How To Plant A Garden

How to Plant a Garden in Containers!

When learning , it may surprise you to know that one of the most successful techniques you can utilize is to grow your garden in containers!

We are so conditioned to believe that the only successful way to have a garden is with a plot of land, but this really isn’t so.

As a matter of fact, learning can be much easier when working with containers.  This means that there’s a better chance that the novice gardener will do well!

What makes growing veggies in containers so great?  Well….

  • the soil is fresh and without disease or pathogens
  • water is more easily controlled
  • no need to worry about crop rotation (the same plants should not be planted in the same spot every year, but with new potting soil each year, it doesn’t matter)
  • pots can be placed in the best location for sun needs
  • many plants grow better in containers

So without further ado….let’s get to it!


How to Plant a Garden:
1.  A pot is a pot is a pot….or is it?

You can use almost ANY container you chose, as long as you take a few things into consideration:

  1. The container must be large enough for the plant & root system
  2. The container must have drainage holes at the bottom
  3. The material the container is made out of is critically important if you’re going to be planting food items

How large is large enough?

Well, consider the size of the full grown plant.  A large, or tall, plant
will generally produce a deeper root system than a small, or short, plant.

Tomatoes, for example, grow very tall and wide, and therefore need a pot that can
handle not only their top weight, but their large root system.  Tomatoes should be planted in a container that is at least 5 gallons big and 10 inches wide.

Notice how much space is put between the kale in the center and the surrounding parsley plants. Your containers will look sparse on first planting, but they need the room to grow.

When planting annuals, you may generally jam the pot with many plants to create a full appearance.  Vegetables should be planted with lots and lots of room to ensure that when they are full-grown they will have enough space in their container.

Cilantro, on the other hand, is a small plant, with a small root system, and can be planted in a shorter pot.  Likewise with lettuce. 

These small plants actually do better in small, or should I say “short”, pots.  It’s not
the bigness of the pot that matters here, but the depth.  Small plants
with short root systems can more easily reach the bottom of the pot, and
therefore the water source, if the pot is short or
shallow. 

Small plants could potentially die from lack of water in a large pot, as all
of the water will go to the bottom of the pot, and far away from the
shallow root system.

Drainage holes in the container are critical to the success of your plants.  Any
pot that does not allow the water to drain away, leaves it sitting in
the bottom of the pot, and therefore in the root system.  This can cause
the root system to rot, and will ultimately destroy the plant.

And finally, be cautious of the material that you are using.  Plant pots,
plastic buckets, baskets, etc are usually safe.  Items to be cautious of
are treated lumbar, recycled tires, or any type of material that will
leach chemicals into the soil. 

Chemicals that get into the soil, get
into the root systems, and into your fruit and veggies.


How to Plant a Garden:
2.  Not all dirt is created equal!

The first word of caution is….DO NOT USE THE TOP SOIL IN YOUR YARD!

Plant your young seedlings up to the first set of leaves visible on the stem...the cotyledons. These first leaves to sprout only begin the plant's growth and then serve no further purpose.

If you take the soil from your yard, and dump it into a container, you can pretty much guarantee your plants will NOT do well, and in fact, will probably die.

Why is this?

There are many reasons….it is too heavy, not porous enough, too much clay, too much sand, pathogens and diseases are present, weed seeds, etc etc etc.

You will need to either purchase a (preferably organic) potting soil mix that contains vermiculite or perlite, or you can make your own.

I prefer to make my own as it is usually a bit more economic:

  • 2 parts potting soil mix (cheap bagged stuff at your local garden center)
  • 1 part organic compost (this will be a larger expense – I paid $13 for a large bag)
  • 1/8 part (is that even a measurement?) perlite (you can use vermiculite, but I prefer perlite)
  • Slow release organic fertilizer (I use about 1 cup if each of the bags above are 2 cubic feet of soil…an even better fertilizer is worm compost!)

Mix all of the ingredients together in a large storage bin (I just keep it in my garage to use as needed), and you’ll have some fabulous potting soil ready to go!


How to Plant a Garden:
3.  Location!  Location!  Location!

These containers NEED to receive enough sunlight for the plants that are growing within them!

One of the main reasons that people fail at producing a good crop is by not providing enough sunlight for the developing plants. 

