food that I grow within minutes of picking.
The key is keeping it simple and easy to do with the space, time and skills you have! Once you have the containers prepped, it’s even easier to replant each year.
Here are your 3 steps:
- Step 1: Shop for Your supplies. You’ll need some containers, potting soil, plants, a trowel and a water source.
- Step 2: Plant your container garden.
- Step 3: Maintain and harvest your container garden.
Step 1: Gather Your Supplies
First look at your potential gardening areas. Are they shady or sunny and how much shade or sun does each area get daily? How much growing space do you have to offer in each of these locations? Be aware that some plants such as tomatoes and peppers, need 6 hours of full sun daily, while others like lettuce and some herbs need or can tolerate shade. Other plants may only do well early or later in the season while it’s still cooler. Planting the right plants in the right location is your key to success. So choose wisely. I have shade plants on a covered balcony and full sun plants on the roof terrace. Read plant labels for location, light, watering and size information.
Next look for gardening containers that fit your space. It’s ideal if you can do this concurrently with your plant shopping. This way you’ll have the right space and plant combinations. When selecting containers, go big. The bigger the better. It will reduce the soil drying out too quickly and give your plants room to grow properly. And grow they will. So be sure to plan on lots of extra space around your new plantings. Also be sure the containers have a drainage hole. Some of the resin containers can be easily drilled to create a drainage hole and in fact these containers often show you where to drill if desired. Consider purchasing the drip tray saucers to capture and hold water run off from the drainage holes if your pots don’t have a drip saucer included. This will keep your balcony area more tidy and help you keep the plant more wet when it gets really hot.
I highly recommend sourcing young, healthy, organic plants from your local farmer or nursery. Sourcing young plants simplifies the process and allows you to take the growing season head-on with plants in the pots just after the danger of frost has passed. Once you get experience, you can expand to starting plants from seeds if you desire.
Select simple plants to start and ones that will work well with the space, light and time you can provide. I would highly recommend staying with compact or bushy plants like tomato, pepper and herbs, vs vines such as cucumbers and squash. Take this first year to get some experience and learn. You can always add more plants next year. Read labels on the plants to find out what types of light they need, and see if there are any special soil or watering needs. Check out how big the plants will grow to and how much room they need between the plants. For example, a 5” tomato seedling can become a 30”+ tall mature plant that is easily 20” or more across! Pick out strong looking plants with rich green color & lots of leaves and branches.
I grow herbs that we use often and a couple veggies that stay compact and that I can do well in a container. For me that means basil, parsley, chives, cilantro, tomato and pepper. This year I am trying leaf lettuce for the first time. I know I will lose the cilantro and the lettuce once it’s get hot, but early in the season, we should be able to enjoy enough fresh-picked greens to more than pay for the $6 I invested in the young plants.
Get some quality potting soil. I prefer organic soil that doesn’t have a bunch of artificial fertilizers in there. Read package labels to get one that works for you. I find it tricky to estimate exact potting soils needs. You may find it helpful to purchase a number of smaller bags so you can return what you don’t need. That said, I almost always have an open bag of potting soil in my garage for potting or repotting plants of all kinds on a moments notice. It’s just how I roll. You may find you also like to keep potting soil on hand.
If you’re new to gardening, get a trowel. A trowel is a small hand shovel that you’ll use year after year. You can use your hands for digging if you prefer, but the trowel will make the job easier and neater. Same thing goes for gloves. Also consider a water source. If you’re gardening on your balcony, do you have a hose there or will you need a container you can easily fill at the kitchen sink. If you’re using a hose, be sure you have a quality nozzle with a gentle ‘shower’ setting so you can keep plants watered without drilling holes into the soil with a water stream and displacing your plants when you water.
Before you make your purchases, think through your garden plan. Imagine your available space again. Is it shade or sun or a mix? Do you have enough containers for fully grown plants that will go in each location? Remember to keep this simple if you are new.
Next up . . .
Step 2: Assemble Supplies and Plant Your Garden
Before you actually start planting, revisit your earlier gardening thoughts again. You can’t do enough pre-planning . . .
What plants need sun, shade, a mix?
Which containers will you use in each area?
How will you pair the plants together in the containers?
Should you pot your plants right on-location or move them into location once they are potted? Keep in mind the weight of the planted pot including the weight of wet soil. In my case, I have some very large pots that stay on-location year after year 100% of the time. While other pots, get relo’d for planting before being relo’d back to position for the gardening season.
