May 7, 2003 | By: Laura Skillman

For anyone with a craving for garden fresh tomatoes but no garden, containers can be a perfect solution.

Container gardening can provide anyone with only a small space the opportunity to enjoy fresh produce throughout the growing season. All it takes is a location with four to six hours of sun, a container, soil, seed or transplants, some fertilizer and water.

“Pretty much any container will work as long as it has drainage holes in it,” said Rick Durham, University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service consumer horticulture specialist.

If you’re building your own container, stay away from treated wood. Redwood or cedar naturally resist decay and are a good choice for container construction.

This time of year, container gardeners may already be harvesting leaf lettuce and radishes. Tomatoes are good because a number of fruit can be produced in a small area. Cucumbers also lead themselves to containers when the vines are supported by a trellis or fence. Many vegetables produce quite well in containers. However, something like sweet corn would not be well suited for such confined space.

There are several tips that can help a person be a successful container gardener. Don’t use garden soil in the containers because it can become compacted and lose its ability to drain. Peat or bark-based commercial potting soil is better suited for container use since it usually is well-drained and resists compaction.

Adequate drainage is needed. If the container has a flat bottom, it may need to be elevated to provide better drainage.

Containers will dry out rapidly, so in the heat of summer they should be checked at least once a day and watered as needed. To determine if water is needed, stick a finger into the soil to the first or second knuckle and if it is dry it needs water.

Use either a slow-release fertilizer or water-soluble fertilizer. Since fertilizer concentrations vary between manufacturers, follow label directions when applying them.

Container gardening is growing in popularity.

“As yards sizes are decreasing, people find that they don’t have enough space in their yard for a garden but they may have space on a patio for a half barrel or a large pot,” Durham said. “Of course, for people in apartments or town homes, this gives them the ability to have a little gardening space.

“In terms of vegetable gardening, we think about three seasons spring, summer and fall,” he said. “So you can really think about those same three seasons in container gardening. In late March or early April, you could plant lettuce, then in the middle of May come in with tomatoes or peppers – warm season vegetables. In early September come in with another round of cool season vegetables like lettuce, kale or spinach – those types of crops.”

Herbs and flowers also are popular for container gardening.

UK Department of Horticulture publication ID-128 Home Vegetable Gardening in Kentucky has information on container gardening as well as recommended varieties for use in containers. Recommendations regarding plants for container flower gardens are available in publication HO-65.  For a copy of these publications contact a county Extension office or visit the web site at and type in the publication number in the search box on the left.


Rick Durham, 859-257-3249