How to Grow a Veggie Container Garden

Last Updated on May 25, 2015 by Jennifer Pallian BSc, RD

Now that you’ve done all your garden planning, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get dirty! In Canada, typically people “put their gardens in” on the long weekend in May. In Vancouver, our mild climate allows me to plant sooner. But if you haven’t already planted, it’s not too late!

As you may know, I jumped on board the Scotts Miracle-Gro Gro Crew last month (basically an awesome, supportive gardening club), and since then, I’ve started my seeds and watched adoringly as they’ve sprouted into cute little seedlings.

Today, I thought I’d share some words of wisdom from my personal gardening experience (backed up by the Gro Crew team of garden experts!) to help you succeed with your own container garden adventure.

Here are some of the most important things you need to know to rock your own veggie container garden:

– SUN: you have to work with what you have. If you don’t have an area that will provide full sun (6 hours per day of direct rays) to your garden space, then don’t try to grow tomatoes. Calculate how many hours of sunlight your patio or garden patch gets, and plant what will thrive in those conditions. (Refer back to this post for a link to what will grow in part-shade).

– WATER: you can kill plants with “a cup of love”. It’s better to water your plants deeply and less frequently than to water just the top portion of the soil every time you walk by with a half-finished glass. You want the roots to grow deep and strong, and you don’t want them to rely so heavily on those mini-waterings that they suffer from drought if you forget one. Stick your finger in the dirt – if it’s dry up to the second knuckle, time for a good soak (keep in mind that different plants and different sized pots will require different watering frequencies). Water until it runs out the bottom of the pot. Which is the other crucial point – all pots require drainage! Use pots with holes in the bottom so you don’t drown your plants.

If you’ve got super cute chubby thighs, pants are totally optional.

Best to water your plants in the morning (so the soil has all day to dry out rather than remaining saturated – which can lead to moisture-loving problems and pests). Aim the stream at the soil around the base of the plant and not at the leaves (again, to avoid issues related to dampness) and especially avoid getting the leaves wet while in full, hot sun, which can scorch them.

– SPACE: don’t try to grow too much in a small space. On each seed packet, you’ll see recommendation for spacing between plants – give them this amount of room, whether in a container or in the ground. Err on the side of larger than you think you’ll need when choosing containers, so that roots have room to grow and plants aren’t competing for nutrients. Crowding your veggie patch is tempting when you have a small space, but will lead to unhealthy plants, which invite insects and fungal disease (NOT FUN). One tomato plant per pot. One cucumber plant per pot. Don’t break those rules.

– AIR: this is one that is important, and often overlooked. Air circulation is required to fend off dampness, which encourages diseases like powdery mildew (a fungus that plagues many large-leafed vegetable plants). If you’re planting on a patio with high glass railings and you don’t feel a breeze, consider a small electric fan.

– SOIL: choosing soil that is rich in nutrients sets the foundation for healthy plants. I’ve been using Miracle-Gro Potting Mix this year, which is lightweight for growing in containers and is enriched with with nitrogen etc. for healthy plant growth. I’m all out, and when it’s time to transplant my seedlings, I’m going to buy their Moisture Control Potting Mix, which prevents over- and under-watering with super-absorbant coir – from coconuts. I’m intrigued!

– TEMPERATURE: follow a planting guide for your region to know when in the season to plant or move your seedlings outdoors – some are fine as soon as the last risk of frost has passed, but others prefer a warmer soil. If you’re in Canada, I find this guide the best. If you’re in the US, try this one.

– FOOD: it is important to fertilize container plants regularly, because you’re washing nutrients right out of the pot when you water them and it doesn’t get replenished. I’ll be trying out Miracle-Gro Shake ‘n Feed Tomato, Fruits & Vegetables this summer, which contains nitrogen, calcium, magnesium, etc. necessary for healthy plant growth and productivity. (They offer an organic option called Organic Choice All Purpose Plant Food, too, but it’s for in-ground gardens). Whatever your choose, be sure to follow the instructions for frequency, you can get too much of a good thing.

The next steps for me will be time to thin out my seedlings – seeds don’t have a 100% germination rate, so you typically sow more than you need, then cut the weaker-looking babies off at the soil line (don’t just yank, or you could damage the roots of the plant you’re trying to keep). Thin them out to 1 plant per cup (if you’ve started them inside) or according to the seed packet’s guideline for spacing. Do it once they’re 3-4 inches tall and have at least two sets of “true leaves”. It’s a tough job to snip off those baby veggie plants, but I think of them as an early harvest and toss them on my salad. I follow the seed packet guidelines for plant spacing and cut away enough sprouts to allow the strongest-looking ones enough room to grow strong.

And soon it will be time to transfer some of the seedlings I started indoors to their container homes on the patio!

How is your garden coming along? I’d love to hear your own wisdom, tips and experiences! (And if you share on social, you can use the #IGrewIt hashtag along with me). I ADORED reading all the comments on my last garden post, about your favourite gardening memories and future plans – thank you for sharing!

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