Container Gardening Ideas for the Space-Challenged

A Kitchen Garden for the Space-Challenged Gardener

Container gardening is one of the best ways for people with limited space to grow a kitchen garden filled with fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs. You can grow a wide variety of plants in containers as long as you have enough sunshine, good soil and a suitably sized container. Plants to consider for container growing are culinary herbs, strawberries, tomatoes, beans, lettuce, kale, peppers, Swiss chard and dwarf fruit trees.

container kitchen garden

Yes – even fruit trees can be container grown!

Location, location

The first consideration is choosing the best location for your container kitchen garden. It must have enough sunlight for the type of plants you want to grow. The best spot for almost any plants is one with ample sun. Not all plants require eight or more hours of sunlight, and if the only spot for growing your garden in containers has limited sun, then select plants that can thrive in less sun.

West or south facing balconies and patios are good locations, providing you have a nearby source of water. Because these receive more of the hotter afternoon sun, plants in pots will dry out more quickly.

The right sized container

The second consideration  is container size. Always ensure any container has good drainage. Select containers that are large enough to accommodate the mature plant. Think big – and avoid the mess and struggle trying to repot. A large mature plant in a too-small container will become root bound and dry out very quickly.

kitchen garden

This raised wood container for vegetables is available in Canada at Lee Valley Tools.

What’s the best kind of container?

The type of container you choose is also important. Plant nurseries and home improvement outlets carry a wide variety of pots, made from different materials and in varying shapes and sizes, so let’s look at the pros and cons of each kind of material. Here are some more container gardening ideas.

Terra Cotta Containers:

Terra cotta is unglazed clay, and is porous. These containers may dry out quickly, so unless you like watering daily or have an automatic watering system set up, they are not a good choice. They are also very heavy compared to other types of containers, making them difficult to move once filled with soil. Terra cotta is not a good choice for cold climates, since the pots may crack and freeze if left outdoors, due to the porous clay always retaining some moisture.

On the pro side, these pots are attractive, and come in a variety of sizes.

Glazed pots:

kitchen gardenMost nurseries and home improvement outlets have a selection of glazed ceramic or clay pots – beautiful to look at, colourful and in every conceivable size.

Unless you are concerned about attractiveness, these pots are best used for decorative planters rather than as containers for a kitchen garden. They are expensive, heavy and once in place, hard to move. Other container types may be a better choice for a kitchen garden.

Rot resistant wood containers:

Naturally rot-resistant woods are a good choice for kitchen garden containers. Some woods that are naturally resistant to rot are black locust, teak, redwood, cypress and western red cedar. While these natural woods add warmth and naturalness to any garden structure, they may be expensive. The raised bed planter shown above is my top choice!

Chemically treated lumber is often used to make planter boxes for a container garden. Line them with 6 mil poly so the soil is not contaminated. Keep wooden containers off the ground to extend their life. Wood containers can be left outdoors through the winter.

Metal containers:

kitchen gardens

These metal tubs make great planters for vegetables or herbs as well as flowers.

Any metal container will absorb heat from the sun, causing the soil to dry faster and plant roots to overheat if the container is small. However, metal is long lasting, can be attractive, and better used in a cooler climate. Large metal galvanized stock tanks come in various sizes, and can hold many plants, making them great choices for container gardening.

Synthetic containers:

Pots made of resins, fiberglass and plastic are very popular as they can be very attractive, are frost resistant and lightweight. This type of pot conserves moisture, since it is impermeable to water.

More Tips for Container Gardening Success

  • Select pots that are wide and deep rather than narrow and tall for most vegetables.
  • When setting up a container kitchen garden, pay attention to the planting medium you choose. The soil must drain easily, so choose a potting soil with vermiculite or perlite.
  • Set a layer of landscape cloth or newspaper at the bottom of containers so that soil will not wash out through the drainage holes.
  • Do some research on companion planting – combining certain plants can encourage better growth and even repel damaging insects. Also, by planting shorter plants with tall ones, you are making the best use of your limited garden  space.
  • Check that fruit trees you plant are true dwarf varieties. The last thing you want to do is try to repot a tree that’s grown too large, or have to dispose of it.

Once you’ve chosen the most suitable containers for your kitchen garden, have filled them with rich soil and the plants are growing, sit back, relax, and enjoy watching your fresh vegetables and fruits mature for a delicious harvest.


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