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Limited space? Try container gardening

By ​​​​​​​Rosanne Loparco
Posted 5/31/20

Just as a vase or piece of art can give an interior space a finished look, a garden container can give outdoor space character. Containers can serve as decoration, but they can also be your source …

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Limited space? Try container gardening


Just as a vase or piece of art can give an interior space a finished look, a garden container can give outdoor space character. Containers can serve as decoration, but they can also be your source for edible crops.

The benefits of container gardening are many:

They allow gardening in a small space

They are an option for those with physical limitations

They can be moved around

They can even create privacy

Here are some tips on how to get started with container gardening.

Start with soil

Just as with a garden, soil is the most important foundation for success with containers. Start with a good quality potting soil, not garden soil since it is too heavy for a container. You can also consider adding compost to your container, mixed with potting soil, will be an added benefit to growing edible crops.

Container Choice

You do not have to spend a lot of money on containers. Save your budget for the plants. Clay containers are inexpensive; however, they can dry out quickly in summer’s heat. Metal is nice too; however, they will get very hot in full sun locations and can burn plant roots. Plastic is a great option since it holds up well, in most summer conditions.

Look for a container with drainage holes or one that you can drill the drainage holes. Most plants cannot tolerate soggy soils created by lack of drainage. Consider placing the container grown plants on a flat surface such as concrete so that containers can drain properly.

Have fun with the container by choosing something you can re-purpose; for example, old boots, toolboxes or even 5-gallon buckets can make for some fun containers!

Maintenance issues

Container gardens are easier to maintain since they are usually up close in places where you can deadhead spent flowers and trim yellowing leaves. Your weeding chores will be virtually nonexistent!

Watering and fertilizing will be your biggest concern. Containers dry out faster than a traditional garden bed. As you water more, nutrients will be lost quickly. Both chores will be critical if you plan on edible crops. You can consider watering tools such as irrigation or use polymer crystals which help potting soils retain moisture. Some potting mixes on the market already have polymer crystals in them. If you place your finger in the soil and it feels dry about 2 inches down, it is time to water. Lift the container if possible; a light container probably needs water versus if the container is heavy. Feed the plants with a water-based fertilizer on a regular basis throughout the growing season.


Just about anything can be grown in a container, including edibles, small fruits, small trees, shrubs and/or vines. As a rule, the larger the plant, the larger the container should be. Most of us have grown flowers in containers. However, add a container of vegetables or fruits this year.

For the beginner, salad greens, spinach, herbs, and patio tomatoes are easy to grow. However, do not limit yourself. The 5-gallon bucket is the perfect size for most vegetables; just be sure to drill holes in the bottom. If you do not like the look, there are craft paints available allowing you to paint the buckets bright colors or add a design. This is a great project for the kids and to get them involved in the science of growing plants.

Using transplants is the best option for fruiting vegetables. However, vegetables such as salad greens are easy to start from seeds directly into your containers. Small fruits such as strawberries, blueberries and raspberries are also good choices for containers. Many varieties are specifically bred to grow in containers.

Containerized fruits will not yield as much as in a garden; but you will get enough to enjoy. Ask your local nursery staff on which fruits grow well in a container. In terms of vegetable varieties best suited for containers, look for words such as “bush”, “patio”, or “dwarf”. However, by adding trellis support or other forms of staking, do not limit yourself to those.

If you would like to grow edibles this year, take advantage of Cornell’s Garden Based Learning “Just Plant It” campaign.

For more information, visit our Cornell Cooperative Extension Oneida County’s website at for information on container gardening, flowers, and edible crops. Or as staff continues to work remotely from their homes we are here to answer your questions, leave a message at 315-736-3394 ext. 100. Phones are monitored weekdays 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Happy gardening!


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