Jmore introduces a bimonthly gardening column by certified master gardeners Rebecca Brown and Norman Cohen.

You don’t have to be a master gardener to master the art of container gardening.

Growing flowers and vegetables in containers is easy, inexpensive and rewarding. It requires no digging, tilling or weeding, and gives gardeners more control over growing conditions, resulting in heartier flowers.

Container plants are less likely to attract insects or four-legged critters, appropriate for people of all ages and fitness levels, and a great option for the super busy, apartment dwellers or those who suffer from “brown thumb.” Potted tomato plants not getting enough daylight? No problem. Simply move them to a sunnier location. No sun period? That’s cool! You can still grow shade-loving annuals and perennials.

Convinced? Let’s get started.

The Basics

  • Place containers on level surfaces such as balconies, decks, porches or in existing flower beds;
  • Sun-loving annuals such as geraniums, petunias and perennials — such as coreopsis and black-eyed Susans and most vegetables — require eight hours a day of direct sunlight;
  • Shade-loving annuals such as begonias, impatiens and perennials — such as hostas and heucheras — shouldn’t receive more than two to three hours of sun or filtered light each day;
  • Make sure containers are easily accessible to water from a hose or indoor faucet.

Container Tips

  • Containers can be permanent or temporary, whimsical, artistic and inexpensive;
  • The container’s capacity should match the full potential of the plant’s growth. Plant flowers and herbs in 6-inch or deeper pots; tomatoes and cucumbers require deeper containers for root growth (5- to 7-gallon) pots;
  • Repurposed items such as wooden crates, half whiskey barrels or antique wheelbarrows make interesting and sustainable containers;
  • Containers must have holes and slats at their bottoms so water can drain out;
  • Containers made of clay, ceramics, concrete and wood will dry out faster than plastic and metal ones;
  • Beginning in June, tomatoes should be staked and cucumbers should be trellised.

Growing Media Tips

  • Commercial “soil-less” mixes are the best choices for container planting since they are lightweight, hold water and nutrients, drain well and are free of weeds. These soil-less mixes come with or without fertilizer and with water-holding polymers to reduce the need for frequent watering;
  • Soils without fertilizer and polymers are preferable for vegetable planting since different vegetables require different concentration of fertilizers;
  • To grow organic vegetables, use organic fertilizers in place of synthetic ones;
  • Annuals and perennials do best with fertilizer and water-holding polymers;
  • Last year’s growing media should be discarded if used for vegetables, but can be reused for flowers.

Watering Tips

  • Count on watering generously during the summer months and check moisture level below the soil line to see if more water is required;
  • Use cold water in a watering can or a hose with a nozzle for a soft, rain-like stream;
  • Water the soil at the base of the plant, not on the leaves, to prevent fungus, mildew and other diseases;
  • An inexpensive drip irrigation system on a timer is a convenient and efficient way to water container plants;
  • Containers placed on concrete or asphalt will require additional watering to prevent overheating.


  • Flowers should be fertilized every two to three weeks with a soluble plant food mixed with water;
  • Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and cucumbers should be fertilized every three weeks to produce a continuous harvest;
  • Soluble synthetic or organic fertilizers supply immediate nutrients to vegetables;
  • Dry organic fertilizers such as blood, cotton and alfalfa meal, well-rotted chicken manure and worm castings are released slowly and can be mixed into the growing media right after planting and applied monthly through the growing season.

Remember, TLC goes a long way toward having a successful container garden. Now, grab your container, dirty your hands and spruce up your patio in time for the summer months.

Rebecca Brown began her career as a horticulturist over 25 years ago and studied at the New York Botanical Gardens. She has been a University of Maryland Extension Baltimore County Master Gardener for three years and is a backyard beekeeper.

Norman Cohen is a retired chemist. He has been gardening for 38 years and has been a University of Maryland Extension Baltimore County Master Gardener for nine years. Cohen also provides gardening education to the public at local farmers markets.

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