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Like most people, when I started growing plants, they were all house plants in planters. Did you know there are several food producing plants that are all suitable for pots? But which ones? And how do I choose planters? Let’s talk about some container gardening ideas today.
The first thing I want to say is that this article is about choosing planters for container gardens specifically for growing food crops and herbs. I’m more focused on function over form when it comes to container gardening my food crops, so you’re not going to see beautiful arranged ceramic pots in color schemes. However if you are searching for container gardening ideas with food production in mind, I think you’ll get some helpful ideas for your garden space.
When the topic of growing our own food comes up, and let’s face it, with the food inflation of 2023, most people are at least casually talking about growing some sort of garden. I’ve heard this said more times than I can count.
If things get bad enough, I’ll just throw some seeds out back, and grow my own darn food.
– People who’ve never grown anything
Well, yes and no. The average person thinks that with minimal effort and investment, they will get something that looks like this.
What people don’t understand is that it’s just not that easy. Let me explain:
- Soil quality and drainage are HUGE factors that will determine the success or failure of whatever is planted.
- Crops grown in ground are subject to pests like rabbits and voles as well as insects.
- It’s an incredible amount of effort to care for plants in the ground. Even taller plants like tomatoes will require the gardener to work on hands and knees frequently to provide appropriate plant care. Personally, I’m an older person, so mucking around at ground level in a garden is getting difficult for me.
- Gardens require full sun to optimal production, and if you’re like me, you have a lot of trees and buildings that cast shade in areas where you’d otherwise want to locate a garden. If a spot is too shady, it makes it difficult for more crops to produce optimally.
- In ground gardens can really take up a LOT of space and not all of us have large enough back yards to accommodate something like that.
But all is not lost! Let’s discuss some container gardening ideas that I personally use and recommend.
The number one top benefit of growing food in containers is the amount of control it gives you as the grower.
- Growing in containers provides total control over the soil and compost mix used to grow in. Having well aerated, well draining, rich soil makes growing whatever you want to grow 10 times easier.
- Not all plants require a ton of depth, but they generally need space around them. So while broccoli grows well in 7 gallon grow buckets, (affiliate link) you can only put one plant per bag. But that one plant will do really well. If you have 6 grow tubs, you can grow 6 broccoli plants.
- Planters are portable so you can move your garden around your yard as the sun position changes. Where the light falls in June is completely different from where it falls in October. I’ve definitely had to make adjustments from spring to fall. But if you’re in the right garden zone, you could still grow lots of things, broccoli included.
- Container gardening is great for people with limited space. If you only have a balcony or a small patio at your condo and you get some sunshine, you can probably grow something. You could run grow lights if you have a shady terrace. (affiliate link) People might think it looks crazy, but even inexpensive grow lights will provide enough energy for plants to grow.
Let’s take a look at setting up informal grow zones. This will hopefully provide you with real world, realistic container gardening ideas.
Grow Zones Matter
This is the south side of my home and I placed several different planters and plants here to take advantage of the sun. Also my house blocked the north wind in late spring and early summer, and my plants did much better.
Notice I have a wide variety of planters including, large ceramic planters, a 35 gallon grow bag, and nursery pot for the lemon tree and a large raised bed.
I grew sweet bell peppers, 5 varieties of tomatoes and 2 huge cucumber plants.
Let’s look at the raised bed
I bought and installed this raised bed this past spring. I absolutely LOVE it!! Raised beds are my preferred method, but be ready for sticker shock.
The beds themselves are not too expensive, (affiliate link) but filling them is very expensive. I filled in the bottom with yard debris in the form of branches and leaves and flattened card board boxes. But it still took many, many bags of soil and compost to fill.
But look at the production I got out of it! I canned 97 pounds of tomatoes this year from plants I grew around my suburban yard! And we ate probably 50 pounds of them or more all summer.
Don’t forget the driveway
I grew 16 pounds of potatoes in two grow tubs this spring! I also grew spring onions, bell peppers and more tomatoes. Everything was in containers including those large grow bags. Which I love.
