Container Gardening for Beginners
It’s almost May and that means warmer temps and no. more. frost. Hooray! If you’ve been thinking about trying your hand at gardening, now is a great time to start. If a raised bed or in-ground garden are too ambitious right now, container gardening is perfect for beginners with limited time and resources. If you are a child care provider or parent of young children, gardening is a fantastic way to teach children where food comes from and to encourage a taste for vegetables at a young age. Gardening also teaches science and math and offers an opportunity for physical activity.
Supplies Needed: Containers, Potting Soil, Fertilizer, Seeds or Transplants, Water, Labels
Almost anything can be used as a plant container, from plastic or terra cotta pots to a pair of boots filled with potting soil. If it has drainage holes, then it’s a potential candidate. If something doesn’t have holes, drilling a few in the bottom will do the trick! Some ideas:
Pots (Terra Cotta, Plastic, Ceramic, Wood, Metal, Fiberglass, Cement)
Fabric Grow Bags Burlap sacks
Plastic Swimming Pools
If you’re growing vegetables, “the bigger, the better.“ This will allow more room for the roots to grow and more soil equals better moisture retention. How big is big enough? Give plants like peppers, kale, chard, and broccoli at least 1-2 gallons of soil per plant. Larger plants like tomatoes, cucumbers, and bush squash need at least 4-5 gallons of soil per plant. Smaller, shallower rooted plants like lettuce, onions, radishes and herbs can get by in less roomy containers with less soil. Keep in mind that vegetables that produce large, rambling vines such as pumpkins may be more challenging to grow in containers.
How to Plant
Fill your containers with potting soil, not soil from the ground. This will promote proper drainage, aeration, and moisture retention. When plants are in place, the soil should reach an inch below the rim in small containers and two inches below in large containers. If the mix does not contain fertilizer, sprinkle in some organic granular fertilizer as well, either before or after planting. Regardless of whether you are planting seeds or transplants, thoroughly water the container before you plant. Soak the potting mix completely, then allow it to sit to drain excess water.
Leave 3-4 inches of space in between each plant, and adjust according to the seed package directions. Because not all seeds will germinate, plant more than you need, then thin the excess later. Set transplants or starters at the same level they were growing in their pot. Water again gently to settle the seeds or transplants. Be sure to bury plastic tags in the container to help identify each plant.
The biggest downside to container gardening is the need for frequent watering. Plants dry out more quickly in a limited amount of soil. Maintain moisture so that the container is evenly damp, but not soggy. On extra hot days, container plants may need daily or twice daily watering. The easy availability of water is an important consideration when you’re deciding where to place your container garden, along with planning for who will be responsible for carrying out this important chore. Since young children are eager to help out and LOVE playing in water, be careful of over watering!
Self-watering containers are worth considering to make watering chores easier. They have a water reservoir plus a mechanism that wicks the water up into the potting soil as needed, providing plants with a sustained supply of moisture and doing away with the need for daily watering.
Starting about a month after planting, feed your vegetables about once a week with a water-soluble organic fertilizer, following the package directions.
These are just a few pointers to get started. Don’t let lack of gardening experience or knowledge hold you back another year. Jump right in, have fun, and learn alongside the kids in your care. As the growing season progresses, continue to read, ask questions, and seek additional learning opportunities when you can! Good luck!