Lawn and Garden

Short on space or time? Try ‘container gardening’

by John W. Jett, WVU Extension Specialist

If you don’t have space or time to plant a regular garden, you might like to try “container gardening” on your patio, deck, balcony, or doorstep. Container gardens need minimal care.



Some plants have been specially bred to have compact growth habits. Check seed catalogs for information about varieties that have been adapted to container culture.


All containers—whether clay, wood, plastic, or ceramic—should have enough holes in the bottom for proper drainage. Raising the container 1 or 2 inches off the floor by setting it on blocks of wood will allow it to drain easily. Shallow-rooted crops like lettuce, peppers, radishes, herbs, and most annuals need a container at least 6 inches in diameter with an 8-inch soil depth. Bushel baskets, wooden tubs, or large pressed paper containers are ideal for growing tomatoes, squash, pole beans, cucumbers, and deep-rooted perennials.

Growing Medium

Soil from the garden usually cannot be used in a container because it is too heavy. Since roots require both air and water, the growing medium must be porous. Packaged potting soil, which is relatively lightweight, is often a good choice.



Containers should be planted at the same time a regular garden or flowerbed would be planted. Fill a clean container to within inch of the top with a slightly damp soil mixture. Peat moss or other organic material in the mix will absorb water and blend much more readily if soaked with warm water before the mix is put into the container. Sow the seed or set transplants according to package instructions. Put a label with the name, variety, and planting date in each container. After planting, gently soak the growing media with water, being careful not to wash out or displace seeds. Thin out seedlings to obtain proper spacing when the plants have two or three leaves.


Fertilize plants with the recommended rate of water-soluble fertilizer every two to three weeks. An occasional application of fish emulsion or compost will add trace elements to the soil.


Containers can dry out very quickly, especially if they are on a concrete patio in full sunlight. You may need to water the plants one or twice a day as plants mature. Apply water until it runs out the drainage holes. Mulching can help reduce water needed.


The amount of sunlight your container garden receives may determine which crops you can grow. Check light requirements for specific plants. Using reflective materials—aluminum foil, white-painted surfaces, and marble chips—around plants will slightly increase the available light.


Harvest leafy vegetables and root crops as they mature. Remove all ripe fruit to keep plants productive for a longer season.

Plants suited for container culture


  • Beans, Bush
  • Eggplant
  • Peppers, Bell
  • Beets
  • Kale
  • Squash, Summer
  • Carrots
  • Lettuce, Leaf
  • Tomatoes
  • Cabbage
  • Mustard Greens
  • Tomatoes, Cherry
  • Chard, Swiss
  • Onions, Green
  • Turnips
  • Cucumbers



  • Anise
  • Dill
  • Basil
  • Coriander
  • Chervil
  • Summer Savory


  • Caraway
  • Parsley


  • Chives
  • Mint
  • Fennel
  • Tarragon
  • Lovage
  • Thyme
  • Marjoram
  • Winter Savory


  • Apples (dwarf spur-type)
  • Raspberries
  • Blackberries
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries

Annual Flowers

  • Ageratum
  • Dusty Miller
  • Pansy
  • Alyssum
  • Geranium
  • Petunia
  • Begonia
  • Impatiens
  • Salvia
  • Celosia
  • Lobelia
  • Snapdragon
  • Coleus
  • Marigold
  • Verbena
  • Dianthus
  • Nasturtium
  • Zinnia

Perennial Flowers

  • Achillea (Yarrow)
  • Lupine
  • Aquilegia (Columbine)
  • Rudbeckia
  • Candytuft
  • Sedum
  • Chrysanthemum
  • Shasta Daisy
  • Gaillardia
  • Veronica
  • Gypsophila

Exotic Foliage

  • Alocasia
  • Hibiscus
  • Banana
  • Lantana
  • Caladium
  • Palm
  • Cannas (variegated and red-leafed varieties)
  • Phygelius
  • Pygmy Date Palm
  • Coconut
  • Schefflera
  • Dracaena
  • Variegated Ficus
  • Elephant Ears
  • White Bird of Paradise



  • Crocus
  • Scilla
  • Daffodil
  • Tulip
  • Iris


  • Begonia
  • Gladiolus
  • Dahlia
  • Oriental and Asiatic Lily

Consult catalogs for cultural requirements and varieties adapted to container culture.