Are you looking to start organic gardening, but low on outdoor space? Have you been thinking about organic gardening but are convinced you have been cursed with a “brown thumb”? Maybe you are a total beginner and you’re just not sure where to start. No matter the case, here is a relatively simple and inexpensive solution: organic container gardening.
What is Organic Container Gardening? Organic container gardening is the art of planting and maintaining just about any organic vegetable or herb in temporary or permanent containers.
To get individuals started on organic container gardening, we have compiled all the information needed to know about it, such as the benefits of it, plants to grow, containers to use, growing media to use and vegetables and herbs to consider. We will also walk you through a complete guide to getting started on your very own organic container gardening venture.
What is Organic Container Gardening? Everything You Need to Know
When it comes to organic container gardening, there is a lot to know. No worries, though, because we will walk through it all right here! To make sure you know everything necessary about organic container gardening, let’s take a look at the definition, the benefits, the crops that can be grown, containers to use, locations to put organic container gardens, growing medium to use, fertilizers to use and when, as well as tips for buying plants.
An Overview of Organic Container Gardening
Let’s take it to the basics first. What really is organic container gardening? As previously mentioned, organic container gardening is the process of planting and maintaining just about any organic vegetable or herb in temporary or permanent containers.
Organic container gardens are fairly common and they are growing in popularity for many reasons, two of the biggest being its versatility and ease.
The Benefits of Organic Container Gardening
Like we said, organic container gardening is really growing in popularity. The benefits are seemingly endless, but some of them include:
- No yard is necessary
- Just about anyone can do it
- Few tools and materials are needed
- It’s relatively inexpensive to start and maintain
- Container gardens are, for the most part, weed-free
- No tilling or digging is necessary (and we do not recommend that for any type of garden! #donotdisturb)
- Containers can be fitted and put in virtually any desired location
- Choose to put the garden in the most beneficial spot
- Better control over growing conditions
- Easier to protect plants from extreme or damaging weather conditions
- Grow edible herbs and vegetables
Additionally, organic container gardening has been said on many occasions to “cure” the disappointing “brown thumb.” Virtually anyone can start organic container gardening – even those with little to no gardening experience or those who think they have a “brown thumb.”
The Benefits of Going Organic for Container Gardening
Sure, container gardening can be carried out without organic plants and materials. However, why not go organic? Generally, when referring to “organic gardening,” gardeners mean there are no chemical pesticides or fertilizers involved.
When it is so easy to grow organic herbs and vegetables through container gardening (not to mention how much healthier it is) it is almost a no-brainer to go organic. Other benefits of going organic for container gardening include:
- Having at-home, close access to healthy edible herbs and vegetables
- Less exposure to chemical pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals
- Soil improvement over time through the introduction of organic materials
- The improved biological and genetic diversity help manage insect issues and disease issues
Container Gardening vs. In-Ground Gardening
Naturally, some differences exist between container gardening and in-ground gardening. Being aware of the differences can help provide more knowledge about organic container gardening and what it entails.
The biggest difference between container gardening and in-ground gardening is the way moisture is drained. When it comes to in-ground gardening, excess moisture is pulled downward by capillary action.
On the flip side, soils that are in container gardens have less and poorer drainage capabilities. This is because there’s a reduced capillary pull from the shallower depth of the containers. This is one of the biggest reasons why it’s so important in organic container gardening to use a porous planting mixture and containers with drainage holes or slats (more on that soon!).
What Can be Grown in Organic Container Gardening?
Luckily for anyone that wants to take up organic container gardening, just about any organic vegetable or herb can be grown in organic container gardening! Pretty great, right? Some crops are easy to grow, while others are a little more difficult to grow.
Easier to Grow Crops
Crops that are easier to grow in organic container gardening include:
- Salad Greens
Harder to Grow Crops
Some crops are a little more difficult to grow in organic container gardening (but it’s definitely still possible to grow them). They are:
- Sweet potatoes
Herbs can of course be grown in organic container gardening! Some of them include:
- Sweet Marjoram
Growing Crops in Organic Container Gardening
Pro tip: when looking for crops to grow in organic container gardening, look for dwarf or bush varieties. This is especially helpful when growing crops like tomatoes, squash and cucumbers.
