Whether you have a green thumb or you’re a total gardening newbie, starting a garden can be fun and rewarding. You don’t need a lot of space, either. Try easy container gardening on a patio, balcony, or small porch.
Gardening can be intimidating for people. It’s natural to fuss over your seedlings and worry that you’re doing it “wrong.” When I first started gardening, I definitely agonized over every leaf and growth delay. But once you get started, you realize it’s literally as easy as putting plants in pots and letting nature take its course. Plus, there’s nothing quite as rewarding as harvesting that first tomato or using some of your home-grown basil leaves in your pasta!
You don’t need a whole bunch of space to start gardening either. A small porch or patio offers plenty of room to grow amazing plants and flowers. So, if you’re ready, here’s how to get started with easy container gardening.
1. Assess Your Space and the Sun
Container gardening doesn’t need to be stressful. You don’t need to map and plan or space out plants in the way you would with a raised bed or a garden plot. What you will need to remember is to be aware of your space. You can fit quite a few pots in a small, 4 ft x 6 ft balcony, especially if you’re strategic and use vertical gardens, plant stands, and trellises for climbing plants. If you’re brand new to container gardening, it usually makes sense to start small with a few pots before you branch out.
It’s also important to be aware of the sun. A southern facing porch will get more sun and exposure than a shady northern-facing patio. If you want to grow container tomatoes or peppers, you will need a lot of sunshine. Rosemary and lavender require full sun as well. On the other hand, many herbs like basil and leafy greens like lettuce will flourish with partial sun (and can even grow in a window).
If you want to grow flowering plants, then marigolds, petunias, and geraniums will enjoy a sunny porch space. Impatiens, coleus, and begonias do well in the shade. Don’t worry if you don’t feel like you have a lot of sun exposure; there are still pretty shade plants that look great when grouped in pots.
2. Learn About Your Growing Region
Do you know your growing region? You don’t need to break out ye olde Farmers’ Almanac (although honestly, it is a helpful resource for gardeners). You can still enjoy easy container gardening without substantial research or planning for your specific area—simply “spy” on your neighbors. What plants are doing well on their porches?
Look at the plants that are common to your area. In desert regions, you may see a lot of succulents, cacti, and hot weather plants. Warmer regions may be able to enjoy easy container gardening all year round on the patio. Residents of colder northern areas tend to have more luck with flowering plants and greenery. Ornamental cabbages, peppers, and mums are popular options in the fall, across the United States.
You probably won’t have as much luck with hibiscus or lemon trees in Montana or Vermont. Delicate greens may wilt (or require constant watering) in New Mexico and Texas. While it’s not impossible to grow certain plants out-of-region, newbies will have more luck with local flora. Look for “native plants” at the nursery to ensure you have good luck with growing.
3. Get Pots for Easy Container Gardening
It seems obvious, but if you want to container garden, you’re going to need to collect some containers. You don’t need to run out and purchase a barrage of pots to start. Readymade flower baskets that you can get at the grocery or hardware store are often already in sturdy containers with no repotting required. You can also find many great pots second-hand or even at your local discount or dollar store. Spruce them up with some paint and you’re good to go!
If you have some drainage, you can use almost anything as a container for your garden. The most crucial requirement for pots is that they offer adequate drainage (like a hole in the bottom). However, you should add some rocks in the bottom of the pot, and a layer of activated charcoal to prevent root rot and keep your plants healthy.
One of the most convenient parts of container growing is that you can move your garden around as needed. If a pot needs a little less sunshine, pull it in toward your house. In a torrential rain or hailstorm, protect your delicate plants by giving them cover. When the weather gets cold, you can even move some plants indoors next to a sunny window.
4. Remember Drainage and Water
Once you’ve covered the sunlight and container parts of container gardening, another essential is water. If you’re gardening on a patio or porch, you may or may not have access to water. Most high-rise apartments don’t have a hose connected to the balcony. You’ll need a plan so you can give your plants a regular drink.
