Container Gardening for Decks and Patios

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Container Gardening for 20/30 Somethings

Maybe you’re in college, working, or both, and you think there’s no time to garden.

You may not know even where to start. Apartments, college dorms and rental houses don’t provide much outdoor space—often only a patio or balcony.

Maybe, you’ve failed at gardening before—who hasn’t?—and it’s got you bugged. You think you can’t succeed, but you’re smart, witty and accomplished. I know you can.

Here are my five steps for success:

Step One: Ask yourself some questions before you begin.

What vegetables and herbs do I like best? Which are the most expensive in the grocery store, or don’t taste as good when shipped hundreds of miles across the country?


Don’t grow food you don’t like. If you’re unfamiliar with a particular vegetable, wait and grow it the following year after you have had success. Consider growing vegetables that are expensive to purchase in the grocery store.

What does my growing area look like? Does it get morning or afternoon sun? Is it covered or uncovered?

Vegetables need six to eight hours of sun to perform at their best. In southern gardens, for some plants, morning sun is best. If your patio or balcony is covered, you won’t get as much rainfall or sun. Search online or read seed packets and plant tags for more information on veggie requirements.

How will I water my plants?

Most vegetables need consistent irrigation to survive and thrive. Place them where they are easy to water, or you’ll find it hard going come summer. Since many apartments don’t have outside water spigots, you may need an attachment for your kitchen sink and a water hose long enough to stretch from the sink to where your plants are. You’ll also want somewhere to store that hose and a spray nozzle. I like the ones with selectable spray patterns. Quick connects for hoses are good too. If you only have a couple of pots, a quality watering can will work.


What type of container should I use?

This partially depends upon personal preference. Although I love glazed ceramic pots, I collected them over several years because they are pricey. They are also heavy and difficult to move about without a dolly. Plastic containers, including five-gallon buckets, work. Flexible, fabric pots like those shown below are fabulous because they can be folded and put away once gardening season ends.

Choose containers large enough to accommodate plant roots. In other words, don’t grow tomatoes in a small pot. Vining plants like squash can be trained vertically with trellises to give them room to grow.


Step Two: Stay small.

Take a list to your local nursery or box store and try to stay within your space limitations and price range. If you go too large, you’ll be frustrated mid-summer with a garden of neglected and/or dead plants. Start with a few containers and transplants, and build upon this framework later. For a jumpstart, purchase plants from your local nursery instead of seeds. Lettuce and other leafy vegetables grow well in containers from seed, but they are spring crops in much of the country.

Step Three: Get the low down on potting soils and choose an organic, local brand, if possible.

Know what goes into your potting soil. If you’re concerned about the sustainability of peat bogs, do some research beforehand. Peat moss is the base of most potting soils.


Step Four: Gather your tools.
•    Fiskars Garden Shears to open the bag of potting soil and other chores.
•    Fiskars Big Grip Transplanter
•    Pots
•    Potting soil
•    Garden gloves, if you want them, and
•    Plants

Loosen plant roots and place vegetables and herbs at the same level they were before in their small pot. Water plants until soil is moist, but not soggy. Unless you get plenty of rain, and your planting area is uncovered, you’ll need to water pots daily in summer—sometimes twice a day in hot parts of the country. Place plant supports now—as in the photo below—and save yourself some time and trouble later. Soon you’ll be harvesting the best food you’ve ever eaten from your container garden.


Step Five: Don’t focus only on results.

Gardening is a process, not just a means to an end. Enjoy everything it offers including singing birds, buzzing insects and abundant sunshine. These are all good—essential, in fact—for you, heart and soul.

For even more gardening tips, see my book, The 20/30-Something Garden Guide, a No-Fuss, Down-and-Dirty, Gardening 101 for Anyone who Wants to Grow Stuff to be published in February 2014.

Supply List


Potting Soil

Garden gloves, if you want them