Organic crops can be grown from seeds, or organically grown plants can be purchased outright. Buying organically grown plants instead of going with seeds may be a better option for gardeners who are only looking to grow a few plants.
Getting Plants for Organic Container Gardening
Now that you know some of the vegetables, herbs, and crops that can be grown through organic container gardening, take a look at these important tips for when it comes time to purchase them.
First, before going to buy any plants, research the ones you are interested in growing. Do they need a lot of sun, or a little less? Can you accommodate any needs they may have? Do you want to start your organic container garden from seed, from organically grown plants, or both?
Gardeners who decide to purchase organically grown plants need to keep a few things in mind when purchasing plants. Make sure the plants look healthy. The potting soil should be wet, and no insects, predators or disease should be present.
Containers to Use
When it comes to containers to use in organic container gardening, the options are just about limitless! Two main things you need to be sure of when looking for containers to use in organic container gardening:
- That the containers have holes or slots in the bottom to drain the water out
- That you have space to accommodate the containers
Other than that, the sky is basically the limit! Containers come in all kinds of shapes, sizes and styles. This is where style, creativity, and imagination can really all work together. Anywhere from three to seven gallon size containers are typically used in organic container gardening, although there are containers ranging in size anywhere from one to fifteen gallons.
The size of the container used really depends on how much space is available. Gardeners who have space and can plant in a larger container, say, 3.5 gallons, that’s great; all the more room for more plants!
For reference, a 1.5 gallon container can typically hold one plant, whereas a 3.5 gallon container can hold two to three plants. Generally, the bigger the container, the more it can hold.
In addition to all the different types of containers out there, tons of everyday items can be transformed into organic gardening containers. If you are looking to repurpose some items you already have at home, the following items tend to make the best containers:
- 5-gallon plastic buckets (food grade)
- Plastic storage containers from food
- Nursery pots from previous plants you have purchased
Tips for Choosing Containers
Some other tips should be taken into consideration when choosing containers for organic gardening. First, darker colored containers will create hotter temperatures for the plants.
Second, containers that are made from materials like clay, ceramic, concrete and wood dry out more quickly than containers that are made from metal or plastic.
Lastly, plastic containers may become more brittle over time as they are exposed to the elements, so that is something of which to be aware.
For some helpful links to some of the best containers we recommend buying, check out our article The 9 Best Containers For Growing Vegetables.
Locations to Put Organic Container Gardens
Organic container gardens are simple and easy, partly because virtually any level surface works! An organic container garden should be placed in an area that has access to water, but will not be damaged by water draining.
Keep in mind that the water that drains from the containers could potentially damage or stain concrete and wood decking. This may be a factor in deciding a garden’s location.
Sunlight is also a factor in deciding a garden’s location. Southern and western facing exposures are the sunniest and warmest areas; adversely, northern and eastern facing exposures are less sunny and less warm.
Warm-season crops are best when put in an area that gets 6-8 hours of sunlight per day. Cold-season crops are best when put in an area that gets 3-5 hours of sunlight per day.
Some examples of locations to put organic container gardens are:
- Along driveways
- Along sidewalks
- In hanging baskets
- In window boxes
Growing Medium: Soil and Soil Mixtures
Obviously, a growing medium is necessary for organic container gardens! A growing medium is essentially the material in which plants grow. Growing medium comes down to three main functions: to supply plants with air, nutrients, and water; to allow for maximum root growth, and to physically support the plant.
When choosing a growing medium for organic container gardening, we recommend choosing something light and fluffy; this means a medium with good aeration and good drainage.
Commercial soil-less mixtures are great for container gardening – especially if they are in an organic formula. This is because they check all the necessary boxes: not only are they lightweight, airy, and drain well, but they are generally free of diseases, insects and weeds. Organic containers can be planted with 100% soil-less mixtures.
It is not recommended to use only garden soil in organic gardening containers. It’s okay to use some garden soil in a mixture, though (we’ll get to that shortly). It is not the best to use solely garden soil because it is so compact. (We have actually written a full detailed article on this topic. Check that out here – Can You Use Garden Soil For Potted Plants?).
