Container gardening offers benefits for both novice and experienced gardeners

BY Claire Yezbak Fadden l Photos Courtesy of Bonnie Plants


1. Wood containers insulate the soil from extreme temperature as do double-wall plastic pots. 2. Single-wall plastic pots, as well as ceramic and metal containers, absorb and transmit heat into the soil. 3. A small pot can be placed inside a larger one to shade the plant and protect its roots from excess heat. 4. Group containers together to partially shade each other. 5. Light-colored containers absorb less heat than dark-colored ones.

—Vincent F. Lazaneo, Urban Horticulture Advisor, Emeritus, University of California Cooperative Extension

Think transplants: When you’re ready to begin potting up vegetables and herbs, opt for good quality transplants, like the Bonnie Plants—seedlings that have already been started­—rather than starting from seed. “Transplants will buy you lots of time because plants are six weeks or older when you put them in the pot,” says Crawford, the author of nine gardening books. “You’ll begin harvesting much sooner.”

Location, location, location: Put pots in a sunny spot. At least six hours is best according to the experts at Bonnie Plants. The sun drives energy for production and for making sugars, acids and other compounds responsible for the fullest flavor. Make sure pots on a deck or porch get enough sunlight and move them to a sunny spot if shade encroaches.
Lazaneo encourages gardeners to decide where containers will be placed and select plants suited to the site (sun/shade, etc.). If plants are selected first, however, he says it’s important to place the container where the plants will receive the correct amount of sun/shade required. “Sun on the south and west of the container can heat up adjacent soil,” Lazaneo cautions, “enough to kill small roots.”

Water regularly: Plants grown in containers require more frequent watering and feeding than plants grown in the ground. “Very small pots may need to be watered daily or more often in hot weather,” reminds Lazaneo. “Strawberries grown in a half barrel can be watered once or twice a week but if grown in a five-gallon container may require watering every day or two during warm weather.” Remember to water before sunset, so plant leaves have time to dry before nightfall.

In spite of our tendency toward brown thumbs, my husband, Nick, and I are successful container gardeners, producing tomatoes, zucchini and bell peppers. Even habanero chilies. All you need besides a container, some potting soil, and either seeds or plants, is desire.

Containers: Pretty much anything you can punch a hole in will work. We use plastic tubs. But buckets, bushel baskets, window planters, even washtubs will work. “Small annuals can be grown in a one- or two-gallon sized container, although they may do better in a larger container,” says Vincent F. Lazaneo, Urban Horticulture Advisor, Emeritus, with the University of California Cooperative Extension. Larger veggies, like tomatoes and eggplants, will need a larger container, at least five gallons for each plant.

Drainage: Whatever type container you choose, remember proper drainage is vital. Your container should have holes at the base or in the bottom to permit drainage of excess water. Lazaneo advises not setting pots in a saucer that can collect water because they keep the soil saturated and exclude air. “Standing water can also breed mosquitoes,” he adds.

Potting soil: A quality potting soil mix holds moisture but drains well, giving plant roots the perfect balance of air, moisture and stability to grow a great harvest. Look for ingredients like sphagnum peat moss, aged (composted) bark, perlite, lime or dolomite on the label. Garden soil is not recommended for container gardening “since it is very heavy, holds too much water, and does not drain well,” says Lazaneo. “Garden soil can also contain disease pathogens and weed seeds.”

What To Plant: “My first container attempts included mixing too many different vegetables in the same container,” says Pamela Crawford, author of “Easy Container Combos: Vegetables and Flowers” (Color Garden Publishing). “The results looked like a mishmash. Instead, think simple, like one tall vegetable in the center surrounded by a few flowers. Upright tomatoes with begonias and coleus planted along the edge are quite attractive,” she suggests. “Or plant one tall herb, like rosemary, and surround it with a shorter vegetable, like lettuce.”

VISIT: the San Diego Master Gardeners at for a listing of upcoming seminars, gardening tips and resources.

CHECK OUT: the vegetable and herb varieties Bonnie Plants offers at


Feed your plants: Some potting mixes include just enough fertilizer to give plants a charge when they’re starting. Mixes designed to feed for several months run out sooner in hot weather with frequent watering. “A slow-release fertilizer, containing nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium (N-P-K) plus micronutrients, can feed container plants for three months or more without causing root damage,” Lazaneo says. Chemical, slow-release and organic fertilizers are available at nurseries and do-it-yourself stores.

Flowers Blooming Everywhere

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Gardens Then and Now: A Centennial Celebration of Historic and Contemporary San Diego Gardens
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