Luster Leaf 1875 Rapitest Suncalc Sunlight Calculator

One of the ways that your plant will “revolt” against their lack of sun,
will be to significantly decrease their fruit or veggie production.

This little gadget is a fabulous way to determine how much sunlight any one area receives!  You may be surprised to find out that an area that you identified as full sun, only receives about 4 to 5 hours of sunlight a day.

This would not be enough sun for the “fruiting” plants, and like I said, plants that do not receive the correct amount of sun, will not produce the fruits and veggies that they were destined to produce because they will use too much energy trying to capture the small amount of sun they do receive.

As stated in the teaching material provided by Wellspring Organic Farm in Newburg, Wisconsin regarding in containers, “The majority of plants that produce fruit need at least seven hours of direct sunlight per day.  Examples of fruit producing plants are
tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, etc.  Veggies that we grow for their
leaves (kale, spinach, herbs, etc) need 3 to 4 hours a day.  Root
veggies (carrots, beets, radish) need 4 to 5 hours of direct sunlight.”


How to Plant a Garden:
4.  What to plant….what to plant….

There are 2 main points to remember when it comes to WHAT to plant:

  1. Different plants like different neighborhoods
  2. Friends like to live together!

Exactly what do I mean by that?!

Well, think of your plants as having characteristics similar to people….friends like to live together in the same neighborhood.

People who live together in the same neighborhood most likely enjoy similar aspects of that neighborhood….certain people enjoy the hustle and bustle of busy city life while others enjoy the peace and quiet of the suburbs.

The same can be said for plants….certain plants like moist conditions, deep pots and lots of sun, while others prefer it a bit drier, in shallow pots, with only part sun.

Don’t plant a deep rooted sun-loving plant like tomato with a shallow rooted plant that doesn’t do well in the heat of summer like lettuce.

Also, friends like to live together….there are certain plants that are good “companions” while others are “enemies.”  The companion plants will benefit each other in various ways by keeping pests to a minimum, or balancing the nutrients in the soil, while “enemies” will hurt each other either by attracting certain insects, or creating soil conditions that hurt one of the plants.

If you’re nervous about paring the wrong plants together, there is no shame in planting one plant per pot!  If you’re new to vegetable gardening, start slow and get used to one plant at a time.  Even seasoned gardeners struggle with some types of plants, and have plants die on them from time to time.

Better to try than not to try!


How to Plant a Garden:
5.  Hungry and thirsty babies!

Plants grown in containers are going to have more of a need for water and fertilizer.

Water will drain from the pots leaving the plants to dry out faster, and because the soil in the pot is the only soil the plant gets (it does not get to pull from nutrients in the surrounding soil of a garden) it will need some type of fertilizer on a regular basis as well.

A simple trellis made out of large sticks is set in this bucket in preparation for the peas that will climb up it.

Watering leaches the nutrients out of the soil so products such as worm compost teas, fish emulsion or kelp will serve to provide sufficient nutrients to the plant.  They are good sources of organic fertilizers.

I would recommend the use of an organic fertilizer as opposed to a synthetic one such as Miracle Gro.  Organic fertilizers work with the soil, and help to encourage beneficial micro organisms that benefit the plant, whereas fertilizers such as Miracle Gro will kill these organisms.

The experts at your local garden center should be able to help you find the correct products, and show you how to apply these products in the correct amount for the plant you are working with.

You will generally need to water your plants every 1-2 days, although the
frequency of waterings can increase during especially hot and dry
periods.  It is good practice to water the plant until water runs from
the drainage holes in the bottom.

Generally speaking, the soil should be moist, but not wet, and definitely without any standing water.


How to Plant a Garden:
Final thoughts…

You certainly don’t have to try this, but something that has worked well for me when learning in containers is burying the pot in a few inches of soil in the garden.  This way I get the benefits of container gardening, with the water retention qualities of a standard garden.

Also, don’t be shy about grouping your veggies with flower pots, or with perennials and bushes in the garden…This adds some visual interest to plantings, and can fill in spaces nicely.  Remember, vegetables grow fast and often quite large…the foliage in some veggie plants is quite beautiful!

And if you’re looking for flowers to plant between your vegetables, consider petunia, marigolds and nasturtium.  These plants attract beneficial insects, particularly marigolds, and nasturtium flowers and leaves are edible and good additions for salads.

Good luck on your adventure on !


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