Compact soil means garden soil holds the water very well, and container gardens need a lot of drainage. Garden soil can actually drown plants that are in containers. These are some of the reasons why it is so important not to solely use garden soils in container gardening!
Like with soil-less mixtures, organic containers can also be planted with 100% compost. Compost is the product of organic matter decomposition, and may be made up of grass clippings, leaves, farm animal waste and wood waste.
Compost is great because not only is it organic, but it contains all the nutrients plants need to grow.
Growing Medium Mixtures
Experimenting with the growing medium that allows plants to flourish is totally fine! If you do not want to plant with 100% soil-less mixtures or 100% compost, some different mixtures of growing medium also work well together. They are:
- 50% soil-less mixture + 50% compost
- 25% garden soil + 75% soil-less mixture
- 25% garden soil + 75% compost
- 25% soil-less mix + 25% garden soil + 50% compost
Many different recipes will work just fine. To learn more about the potting mixes that we use, check out our article DIY Potting Soil and Seed Starting Mix to Save Money!
No matter what growing medium or mixture of growing medium is decided to use; fertilizing plants is necessary. Let’s look into some fertilizing questions that might be asked by container gardeners.
Check out our article Does Potting Soil Need Fertilizer for more detailed information.
When it comes to organic container gardening, fertilizing with things that are organic and as natural as possible is great. Organic fertilizers that can be mixed with water and applied around plants include liquid sea kelp, compost tea and fish fertilizer.
Worm castings, composted chicken manure, blood meal, nitrate of soda, alfalfa meal and cottonwood meal are also organic fertilizers that can be applied around plants. They are considered dry organic fertilizers and can be mixed into the growing medium at planting. They can be re-applied as necessary.
For any other fertilizers, soluble fertilizers in powder or liquid form are effective and convenient. If an organic version of them is available, that’s the best route to take! Soluble fertilizers are mixed with water and poured around plants in order to work.
How Often to Fertilize Organic Container Gardens
A huge question people have when it comes to any kind of gardening is how often to fertilize. The amount of fertilizer to use and the number of times to fertilize depend on quite a few factors, like the plants, container and type of fertilizer.
Crops that mature quickly, like broccoli (broccoli matures in just 35-45 days!), may need to be fertilized several times before they mature. Sometimes, this is weekly or more than once a week. Long-season crops that take longer to mature, like tomatoes, generally need fertilized every two weeks or so.
A Beginner’s Guide to Organic Container Gardening: How to Get Started Step-by-Step
Now many of the basics about organic container gardening have been covered – how exciting is that? Since you know more about organic container gardening and what it entails, we can walk through the entire process of starting an organic container garden step-by-step.
If you are a beginner or a self-proclaimed “brown thumb,” still, have no fear. You will be able to get started with your organic container gardening journey in no time! We will walk you through the necessary materials to get started, planting techniques, watering, maintenance and harvesting.
Overview of Steps to Getting Started in Organic Container Gardening
We will go through these steps in much more depth, but here is an overview of the steps to getting started in organic container gardening:
- Gather the necessary materials
- Remember the “ingredients” for success in organic container gardening
- Select your location
- Mix (or prepare) your growing medium
- Feeding and watering
Step One: Gather the Necessary Materials
You have probably already realized this, but you will need to gather some materials before starting your organic container garden. You will need:
- A designated space or spaces
- Containers – in your desired shapes, sizes and styles
- Desired plants, seeds, herbs and/or vegetables
- Desired growing medium(s)
- Desired fertilizer(s)
- Wheelbarrow (optional)
- Shovel (optional)
- Some attention to give
Step Two: Remember the “Ingredients” for Success
Some main “ingredients” for success are important when it comes to starting and maintaining an organic container garden. To make sure an organic container garden not only starts, but thrives, remember that it will need:
- Attention and care
- A bit of room
- Growing media
Seems pretty self-explanatory, right?
Step Three: Select a Location
Once necessary materials have been gathered and the main “ingredients” for success in organic container gardening are known, it is time for another fun part: choosing the location.
We discussed good locations for organic container gardens previously, but in case you need a refresher, there are some main things to ask yourself when you’re scouting out the ideal location for your containers:
- Is the surface level?
