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Container Gardening 101

By TULA contributor, Kate Burgess

Spring has arrived (finally!), bringing with it the promises of al fresco dining, sandals, sun, and farmers’ markets bursting with produce. While a morning at the market is an A+ way to start the day – and we all love supporting farmers! – it’s totally doable to grow your own greens at home. The benefits of this DIY are a million, but at the top? You’ll save money, spend less time at the store, and burst with pride the first time you pluck a homegrown tomato from its vine.

But what if you don’t have garden space? No problem! Enter: container gardening. You can easily grow a plethora of produce from your back porch, balcony – even windowsill. All you need are a few basic supplies and a sunny spot. Let’s get started!


It’s easy to spend hours + a mortgage payment in a garden shop, but really, you only need a few inexpensive items for container gardening. You can have this project up and running for less than $50!

  • Plants or seeds: If you’re new to gardening, it’s best to buy seedlings (young plants) from a garden center. These plants should be sturdy and ready to get growing! If you want to try your hand at growing from seed, The Old Farmer’s Almanac is a great resource.
  • Containers: These can be anything from simple and inexpensive (i.e. a 5-gallon bucket) to beautiful and pricey (a ceramic pot from a specialty shop). Overall, you’re looking for:       
  1. A container with a diameter of at least 12 inches like this one (herbs and microgreens can be grown in smaller pots).
  2. Drainage: Your container should have at least one hole in the bottom, allowing excess water to escape and preventing root rot. If you purchase a container without drainage holes, you can create them using a drill or sharp object (be careful!).
  3. Drainage tray: If your container does not come with a saucer, you’ll need to purchase one to protect your surfaces. There are many inexpensive options, like this
  4. The container’s material is up to you, but keep in mind that wooden boxes – while beautiful – tend to rot after a few seasons. Ceramic or plastic pots will last for years!
  • Potting soil: Choose an all-purpose potting soil like this one. Don’t use dirt dug up from the ground – it’s too dense and may lack the proper nutrients.
  • Fertilizer: If your potting soil does not contain fertilizer, you’ll want to feed your plants a few times per season.
  • Stakes or support structure, for taller plants.
  • And, of course, sun + water!
  • Optional: Garden spade/shovel, gloves, watering can

What should I plant?

When it comes to container gardening, you have tons of options – from veggies, to herbs, to fruit. Here are some plants that thrive in containers:

  • Microgreens: If you’re new to gardening, microgreens are the EASIEST place to start. They grow rapidly, require little upkeep, and are ready to eat within 7-10 days. They also grow well indoors – even in the winter! My personal fav seeds come from Sustainable Sprout. You can grow microgreens in anything from a large container to a yogurt pot!
  • Lettuce: Lettuce is great for beginners, as it grows quickly AND will yield multiple crops in a single season. Lettuce doesn’t like the heat, though, so try this in the Spring or Fall – and avoid too much direct sun.
  • Herbs: Herbs like basil, rosemary, mint, and thyme work great in small containers and can even be moved indoors to freshen up your dishes year-round.
  • Tomatoes: Plants with smaller fruits tend to work best, like cherry, Roma and grape. For larger fruits, try Bush Steak – the plants stay compact (around 24”), but produce big, juicy tomatoes in as little as two months. Tomatoes will need to be staked for support.
  • Peppers: Bell peppers are great, or try a variety of hot peppers (jalapeño, habanero, serrano) for an amazing summer salsa!
  • Peas: Snap peas, English peas and snow peas all work well. These will need to be staked for support.
  • Carrots: Use a deep container (at least 12”).  
  • Cucumbers, Zucchini and Summer Squash: Look for bush varieties, not the vine type, and add a trellis to allow your plant to crawl upward.
  • Berries, such as strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries, can be grown in containers. These often require a bit more upkeep, so it’s best to do some research before you begin. 

Your Garden Space

For the best chance of gardening success, you’ll need to pick the right space. Keep the following in mind when setting up your containers:

  • Most plants need between 6-8 hours of sunlight each day to thrive. Ideally, you’ll want to set a timer to see how much sun your space actually receives (it’s easy to overestimate!).
  • If your plants are getting too much sun, they will start to look ‘burned.’ This can appear as wrinkly or crunchy leaves, or plants with off-colored splotches. If this happens, move them to a shadier area.
  • Signs your plants aren’t getting enough sun can include: Leaning toward the light (they will actually grow at a diagonal), failure to thrive, and losing their deep green color.
  • Finally, be sure to watch the weather! One of the best things about container gardening is it’s portable. If you see a hard frost or strong storm on the horizon, bring those plants inside!

Let’s get planting!

At this point, a little dirt under the fingernails is all that’s standing between you and your garden:

  • First things first: decide on a start date. Use this calendar by The Old Farmer’s Almanac to decide when to plant by zip code.
  • Read the instructions on your plant’s care tag. Be sure to save the tag – it’s easiest to keep it right in the container.
  • Fill your containers with potting soil, digging out a hole big enough for the transplant. I like to fill the hole with water, to give a good head start on moisture. Once it soaks in, gently drop in your plant and pat additional soil over the top.
  • How deep should you plant them? This varies by plant type, but a good rule of thumb for seedlings is to plant just as deep as they are in the original container. Make sure the roots are covered. It’s okay to go up the stem a bit – just don’t bury any leaves.
  • Give the plant a good watering, and put it out in the sun!


As a whole, container gardens are pretty low-maintenance (yay!). They will need to be ‘fed,’ of course, with water and fertilizer: 

  • Water: Many plants need daily watering, especially in the height of summer. However, it’s also important not to over-water and drown your plants. To check for moisture, stick a finger at least one inch into the soil of your container. If it feels dry, water – ideally in the morning or evening to avoid evaporation.  
  • Fertilizer: Check out the care tag that came with your plant; most will include fertilizing instructions. If you purchased potting soil enriched with fertilizer, this may not be necessary. Otherwise, grab something like this, and fertilize at least a couple of times during the growing season.

Need a little help?

Love the idea of a container garden, but don’t have the time? We can help! TULA assistants are available for everything from Home Depot runs, to planting, to even light gardening maintenance.  Schedule your TO-DO's today!