Container gardens are simple and take a fraction of the amount of time to establish and maintain compared to gardening in the soil. They’re versatile too, allowing you to grow a wide varieties of crops in almost any climate, as long as the containers are moveable. With that said, keep in mind that the more containers you have, the more time will be needed every week to water, weed, prune, and harvest.
CONTAINER GARDENS AT A GLANCE: gardening in pots and other containers, inside and outdoors.
- Setup time: low
- Overall cost: low
- Maintenance time: low
SELECT YOUR SPOT
Your container garden can be located indoors or outdoors, preferably anywhere that receives direct sunlight for a majority of the day and that is close to a water supply. As you talk with stakeholders at your corporate campus about the location, keep in mind that you should get their buy-in on how the garden will fit into the campus’s overall look and feel before buying containers and planting seeds. In addition, consider how people and produce will get to and from the garden. If the food service team is managing the space, the closer you can locate it to the kitchen, the better. When the garden is constantly in sight, the culinary team will be more likely to remember to harvest herbs or microgreens for the salad bar at lunch.
CHOOSE WHAT YOU’LL GROW (AND THEN WHAT YOU’LL GROW IT IN)
Before you purchase containers for your garden, you’ll first want to consider what you plan on growing, as your crops will influence the size of the containers you purchase. Depending on the climate and size of the containers, you will be able to grow practically anything that can be grown normally in an inground garden, albeit in much smaller quantities. Some easy-to-grow examples include head lettuce, peppers, eggplant, and herbs like mint, oregano, and basil.
Visit a local gardening store to find seeds, or consider purchasing USDA Certified Organic and/or Non-GMO seeds from High Mowing, or Johnny’s Selected Seeds, which are both widely regarded as industry leaders. Before purchasing seed, determine the kinds of crops you can grow in your climate, using the last frost date and USDA Zone map linked below in the Resources section. Compare your findings with the hardiness of the plants as described on seed packets or seed company websites (i.e. hardy in Zone 7 or warmer).
After you have an idea of the varieties of produce you can grow, get strategic with the small amount of space you have. Plant crops that take up less room and yet are extremely productive, and that can be used creatively in dishes or put into smoothies or aguas fresca, like leafy greens and herbs.
Excitingly, if you live somewhere that experiences cold winters, growing in containers also allows you to bring warm-weather crops indoors to lie dormant until the spring. Fig trees, Meyer lemons and other dwarf citrus trees, can all do well in containers if wintered indoors.
GET CLUED IN ON CONTAINERS
Container gardening is perhaps the most straightforward growing method covered on campusfarmers.org, and yet any trip to a local gardening store or big-box store near you makes it very clear that there are an incredible amount of container options, in all shapes and sizes, to choose from!
Depending on your location, you might consider purchasing typical standalone pots, windowsill boxes, hanging baskets, small bins, or some combination thereof. Your choice of container will reflect what you plan on growing. For example, if you plan on growing a fig tree, you will want to purchase a large standalone pot that will give the tree’s roots lots of space to spread out. Conversely, if you plan to simply grow herbs and mixed greens like lettuce and kale, smaller pots or bins are acceptable. You will need to purchase an amount of potting soil commensurate with what will be needed to fill the containers you’ve selected. Opt for OMRI-approved soil mixes, which can be purchased at any local gardening store, big-box store like Home Depot, and even online! OMRI-approved soils are compliant with the USDA’s Certified Organic program and do not contain any synthetic fertilizers or soil aerators like styrofoam, which make them a much more sustainable and often price-comparable choice.
CREATE A COMMUNITY
So you’ve gone through the work of establishing a container garden — congratulations! Now the fun begins. Consider holding the following events at the garden:
- Cooking classes using freshly picked ingredients
- Volunteering events ( i.e. Spring planting, Fall harvest)
- Plant identification scavenger hunts
- Happy hours or cookouts at the garden
Growing plants for the first time can be challenging, as each one has different needs. It’s a learning process, so try not to get discouraged. Depending on your location, you may deal with any number of issues in the container garden. These can come in the form of disease, early frosts, nutrient deficiencies in the soil, and more. A unique challenge that container gardeners face is ensuring that plants aren’t overwatered or underwatered.This guide from Gardening Know How provides crucial information about how often you should be watering your plants. We’ve included resources below to help answer questions that might arise as you run into these challenges.
Garden at AT&T Park
Book | The Vegetable Gardener’s Container Bible by Edward C. Smith
Garden Know How | How Much and How Often to Water Outdoor Plants
USDA | USDA Agricultural Zone map
Garden Tower Project | Last Frost Date Chart
Seed Savers Exchange | Organic Container Gardening Guide
High Mowing | Growing Organic Microgreens
Johnny’s Selected Seeds | Controlling pests and disease using IPM
Mother Earth News | Guide to Organic Container Gardening