Container gardening is one of the first things many beginner preppers think about as they rev up their prepper lifestyle.
And why not? It’s one of the most rewarding and practical things you can do to protect your family against a long term disaster. When space is at a premium, container gardening is often the best solution.
But all too often, planting seeds or seedlings in a container just doesn’t work out. The plants don’t thrive and all the work you’ve put into it is for nothing. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Check out these proven Top 10 Container Gardening Tips to help get your container plants off to a rousing good start and bountiful harvest.
Tip #1: Select locations with good light and moderate temperatures.
If you’re planting vegetables like tomatoes or preppers, find a spot that gets at least 6 hours of direct sunlight every day.
A word of caution, however: be sure that spot doesn’t get so hot that it overheats the plants. Plus, try to avoid using metal or dark colored containers that tend to heat up in the sun and fry your plant’s roots.
Likewise, if you live in a cold climate, avoid putting your plants out full time before the seasonal temperatures are consistently warm. You soil needs to be at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’re not sure what the temperature is, check it out with a good soil thermometer.
Also, regardless of how warm or cold your temperature zone is, always acclimate your seedlings gradually to outside temperatures before planting them in the container. We typically bring seedlings trays out each morning and return them inside each night for about a week or so before transplanting.
Tip #2: Water evenly to keep the soil moist.
One mistake many beginners make is either under-watering or over-watering their container plants. Either one could end disastrously.
A rule of thumb is to keep the soil moist but not soaking wet. If the soil is dry about an inch beneath the surface, add water. If not, wait before watering until later in the day or the next day.
If the temperatures are really hot, you might have to water up to 2 times a day. But again, be careful of overwatering.
Tip #3: Use only high quality potting soil.
Never fill your containers with soil from your garden. They’re likely full of weed seeds and soil diseases—and that’s what you’re trying to avoid by using a container.
Instead, shop at your local nursery for a high quality potting soil recommended for vegetables (assuming that’s what you’re growing).
The best potting soils will include ingredients such as vermiculite, perlite and peat moss. Various brands may have other added ingredients that aid in moisture retention, fertilization and plant performance.
Tip #4: Decide How to start the plants: seeds or seedlings
You always have the option of picking up seedlings from your local nursery. The advantage with this choice is that you can transplant them almost immediately. Usually, they’re already acclimated, so no need to wait for that.
A less expensive option is beginning your plants from seeds.
However, that means you’ll have to provide 12 to 16 hours of light per day—and that means a lighting system, possibly a rack, trays, etc. It also means you have to begin well before the optimal growing season so your seedlings are ready when the season temperatures are ideal.
Personally, we prefer this method over buying seedlings. There’s something so rewarding knowing that you’ve nursed your plants from tiny seeds to full grown seedlings and beyond.
Every day, we peer into the growing rack to spot that first little green leaf, feeling like a proper “plant parent!” You’re either the seed type or you’re not, that’s all we can say!
Tip #5: Choose your vegetables.
Choosing what to raise is another fun part. We go to the local nursery (or online) as a family to choose which veggies we’ll be growing each year.
Everyone has different opinions, but somehow it all works out.
Here are just some of the vegetables that are well suited for growing in container pots:
- Leafy Greens:
If you like salads, you’ll love growing leafy greens. They grow quickly with a never ending supply till the cold weather hits, and they’re easy to take care of. There are even varieties that do well in the cooler spring and fall weather.
- Squash and Cucumbers:
Also great for salads, and also easy to grow. We suggest you avoid the vine varieties and go with the bush type instead. One summer or zucchini squash or cucumber plant can fill out a 2-ft. container quickly, so keep to one plant per container.
Add a trellis as the plants grow taller.
Peas also need vertical support to keep the pods off the ground. Pay close attention to regular watering schedules and add fertilizer regularly.
Potatoes are a staple food that can be grown in all kinds of containers, everything from garbage cans or Tupperware bins to a plain ole burlap bag.
Tomatoes can be added to all kinds of salads and other recipes, and are a great container plant. They also benefit from some kind of trellis, pole or other support system.
Spice up your prepper supplies with some traditional bell peppers grown in containers. They’re relatively easy to grow, and are a great addition to many recipes.
Tip #6: Feed your plants regularly.
It’s so easy to forget to properly fertilize your plants, but it’s essential that you do it regularly. Follow the instructions on any fertilizer product to see the recommended frequency and amounts.
Many successful container gardeners add their own mix of organic, granular fertilizer—often from their own compost pile—into the containers before planting.
Then, once or twice a month, they add some additional component such as diluted liquid fish emulsion or liquid seaweed.
Tip #7: Be sure your container has adequate drainage.
Without good drainage, your container will retain water and eventually drown your plants.
So when looking for a good container, make sure it has one or several drainage holes in the bottom. To avoid losing soil, cover each hole loosely with some small rocks so the soil is prevented from running through.
If your container has no holes, you can simply drill one or use a sharp tool to create one. Don’t make it too large—usually a hole an inch or slightly less in width is sufficient.
Finally, if the container bottom surface is flat, there’s always the problem that it might eventually plug up with dirt. We found a great solution by placing plant pot feet (available at most gardening centers or online) that elevates the container by an inch or so off the flat surface, ensuring that the bottom of the pot never touches it.
Tip #8: Begin with the right container.
Your garden center will have many containers that are big enough, with adequate drainage, and manufactured with food safe materials. Finding a container you like is the easy part.
The more challenging part is finding a container that is large enough for your needs. Most of us tend to go with smaller containers—and that’s not always a good idea. Don’t even look at containers smaller than a foot across. Bigger is better.
Here are some of the container varieties you can consider:
- Wooden Containers
Containers constructed of wood are always a popular choice with gardeners. They’re typically affordably priced, come in many sizes, and, if you’re the creative type, can be painted.
The only down side is that, eventually, they may begin to rot. Nonetheless, you can get many good years of service from a well-made wooden container.
- Ceramic Containers
Glazed ceramic containers are also a popular selection, as are terra cotta pots and plastic food-grade containers.
If you choose a terra cotta pot (made of relatively porous material), remember that moisture tends to evaporate more quickly than with glazed ceramic containers. A good solution for this is to use a plastic insert that fits nicely inside the terra cotta pot. If that doesn’t appeal to you, try sealing the terra cotta insides with a good stone-sealing product.
Incidentally, both ceramic and terra cotta pots can shatter in freezing temperatures, so move them indoors with the weather turns cold.
- Containers That Water Themselves
These are great ways to ensure you don’t forget to water your container. Some draw water up from a compartment below the plant section; others are watering bulbs that, inserted into the root ball, gradually dispense the necessary amount of water.
All you have to do is fill the bulb with water, insert into the plant, and a measured drip of water turns your thirsty plant container into a self-watering one.
- Containers You Make Yourself
If you don’t like the store-bought versions, make one yourself!
You can turn almost anything into a completely serviceable—and creative—plant container. We’ve seen everything from 5-gallon buckets, old laundry bins, even the kitchen sink, made into containers that work well and get lots of admiring comments.
Just make sure it’s large enough to ensure adequate hydration, with good drainage to prevent over-watering.
Decision Time: Is Container Gardening Right for You?
If you enjoy the growing process but don’t want to take on a full-sized garden, then maybe it is.
You have so many food plants that are ideal for container gardening—and we have mentioned only a few—and your choices are almost endless.
If you like the idea of growing your own food and don’t want to depend on the national food supply chain, then do what thousands of other preppers before you are already doing.
Begin your container gardening project today.