Nutrition ,

A Beginner’s Experience with Container Gardening

We’re often encouraged to eat fresh veggies as part of a healthy diet (1), but the produce section can be expensive (2). Container gardening may be a cheaper alternative (3).  This is my second year attempting to grow plants in containers, and I have found that plants require a little more than just sun, dirt, and water.  Below are some of the lessons I’ve learned.

Lesson #1: Choose the Right Plants
Make sure to choose plants that will grow in your area at the time you’re trying to grow them.  For the second year in a row, I’ve had the vision of growing my own tomatoes, peppers, and cilantro for salsa, but I’ve planted all of these plants outside at the same time.  After planting, I learned tomatoes grow in the summer (4), but cilantro turns to seed in the heat (5).  This means I won’t be able to make salsa from my garden again this year.

Once you’ve decided what to plant, you’ll need to decide between plants and seeds.  If you’re using seeds, start them in small containers and then transfer them to your larger container once they’ve grown several pair of leaves (6).  It’s hard to tell how many seeds will survive from the original planting (6).  If you try to start them directly in the final container, you could end up like me with way too many peas to trellis and no surviving spinach.  If you are buying plants from the store, make sure the leaves look whole, green and healthy, and the plant is compact and full (7).

Lesson #2: Choose the right containers
Most plants come with a tag stating how far apart they should be spaced.  This spacing allows plants to get enough nutrients and keeps them from casting too much shade on each other (8).  Your containers should be large enough to accommodate this spacing and allow for proper planting depth.  This year, we almost planted tomatoes in a 5” high pot when their roots need to grow 12” deep.

Lesson #3: Location, Location, Location
Even if you have space for containers, make they get enough sun.  Most vegetables require at least 8 hours of sunlight each day (9).  However, sun may not be your only location issue.  Unless you want to rub your plants with cotton swabs (10), you may want to consider how your plant gets pollinated.  Carrots and spinach typically rely on the wind to help pollinate them (11).  This means they need to be far enough away from the building that the wind can reach them.  Other plants like cucumber and squashes like insects to help pollinate them (11).  Therefore, there needs to be enough flowers in the area to attract pollinators (12).  Last year, my tomatoes were too close to the house and I didn’t have any flowers around my garden.  I only harvested 4 tomatoes, and I didn’t get a single pepper.

Lesson #4: Beware of Dog
Your pets may be curious about the new smells and fresh dirt.  Especially, if your fertilizer has a strong scent or your containers are light, watch pets around fresh plantings.  I have had to re-plant some plants and clean up overturned buckets.

Container gardening can be a cheap way to get your veggies.  Hopefully, my lessons learned will help you have fresh veggies all summer.


  1. United States Department of Agriculture. Why is it important to eat vegetables? [Online] January 12, 2016.
  2. Increasing Access and Affordability of Produce Improves Perceived Consumption of Vegetables in Low-Income Seniors. Abusabha, Rayane, Namjoshi, Dipti and Klein, Amy. s.l. : Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2011, Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Vol. 111, pp. 1549-1555. Research and Professional Briefs.
  3. Cancler, Carole. How to start a vegetable garden on the cheap. Living on the Cheap. [Online]
  4. The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Growing Tomatoes. The Old Farmer’s Almanax. [Online]
  5. Burpee. All About Cilantro. Burpee. [Online]
  6. The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Starting Seeds Indoors. The Old Farmer’s Almanac. [Online]
  7. Ianotti, Marie. How to Choose Healthy Plants. The Spruce. [Online] 2 17, 2017.
  8. The Importance of Plant Spacing. Grow Great Vegetables. [Online]
  9. Banks, Shawn and Bradley, Lucy. Vegetable Gardening: A Beginner’s Guide. NC State Extension. [Online] September 4, 2015.
  10. VegiBee. Garden Pollinators. VegiBee. [Online]
  11. University of Georgia Extension. Pollination of Vegetable Crops. University of Georgia Extension. [Online] November 30, 2014.
  12. Admin. Attracting Bees To The Vegetable Garden. VeggieGardener. [Online] April 8, 2010.
  13. Jones, Gardening. Vegetable Crops That Do Not Need Pollinators. Horticulture Magazine. [Online] January 21, 2014.


  • Matthew Johnson

    Great article, Crystal! I liked how you connected it to nutritional health with growing vegetables. I love growing herbs on my balcony, which is a super friendly option for new gardeners and for people with limited space. Growing flowers for the summer can also be enjoyable and great for bees (maybe?). I really like the tips though. Especially for location, I’ve had a lot of issues with finding good sun because my apartment gets so little sun. It’s important to think about the space that you have and to pick plants appropriately for the space.

  • Brandon

    Great Article!!