How to Grow Plants in Pots (Container Gardening 101)

Just because you live in the city doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the benefits of having a garden.

Because of the lack of space and the fact that there is no soil, city-dwelling garden lovers need to come up with other ways of growing plants. The most popular method is to start a container garden.

Plants growing in pots on a metal frame.
Container gardening is a great option if you have limited space.

What is container gardening?

Container gardening is basically growing plants in containers. There are many different type of container gardens, from window boxes to gardens in pots, terraria, hanging baskets, indoor potted plants, hydroponics, and even upside down gardens.

Container gardening is very popular in urban areas. It allows you to have a garden despite living in the city.

Even people who live in the suburbs, either in townhouses or other small homes also choose to grow container gardens because their homes lack the space needed for a more formal garden.

Why garden in containers?

There are many benefits of container gardening. If you are on the fence about whether to start growing a garden in pots, here are some benefits:

  • Container gardens can be any size, and so can exist in extremely limited spaces. This means that people with no traditional outside yard can still have a garden if they have a balcony, fire escape, porch or other area that can fit a few pots.
  • Plants grown in pots (with the right soil) have fewer issues with diseases than plants grown in the ground.
  • It is easy to rearrange a container garden according to the seasons or the plant’s needs. If a plant isn’t getting enough sun, you can try moving it to a better location, or if a plant finishes flowering you can move it to a less conspicuous spot and replace it with another that is starting to bloom.
  • If you move house you can take a container garden with you.
  • Gardening is a stress-reducing activity.
  • Container gardening isn’t generally as hard work as traditional gardening.
  • People with mobility issues may be able to garden in pots and containers even if they can’t manage an in-ground garden.
  • Container gardens tend to have fewer pests than regular gardens, and they are easier to control.
  • Container gardening doesn’t require large tools (like a traditional garden does). A trowel and small fork is all you will need.
  • Anyone with space for a few pots can grow their own food. This saves money and provides you with good quality produce. With indoor vegetable gardening you can have herbs and vegetables throughout the entire year.
  • Home grown food reduces air miles and energy usage from transportation and chilling.
  • Attractive yet invasive plants such as mint and English ivy can be safely grown in pots where they ca be kept under control.

What sort of containers can I use?

Containers range from window boxes, terracotta pots, jars, small ceramic pots, or even old cans. Anything can be a container for a container garden.

It just needs to be able to hold a good amount of soil (good amounts depend on how large your plant is) and to have a draining system for the water.

Most ready made containers already have holes in the bottom and the sides for the water to drain out. If you want to start your garden with makeshift containers from around your home, you must remember to put holes at the bottom so that your plant’s roots don’t rot and kill your herb.

What to grow in a container garden

Herbs

Herbs are a really great place to start with container gardening. Most herbs grow well in containers.

A benefit to starting your garden as a container garden is you can have one right away. Many herbs sold in gardening stores already come in containers.

You can buy the herbs you want to grow (not much work needed since they’re already growing), and just place them in a sunny spot, remembering to water them as required.

The following herbs are easy-care, can be grown indoors or outdoors in most temperate climates, and great for beginners wanting to get started with a container garden:

  • Basil – easy to grow indoors or outdoors as long as you give it lots of sun and keep it well watered.
  • Mint – mint is great grown in a container. It grows like a weed and so tends to take over if grown in a garden bed, so keeping it contained in a pot is the best way to grow it.
  • Sage – an attractive plant that makes a beautiful addition to any indoor or outdoor herb garden.

Vegetables

Almost any vegetable can be successfully grown in a pot or container. All you require is seeds or seedlings, good soil, water, sunlight and the right size of container. Put it all together and watch them grow!

Your choices should consider the amount of sunlight they will receive. Some vegetables, like tomatoes, beans, peas, peppers, eggplant and squashes require full sun for at least six hours each day. On the other hand, spinach, lettuce, potatoes, kale and Swiss chard are content in partial shade. 

Flowers

What could be more beautiful than pots full of growing flowers? There is nothing like fresh growing flowers to spruce up a dreary or empty space. 

There are some tried and true varieties of flowers that thrive in pots. For example, any flowers that are sold for hanging baskets at the local nursery or plant outlet should be fine. Here are some proven winners to try:

  • lobelia
  • alyssum
  • snapdragons
  • black-eyed susan vine
  • fuchsia
  • pelargonium
  • portulaca
  • petunia
  • lantana
  • million bells
  • geraniums

Almost any flower can grow in a container provided that you pay attention to the soil quality, the drainage holes and the container size.

What soil to use

Getting the soil right in container gardening is key to your success.

Soil for container gardening is a science. Healthy soil produces healthy plants, so you need to know about what makes healthy soil.

You can’t just dig up some earth from the ground, because you might be transferring disease-causing bacteria, insect pests, weed seeds, or other elements you don’t want in your containers. 

You can purchase good soil for container gardening at any garden center. Many types of potting mix will contain a wetting agent that helps retain water in the soil, reducing the need for daily watering.

If you are wanting to grow edibles, make sure that the potting mix you buy is suitable – read the labels carefully, or check with the store.

Where to place your container garden

One of the best things about container gardens is that you can have your garden anywhere. Many people choose to put their gardens out on a small balcony or by a large window. Kitchen windows are also very popular, especially if the plants are still small.

It really doesn’t matter where you put your containers. You can decorate your home with them, placing pots by the sofa, near the steps, or anywhere that you would like to bring some life and color to.

What’s important is that your plants get enough sunlight each day. If you plan to keep your containers in various parts of the home, move them to where they can get a good amount of sun and then move them back to where you want them to be.

If you live in a small house or a townhouse, container gardens look very nice by the front door or by the back door, especially if you have a small porch. This adds color and movement to your home.

Choosing to put your containers on a balcony (a popular choice) is also okay. Just make sure that your balcony isn’t too windy, which may happen when you live on a high floor.

Some plants will struggle because of the wind. Gentle breezes are fine, but long gusts can affect your garden’s health. Try shielding your plants somehow if the wind is a problem. Keeping them near a wall or closer to the entrance of the balcony is one way to keep the wind from affecting your plants.

Care and upkeep

Watering

Watering container gardens can be a challenge. All plants are made up mainly of water. They also rely on water for nutrients to reach their roots through the soil. It is therefore essential to keep your potted plants from becoming thirsty.

Plants in containers dry out more quickly than plants in the ground, so it is best to give them a drink every day. Don’t flood them, but keep the soil nice and moist. This will help your container plants to thrive.

Fertilizing

To keep your container gardens thriving you must fertilize the soil regularly. This is because there is only a certain amount of nutrients available in an enclosed container. Your plant will use them all up and will then become hungry for more.

Once a week is a good idea, and if you keep a certain day of the week as your fertilizer day you won’t forget. 

Use a good quality organic fertilizer as this will help to protect the soil bacteria, keeping your potted plant healthier for longer.

Transplanting

Container gardens can be quite convenient, but it must be remembered that plants do need to be transplanted when they become too big for their containers. Many times people forget about this and let the plant grow to be very large until it’s too large to transplant to another container and needs to be transplanted to the ground (and with the help of several people at that!)