One thing to consider is that new potting soil or soil that has dried out over the winter needs lots of water to thoroughly wet-out and hold water again. Initially the water will tend to run through the pot giving a false sense of being wet enough. As you add soil to your pots, you’ll need to dig around in it a bit to ensure the soil is properly wet. This can be a messy step, that needs repeating until the soil is truly wet. So be sure to consider a water source and room for water to drain while you prep your pots with soil.
Time to plant! With your pots prepped, it’s finally time to plant. I actually have the most fun planting. I often find that young plants are pot bound in their tiny pots, so you’ll need to finesse the plant out of the pot.
- Before planting, water all plants first until water runs out the bottom of the pot. You can do this right over the new container to limit the mess.
- Use your trowel and dig a hole in the new pot that is large enough to accommodate the new plant. You can ‘test’ the hole size by gently placing the plant, pot and all, into the hole. You’re looking for a hole large enough to allow the plant to easily drop into the hole and be just deep enough so that the top soil level on the plant is even with the soil level in the new container. No branches should be buried in the soil.
- Next, gently and loosely place the stem of the plant between your index and middle fingers while ‘cupping’ the rest of your hand over the top of the pot as if hugging the top of the pot with the plant stem safely between your fingers.
- Turn the pot, plant and all, upside down and alternatively gently ‘tap’ on the bottom of the pot and squeeze the sides of pot to loosen the plant and nudge the plant out into the palm of your hand.
- If you see lots of roots through the bottom of the pot and the plant doesn’t want to give in easily, you may need to back off and use some pruning shears or scissors to nip the side of the pot and get the plant out.
- As you remove the small plants from the pots be careful not to break stems, tear leaves and branches or damage the root ball. Take your time here.
- If you didn’t need to snip the pot, the un-potting process will result in the plant upside down in the palm of your hand with the root ball facing you.
- Use this opportunity to inspect the root ball.
- Grab your trowel and gently use the point of the trowel to loosen the root ball at the bottom and each side by twisting your trowel tip into the root ball. This will break some roots, but will encourage the roots to spread out and dig deeper into their new pot resulting in a stronger plant.
- Place the plant into the previously prepared hole and gently gather the soil up against the root ball. I tend to use my gloved hands for this step. It’s a careful process of making sure the root ball is covered with soil, though not too tightly; and that the top soil surface of the new container is even with the top soil surface of the plant in the original pot.
- Next water again to be sure the plants and the soil are evenly moist.
Step 3: Maintain & Harvest Your Container Garden
When plants are first repotted, they are in need of some TLC. So be sure to keep an eye on them.
- Containers may need to be moved into the shade while they catch their breath in their new space. I purchased dollies that fit under my largest pots so I can roll them in and out of sun as needed.
- Ensure plants don’t dry out.
- Establish a daily watering routine that keeps the plants wet enough through the heat of the day so they don’t droop and become stressed.
- Early in the season, you may be able to skip a day, but be sure you are checking the soil for moisture before you simply skip a day. This is really important to ensure flower buds don’t dry out and die and veggies can grow properly. The soil should moist but not soggy.
- Water enough so the water drains out the bottom of the pot but doesn’t create a lot of standing water unless you intend to do that. Just beware too much water can rot the roots and kill the plant.
- Monitor how the plants are doing with the amount of sun/shade mix they are getting and adjust as needed. I drag my shade container in behind the grille on my covered balcony to protect it from too much afternoon sun since those plants need more shade.
Picking herbs and veggies
I use lots of parsley and basil and eat lots of salads. So these were natural picks for my container garden.
- When ‘picking’ lettuce, parsley and cilantro, use some kitchen shears to ‘pick’ from the outside leaves and pick a few from each plant. This will allow the plant to continue to grow so you can enjoy many harvests.
- Even though I grow my own veggies and know they don’t have lots of pesticides or transportation soil on them, I wash my veggies to remove any soil.
- Some plants my not grow the entire season. Cilantro and leaf lettuce don’t like it hot, so you may find those plants will actually die in the heat. You can remove them from the container and replant in their space come late Summer / early Fall with more of the same plants. Or try something different.
Congratulations on Your Success and Enjoy!
Enjoy the gardening process!
It’s relaxing to garden; it’s good exercise and you get to enjoy the satisfaction of growing and eating some wonderfully fresh foods.
Lifestyling Wellness ™. Yes, you can. I’ll show you how…