- Is there an adequate amount of sunlight? (At least 6 hours in most cases)
- Will the water that will drain from my containers be damaging to the surface or anything around it?
- Is this location close to a water source?
- What do I plan on planting? Will it be good here? (Southern and western vs. northern and eastern exposures)
- Do I like this location?
This is your organic container garden, and everything is up to you! Choose a location you enjoy but that will also be beneficial for your plants. Some of the most popular places are balconies, decks, sidewalks, driveways, and in window boxes and hanging baskets.
It is also recommended to keep your containers together (if you have more than one) to increase water retention and humidity.
Do not be afraid to get creative, though! Containers can also be brought inside if that is something that works for you (and your plants).
Step Four: Prepare Your Growing Medium
If plants are being grown in 100% compost or 100% soil-less mixture, then not much preparing will be necessary to strengthen the growing medium. However, if you have chosen to go with a growing medium mixture as we discussed before, more prep will be involved.
Depending on the amount of soil needed, mixing this soil to put in containers should not be too difficult. One way to create the growing medium mixture is to mix the soil in a wheelbarrow. Medium wheelbarrows hold about 4.5 cubic feet, so it is likely to be enough space to mix the soil.
If a larger volume of soil needs to be mixed, it can easily be mixed on a patio or in a driveway. Add ingredients to form a pile, and then turn the pile about three times to sufficiently blend all the ingredients.
Step Five: Planting
It is time for one of the most exciting steps: planting! Everyone may have a different technique when it comes to planting, and that is perfectly okay. However, we have got a few basic steps to follow:
- Get out the container(s) and plants
- Cover drainage holes with coffee filters, paper towels, gravel, or mesh to prevent soil from washing away.
- Fill your container with the growing medium or mixture of choice. Do not cram it in or pack it hard.
- Using hands or a towel, put water in growing medium, which will allow it to settle. As growing medium is added, water may need to be added several times.
- Once the growing medium has settled, add in more until there is an inch of room left between it and the top of the container. This will make future watering easier.
- Gently take the plant from its pot or container.
- Spray the roots of the plant with fertilizer.
- Plant the plant so the top of the root ball is level with the top of the soil.
- If using seeds, follow the packet instructions for planting.
Step Six: Watering
Watering? Of course! Watering is a huge key when it comes to organic container gardening, and plants in containers tend to need more water than plants in the ground.
Watering needs for these types of gardens will vary greatly. No particular “schedule” exists to watering organic gardening containers, but some containers may need water every day, especially when the weather is hot and dry. Additionally, small containers dry out more quickly than large containers.
A good rule of thumb for watering organic gardening containers is that the growing medium should always be moist, but not soggy. A way to test if containers need water is to stick a finger at least an inch down into the soil. If it feels dry, it is time for more water.
Using a watering can or a soft stream nozzle on the end of the hose, add water slowly to the containers until it comes out from the drainage holes. Pay special and regular attention to the containers, often “testing” them, to make sure to know when they need watering.
For a more in-depth guide on watering, check out our article When Should You Water Your Vegetable Garden?
22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.Hebrews 10:22
Step Seven: Fertilizing
As previously discussed, and just like with watering, the amount of fertilizing that needs to be done and when depends on many factors. Crops that mature quickly will need to be fertilized more often. Crops that mature more slowly can be fertilized every two weeks or so.
Pro tip: if the growing medium was mixed with some fertilizer, then plants need not be fertilized for the first two to three weeks. Otherwise, follow the other recommendations.
Step Eight: Harvesting
Perhaps the most exciting part of getting into organic container gardening is getting to see the very finished product and harvesting herbs or vegetables you have grown. To harvest vegetables or herbs, keep it simple.
Use scissors and cut a branch back down to where other smaller branches come off it, or down at the stem.
Bonus Step: Be Proud of Yourself and Enjoy Your Organic Container Garden!
This probably goes without saying, but if you have started your own organic container garden, you should be proud of yourself! Pat yourself on the back for your work and enjoy all the limitless benefits that can come from it.
Check out Our Favorite Products page to find everything you might need to help make your garden a success!