How to Start a Porch Container Garden
Have you been dreaming of gardening, but either don’t have enough land or want to start small? Maybe you only have a balcony, you want to add some color to your patio, or your property’s native soil can’t keep anything alive. Whatever factor is pushing you to start a container garden, it’s an easy way to grow and offers many benefits over in-ground planting!
What is a Porch Container Garden?
Gardening in a planter or container isn’t that much different from standard growing. Many of the same fruits, veggies, herbs, and flowers found in traditional gardens can also be grown in containers. A container garden could be anything from a few decorative planters with flowers to several elevated raised beds.
Planters, containers, and raised beds allow you to garden without having a yard. We use the term “porch” in a general sense, and you can also start a container garden on a patio, deck, balcony, rooftop, front stoop, or any other solid surface with enough sun access. Lightweight containers and wheeled planters can be moved around as the sun shifts or taken indoors when the temperatures drop.
Tools You May Need
Every container garden is different, but these are the products usually needed to get started:
- Container for planting: raised bed, planter, stock tank, bucket, wood box, you name it!
- Potting soil (and optional compost)
- Seeds and/or seedlings
- Gardening gloves
- Potting trowel
- Optional: drainage fabric or rocks/gravel
- Optional: container cover
- Optional: self-watering kit
- Optional: trellises, grow cages, and other vertical supports
Decide the Type of Garden You Want
You probably have this figured out already! Whether you want to grow herbs, fruits, veggies, flowers, or all of them, container gardens support almost every type of crop. You’ll be the most successful with plants that are native to your area or fit within the climate. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s online map is helpful for identifying the best plants for your region.
Here are some tips to help you decide what to plant:
- Many gardeners limit their planters to annuals so they can change what they grow each year.
- Plants in containers can be placed closer together than in-ground gardens because you don’t need walking space between rows. Maximize your garden by planting lots of crops!
- Grow plants with similar needs for water, soil, and sun/shade in the same container.
- Layout matters: place tall plants in the center or back of the planter so you’re not reaching through them constantly. Line the edges of the container with your smallest plants for easy pruning and harvesting.
- Flowers and produce can be grown together and provide mutual benefits. Bee balm and lavender can be planted along the border of the bed to attract pollinators and create a healthy garden. Pest repellents like marigolds are helpful for keeping other bugs away.
Choose Your Container(s)
Once you’ve decided what you’re planting, it’s time to pick a container! One of the biggest perks of a container garden is you can repurpose just about anything into a planter. But be careful not to overlook the following important factors when choosing your container:
- Material: The material of the container or planter makes all the difference. Cedar wood is popular because it’s naturally rot-resistant. Steel, aluminum, clay, and plastic are also popular. If you’re growing food, it’s crucial that you ensure the material is safe. Repurposing old tires into planters has become very trendy, but should only be used for flowers and never for food!
- Drainage: After material, the key item to keep in mind is drainage because plants can drown when overwatered. Most planters come with drainage holes (or are made from materials like clay that breathe well), but if you’re repurposing a household container, remember that it probably wasn’t designed for holding plants. You will most likely need to drill holes in the bottom so water doesn’t pool.
- Height: Always remember that plant roots can only grow as deep as the planter’s bottom. When growing any deep-rooted crops like potatoes, a tall container is the safest option. If you want the container to be an ergonomic gardening solution, make sure it’s the right height for your neck and back.
- Width: Make sure whatever container you pick isn’t too wide for you to reach across. You won’t have the ability to step into the garden to weed, plant, or water your crops like a traditional in-ground garden, so be mindful of how far your arms can reach.
- Shape: There are countless designs and shapes that planters come in, and the options are even greater if you’re repurposing your own container. Tiered or terraced planters are popular because they maximize gardening space by growing vertically, offer varied soil depths for different crops, and add a unique aesthetic to your porch.
Pick a Location
You don’t need much space for a container garden, but you do need plenty of sun. Most plants thrive with at least 6-8 hours of sun, so it’s best to put the container in a sunny spot. For any shade-loving plants, pick a less sunny area. It’s also a good idea to put the container near your porch door for ease of watering.
Always keep in mind unwelcome nibblers like birds, deer, rabbits, or racoons. Nobody wants to find animals hanging out on their porch! We recommend keeping the container close to your house to discourage visitors. If you’re gardening on a ground-level porch, patio, or deck, you might want to add a cover over the container or portable fence around the patio if animals become problematic.
Prepare the Garden Site
Before setting up your planter, make sure the area is clean and free of any debris or clutter. Then get your container in place! Setting up the garden can be a quick process when using a tool-free planter/raised bed or more time-consuming if you’re building your own.
For a raised bed, repurposed tire, or any other open-bottomed container that will be placed directly on the porch’s surface, be sure to line the bottom with drainage fabric and rocks/gravel to avoid leaks and stains.
Add the Soil
Once the planter and any drainage accessories are in place, pour in the soil. Just like traditional gardens, the secret to successful container gardening is found within the soil. The upfront advantage of container gardening is you can pick the right soil for the plants you intend to grow instead of using whatever is native to your yard. For most planters, the best choice is high-quality potting soil or a blend of compost and potting soil.
Plant Your Seeds or Potted Seedlings
Now it’s time for the fun part! Add seeds or plants into the soil mixture far enough apart that they have room to grow. There are different planting techniques for every crop, so follow the instructions on the seed packets, call the nearby nursery for tips, or ask your green-thumbed neighbors. If you’re planting seeds, we recommend making a seed-starting schedule to keep everything on track.
Add Nutrients and Accessories During the Season
Planter soil is fluffier than in-ground soil, so roots absorb the nutrients faster. Keep your soil fertile throughout the growing season by mixing in granular garden fertilizer or compost. Avoid fertilizers not labeled for produce because these often contain nutrients that boost foliage but reduce crop size.
As your plants grow, consider adding a trellis, grow cage, or other vertical support. These keep plants healthy, enhance your porch’s aesthetic, and even create privacy barriers from neighbors. Your soil is also likely to dry out during the season without proper protection, so consider a grow cover to block harsh weather and prevent garden pests!
Winterize your Container Garden
One of the best parts of container gardening is you can keep your soil through the winter. At the end of the season, harvest your crops and remove any other plant debris/roots. Keep the soil in the planter and cover it until next season. When you’re preparing to start gardening again, revitalize the soil with fresh compost/fertilizer and turn it to keep it active. Then you can get planting!
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Last updated: 8/1/2022