One tip is to make sure your bags have handles! (affiliate link)
Backyard Garden Zone
I shared this photo with you earlier. I used several containers here. Large ceramic pots, 7 gallon grow bags, small planters on legs, (affiliate link) and shallow profile boxes that are called City Pickers. (affiliate link)
City Pickers are fantastic for herbs, lettuces, spinach, radishes, or even flowers. I’ve used them for years and they work extremely well. I removed the apparatus they have in the bottom and drill my own drainage holes.
In fact, I drill my own drainage holes in all the plastic planters!! Drainage is key.
Ok, so that’s a look at some of the containers I use to grow my summer and fall gardens in. Let me show you the newest addition to my collection.
What we have here is a very large feed or water bucket, (affiliate link) and I get mine in my neighborhood Tractor Supply Store. They are on the aisle with the horse feed and are on the top shelf in my store. But you can go to anyone of them and ask about the Fortiflex buckets. Off topic, but the white 5 gallon buckets are food grade storage buckets and I use them in conjunction with gamma seal lids to store a lot of food in my pantry.
We have our container, but we need to do a couple of things before it’s ready to fill and plant.
To properly set up the container we need to:
- Drill large drainage holes in the bottom. Use your larger drill bit to make at least 8-10 spaced holes in the bottom of the containers. Well draining soils and containers are key for healthy plants. You don’t want water sitting in the bottom of any container at any time. Except plants who are water loving plants.
- Position the container on something to elevate it off the ground. This facilitates drainage. Pots that sit on the ground do not drain well. This includes patios or on top of grass or soil. It’s as though you never drilled the drainage holes. I picked up landscaping bricks at my Home Depot. Any brick works, but I like this kind because it gets the planter up higher and that’s easier on me.
Now it’s finally time to fill our properly arranged Containers!
This container was set up at my garden allotment. Notice it is still up on blocks even though it’s placed on soil.
It took a full bag of potting mix and a full bag of compost to fill this one container!
My favorite new container garden idea
Now while raised beds are my first love, this large container really worked well for me. It’s not fancy looking but it works great! Also notice they have handles to make moving them easier. You can see this one is set up on smaller bricks. Works just as well and is a bit cheaper than the large stones I used on the first container.
I live in a suburban area that borders our city’s large agricultural zone. So we have a few Tractor Supply locations. You can probably find something equivalent unless you are living in a more urban environment. You may have to mail order your bucket if this is something you like.
But gosh do I love browsing my Tractor Supply store! They have the best books and magazines there, too. I found quilting magazines there than I now subscribe to!
And if you need more container gardening ideas than appear here, they have a great selection of garden and homesteading books.
I’ve gotten canning books there as well as gardening books. If you’re at all interested in the kind of lifestyle where we grow and preserve our own food, then I think you would also enjoy browsing here.
Some common questions about container gardening
- What containers are safe to grow a garden in? Avoid containers that might contain toxic substances, e.g., treated wood or plastic buckets that may have stored chemicals. This means that pesticide or herbicide may have been stored in the container. it would be best to avoid anything like that. If your container once held paint thinner, you really don’t want to plant you cucumbers in that. Satisfactory containers include plastic or fiber nursery pots; wooden bushel baskets; plastic, metal or wooden buckets; milk cartons – even plastic bags and recycled cardboard boxes.
- Can I grow vegetables in non food grade buckets? Be sure that the container you choose is food-grade and/or hasn’t stored any questionable materials, such as paint, chemicals, tar, asphalt, or pesticides or herbicides.
- What is the best planter material for growing vegetables? Be sure whatever you choosed has drainage holes. Wood planters, window boxes and half-wine barrels are other fun container gardening ideas.
- Name some plants that are good for container gardening?
- Cucumbers and Zucchini
- Citrus Trees (Dwarf Varieties)
Ok dear readers! Time for you to try something new!
Think about what kind of space and light you have, and what you can fit where. I love putting my planters on pallets. It gets them off the ground and pallets can be stacked to raise your container a little higher. Especially nice when growing in shallow City Picker boxes or smaller grow bags.
I hope this provided some helpful container gardening ideas you can use.
Even though I have a nice allotment at the nearby church, I put in raised beds and brought over several containers. I have some things planted in the ground, but I love the height the raised beds give me and it certainly keeps me better organized.
Until next we meet, happy gardening!
Hi! I’m Pattymac
Grower, quilt maker, baker