University of Maryland Extension

Container Gardening

There are a few simple ingredients for success with container gardening — a little bit of room, sunlight, containers, growing media (a.k.a. “potting soil”, never called dirt!), water, and nutrients (fertilizer). The single most important ingredient for success is Tender Loving Care because your container plants have to depend entirely on YOU for all of their needs. It’s always best to start small the first year. 

What Can I Grow in a Container Garden?

  • Just about any vegetable or herb! Some of the more popular container crops are salad greens, peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, beans, chard, beets, radish, squash, and cucumbers. 
  • More challenging crops include melons, corn, potatoes, and sweet potatoes. The key is to experiment.
  • Look for “bush” or “dwarf” varieties of the crops you want to grow.  There are quite a few tomato and cucumber varieties bred for small-space gardening.

Best Location for a Container Garden

whiskey barrel container

  • Containers can be placed on any level surface — decks, balconies, and along driveways and sidewalks. You can also set them on bare ground and allow the plant roots to grow down into the soil or place them on top of a mulched area.
  • Edibles can also be grown in hanging baskets and window boxes.
  • Southern and western exposures will be the sunniest and warmest, while northern and eastern exposures will be shadier and cooler.
  • You’ll need 6-8 hours of direct sun for warm-season crops (tomato, pepper, eggplant, squash) and 3-5 hours of direct sun for cool-season crops (lettuce, spinach, Asian greens).  
  • Easy access to water is crucial. Some containers will need watering every day when the weather is hot and dry.
  • Consider the microclimate in the container garden area. Watch out for heat sinks created by brick,  concrete, and reflective surfaces.

herb containers deck
Herb containers on deck.

Words of Caution About Container Gardening

  • Containers and the water that drains from them can mark and stain concrete and wood decking. Using self-watering containers or plastic saucers to catch water will prevent this problem (and is very helpful if you are gardening “above” your neighbor’s balcony.)
  • The lighter weight of large plastic containers leads gardeners to believe they can be moved easily. But a 20-inch diameter container filled with moist growing medium and plants can weigh 100 lbs! (You can buy or make plant caddies to make heavy containers portable.)

Resources for Container Gardening

Video: Container Gardening: An Easy Way to Grow Your Own Food

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