A simple watering can does the job well. You can dress it up with some decals, or look for a chic vintage can to add personality. Keep the watering container right on your porch for easy access. Whenever you go out, make it a habit to fill up the can and give your thirsty plants some water.
With container gardening, the biggest struggle is remembering to water enough, while also ensuring you don’t over-water and drown out your plants either. It may take some time to get a schedule figured out, but generally, if the soil feels dry to the touch or the plant looks a bit droopy, it’s time to hydrate. If the leaves look yellow or the soil feels consistently moist, let the pot dry out. If you’ve set up adequate drainage, your container plants shouldn’t get too waterlogged.
5. Go with Good Soil
Water, sunlight, air, and finally, soil are the components you need for any type of gardening, including container gardening. Since you’re only filling up small pots and containers with dirt, go ahead and get a bag or two of high-quality potting soil. Miracle-Gro soil is a good option, but your local nursery will have different varieties.
If you include succulents or cacti in your container garden, look for sandy soil. For vegetables, berries, and flowers, standard potting soil is a good choice. Pack each container, so the earth is sturdy (not loose). Once your plants are in the containers, add water. You may need to add a little additional soil later as it settles in the pots.
You can add fertilizer to your water, but Miracle-Gro soil is already quite nutrient-dense, so it’s probably not necessary at first. When you use potting soil, you will miss out on the bugs, worms, and beneficial bacteria that come from gardening in the ground, so keep an eye on your plants. Every few weeks, “feed” your garden with plant food (available in sticks or as a water additive).
6. Start Small & Easy for Quick Success
Now, I know it’s tempting to start up a full-fledged farm on your porch but start small. My recommendation is to start with 3-4 different types of plants. Plant some herbs, lettuces, and a few vegetables or do a couple flowering baskets and individual pots of marigolds to begin. Start with seedlings for more success (although you can start seeds indoors and transfer them, as well). Every plant has different sun and water requirements, so be sure you can handle 3-4 before branching out—this will keep you from feeling overwhelmed by container gardening.
Experiment to see what works well in your containers. Root vegetables may be tough to grow in regular-sized pots, but if you have a trough, washtub, or deep planter on your porch or patio, you may be able to grow tubers and root veggies galore. Similarly, climbing pole beans might take over your patio, and squash might get too large for your space.
Start small, especially if you’re planting your container garden mid-season (or late in the season). Go with a few small fall-friendly decorative plants (like mums or kale) to brighten your porch and then work your way to growing bigger down the road, and plan to start early next spring.
7. Mix Up Tastes, Sights, and Smells
Part of the fun of container gardening is mixing up your plants with different tastes, smells, and looks. Some gardeners like to stick with herbs or plant only flowers. Others like to plant greenery that can live indoors during the winter months.
Personally, I like to plant a variety of plants together. It’s fun to have a colorful flowering basket with edible nasturtiums, feathery-dill, and silvery sage, interspersed with flowers like geraniums, and alyssum. You can even look into complementary plantings. For example, marigolds repel many tomato eating bugs, so planting the two together is a natural fit.
It’s also fun to plant “salsa baskets” or “salad pots,” where you put the components all in one container—a tomato plant, cilantro, chives, and a few peppers, or lettuces with herbs, cherry tomatoes, and mini cucumbers. Gardening is really a sensory experience, so make the most of the various sights, smells, and tastes in your container garden.
8. Learn from Your Experience
Each time you plant a garden, you will learn valuable lessons. Every year, I learn more and more about gardening and growing plants. One year, you may discover that strawberries don’t yield much fruit for your container garden, and the next year, you might have a bumper crop of zucchini.
I like to keep a little notebook and jot down lists of the plants that thrive and those that struggle. I note where I planted them and if there were any hazards I noticed (like hungry bunny rabbits and birds). Keeping track of the successes helps my garden get better every year. Remember, it’s all about trial and error—learn as you go!
Even if you have only a small area to plant, you can add a lot of life and joy to your porch, patio, deck, or balcony with some easy container gardening. Start with simple plants and build on your success. You may discover your own green thumb!