Davis is perfectly situated for a long and productive growing season. Even tiny apartment balcony gardens can be very productive with the right conditions. But container gardens aren’t just for folks with limited space. Here are the big beats when it comes to container gardens:
- Most things can be planted in containers, but may require additional care
- Great for small spaces like apartment patios and balconies
- Ideal for beginning gardeners
- Portable, but can be (very) heavy
- Requires more watering as pots dry out quicker
To be clear, this blog will focus on growing edible fruits and vegetables in containers.
Before we move on, consider your light
Although some plants do well in partial shade, you’ll want to “plant” your container garden in an area that receives bright sunlight for at least 6 hours a day. If you have a small space, this may mean placing your containers wherever you get good sun (on the balcony, on the side of the house, front porch, back porch, a perpetually open, sunny window, etc.). I have fruits and veggies in containers all over the place.
Step 1: Decide what you want to grow
Start by deciding what you want to eat. Then take into consideration what kind of light and space you have (see the chart at the end of the Edible Garden Guide for a complete list of edible plants to grow in our USDA Zone).
If you’re still not sure, starting small is always a good idea. A tomato plant, a few containers with strawberries, and a trellis for pole beans is a great way to start your container garden. Unless you are an avid gardener, I recommend starting with plant starts (instead of seeds). You can purchase starts at the Co-op during the warmer months.
Step 2: Choose your containers
Your containers can vary in size, shape, and fanciness (a lot of my container garden is in plastic pots I got for free from a local nursery) as long as they allow for good draining. Let the plant’s needs determine the container. For example, multiple strawberry plants can be grown together in one large container, but each cabbage plant needs its own large container.
You can even plant trees in containers. Citrus is a popular container plant. I have a grafted stone fruit tree in a pot in my backyard. It’s about to bloom for the second time!
Here are some minimum soil depths for healthy growth in containers:
4-5″: chives, lettuce, radishes, other salad greens, basil, coriander
6-7″: bush beans, garlic, kohlrabi, onions, Asian greens, peas, mint, thyme
8-9″: pole beans, carrots, chard, cucumber, eggplant, fennel, leeks, peppers, spinach, parsley, rosemary
10-12″: beets, broccoli, okra, potatoes, sweet corn, summer squash, dill, lemongrass
Here are some minimum volume requirements for containers:
Step 3: Plant
When planting, fill containers with an organic outdoor raised bed/potting mixture. Create small wells for the starts. Loosen starts from their plastic containers and gently shake dirt from the roots (be careful not to damage the young, tender roots). Transfer to the new container, placing each start into a well. Fill with dirt and compact with your hands so that the plant is firmly “tucked in”. Water.
Reference the Edible Garden Guide for specific watering instructions. Depending on your containers, your plants may need more watering as pots dry out faster than raised beds or planted rows, especially in the summer.
I recommend using mulch to cover soil (cover soil only, not any part of the plant) in your containers as well. It helps prevent water loss to evaporation, mitigates splashing during watering which can spread pathogens from soil to leaves, and keeps soil surface temperatures down during hot summer months.
DIY Mulch materials include herbicide and pesticide-free grass clippings, organic burlap, straw or hay, shredded newspaper, coconut coir, or similar natural materials.
Step 4: Maintain your Garden
Check on your containers everyday. Remove weeds, pests, leaf litter, and other waste. Water, remove dead growth, and prune as necessary.
Treating your garden with compost, or fertilizer, is always a good idea, especially 2-6 weeks after planting. Make your own compost with our DIY Backyard Composting Guide.