I have some incredibly unique experiences when it comes to learning how to grow plants.
I come from a family of green thumbs. Growing up, my grandparents always had potted plants everywhere. There were always different kinds of ivy, Christmas cactus, orchids, petunias, and a plethora of other greenery scattered around their house. Grandad was also a fruit and vegetable gardener; every summer there was fresh squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, and cantaloupes for us to pick and eat.
Grandad passed this skill to my mom who is the current owner of a 6,000 sqft garden where she grows everything from potatoes to strawberries. Unfortunately, I seemed to have missed out on the ability to keep green, plant-like things alive. Several years ago I bought a mother-in-law’s tongue, which is also called snake plant. Those tend to have a reputation of being hard to kill. Guess who over watered it and killed it within 6 months? That would be me.
When I moved out on my own and into my own apartment, I began to miss seeing green, living things around the house. I decided then that it was time to really buckle down, research, and figure out how to keep things alive. This, paired with how expensive living on your own is, sparked my interest in urban and container gardening. I wanted a way to have more green in my apartment and save some money at the grocery store.
When starting a container garden, especially if you tend to have bad luck with anything green, it’s important to remember that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Start small. I made the initial mistake of trying to grow a ton of veggies and herbs all at once. This resulted in frustration on my part and many dead plants. There’s nothing wrong with starting small and taking your time.
I was much more successful when I started focusing on one thing. The first major success I had was regrowing romaine lettuce from scraps. Once I got that started, I was able to move on to actually planting and starting seeds. The easiest (and tastiest) way to get starting with a small container garden is herbs.
For my first successful container plants that I started from seeds, I actually repurposed some tin cans. They were big enough for a few herb seeds, without getting crazy and overwhelming.
Selecting Your Containers
For my blossoming container garden, recycled tin cans seemed like a logical step. For one, I was trying to start living more consciously and I loved the idea of repurposing something I would just throw away. Also, the cans were large enough to support a few (3-4) seeds, but small enough to not completely overthrow the balcony of my one bedroom apartment.
The size of your containers will be completely dependent upon a few factors:
- The amount of space you have
- The plants you want to grow
- Your ambition
If you are like me and living in an apartment, in an urban setting, with a small patio for outdoor space, then you will likely want to stick with something small at first. Especially if you have never grown anything before.
I knew that I sometimes had trouble keeping plants alive, so I wanted something that was hearty and was for more than just decoration. It was important to me to use my space wisely and flowers did not seem like the best use of my space. I wanted plants and I wanted something that I could actually use, instead of it just being pretty.
I could have been ambitious and tried to grow potatoes in a container. It’s entirely possible, from what I’ve read, but I was not ready for that undertaking. I had enough self awareness to know that I was not prepared to spend all of my free time tending to a giant trash can full of soil, fertilizer, and spuds. Container size is crucial
Picking the Perfect Plants for Your Containers
Once you’ve decided on the size of container that you want to use in your new container garden adventure, your next step would be to pick your new plants.
For a beginner, my personal recommendation is herbs. They are easy to start, easy to care for, and typically hearty. The most complicated part of starting herbs is getting them to germinate and sprout. If you want to use a bit bigger container, you can start with pepper or tomato bedding plants. These can usually be purchased at a local greenhouse or hardware store (shop local!).
Keep in mind that different plants do require different sized containers. When I tried to plant a rosemary bedding plant, the container I chose was much too small. It got root bound and died before it could really thrive and produce herbs.
Smaller plants like herbs can grow and thrive in smaller containers. If you want to try to grow bigger things, like fruits or veggies, bigger pots are a necessity. My goal was to learn, so I went with small containers and small plants.
Plant and Watch Your Container Garden Grow
One of the most exciting days for me was when I saw that my herbs had finally sprouted. Those tiny green buds were enough to spark an interest that would follow me for years. Since then, I have always had some sort of plant in my house. I’ve learned more about different sunlight requirements of certain plants and about the different optimum growing seasons. This did not happen overnight and certainly came with its fair share of challenges.
For this growing season, I installed gutters on the front porch of my new house and have planted strawberries. I also have several larger containers of herbs and a pot of zinnias. I’m still nowhere near the green thumb status of my grandparents or mom, but I will be someday. Every season I try something new, just to see what happens and if I can do it.