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Getting Started With Your Container Garden

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By Linda Phillips 

Master Gardener℠ intern in Chatham County

With these recent warmer days are your thoughts going to gardening, but you have little or no garden space? Maybe you should consider container gardening. If you have a deck space, smaller yard space or even a window box, you can have a flower, vegetable or herb garden. And the plus? It can be out of reach of the deer population.

Getting Started

As you plan your container garden, just like any garden, you need to consider the soil, light available in your container location and access to water. In addition, you will also need to plan the container for your garden. Let’s look at each one of these items.


Commercial growing media “potting soil or mix” is best for your container garden. This media doesn’t contain actual “soil” but is a mix of components such as perlite, pine bark, sand, sphagnum peat moss, and vermiculite. Potting mixes are easily found in local gardening and home stores. Be sure and read the label to check what your potting mix contains.

Why potting mixes? These mixes provide a combination of components that provide  media that is disease and pest free and provide good drainage, aeration and water holding capacity for your plants. In addition, these mixes provide this in a lighter weight soil that makes it easier to move your container.


All plants need light for growth making it an important consideration for your container garden area. Most vegetables and flowers prefer full sun (6-8 hours of sunlight per day), such as a south or west facing area. If your area is in a shady location such as east or north facing, you can still grow a container garden, but you will need to consider growing plants that need less sun (3-5 hours per day). Gardens in containers can provide the opportunity to locate your garden in the optimal spot for what you want to plant!


All plants need water to grow! Consider how you will water your container garden. Container gardens need more frequent watering as the pots tend to have less space for water and will dry out sooner. Using larger containers, if possible, will help to keep watering more manageable. Hand watering, using a garden hose or setting up drip irrigation are all possibilities for your container garden. Each option has positives and negatives to consider. In the middle of summer in a southern exposure, containers may need watering twice a day!


Last but not least, the actual container you use is important to consider when planning your garden. Almost any type of container will work. This is your chance to be creative and recycle!

In selecting your container, consider the following:

Size:  In general, larger containers provide the benefit of not drying out as quickly as smaller containers and requiring less frequent watering. The downside is with larger containers, there may be more depth and weight. Consider if a heavy container would work in your space. If you need to move the container, a plant base with wheels under the container provides easier mobility.

What plants used will impact the size of the container as well. Ideally the container needs to be large enough to allow sufficient root growth. Restricting root growth restricts plant growth.

One possible solution is utilizing multiple pot sizes for your container garden. This can be attractive on a deck or patio and provides options for different size and types of plants.

Drainage:  No matter the size of the container, it MUST have drainage holes in the bottom. This is an absolute must. No container drainage means excess water in the pot could lead to roots rotting and plant damage.

Material: There are many types of containers that can provide the correct size and optimal drainage for your garden.

Containers made from porous materials such as clay or unglazed ceramic are attractive in your container garden space. They can lose moisture more quickly and may be best to grow plants that require less water. Containers from porous materials are not advised for plants that stay outside during the winter. The water these containers absorb can freeze in the winter, cracking the pot.

Wood, or pressed fiber containers are considered semi-porous and would provide an option for plants that are outside during the winter.

Non-porous containers made from plastic, fiberglass or glazed ceramic can also remain outside year-round. Another benefit is the containers made from plastic or fiberglass are lighter weight, an important consideration if you are using larger containers.

Grow bags are good options for light weight containers for your garden. While they are easy to transport and store before filled, they are not as attractive as the other container options.

Hopefully this has inspired you to use that sunny spot and the empty pots sitting around your yard to get some plants growing! If you want to read more on this topic, here are some links to articles on the web and a reference book option as well.

NC Extension Gardener Handbook: Plants Grown in Containers

Container Gardening Planting Calendar for Edibles Grown in the Piedmont