Container Gardening

Few suspect and even fewer know that I really enjoy cooking, especially with fresh vegetables and herbs from a garden. But I live in an apartment and many of my single amigos live in small homes. What are we single guys to do?

Enter containers. Many vegetables and herbs can be easily grown in containers, provided they’re in the right location and have the right soil mixture. A very simple container design for a typical patio can be found in our Landscape Design Center.

Right Location

Nearly all vegetables and herbs need full sunlight to grow and ripen; that means at least half the day or 10 to 12 hours of direct sunlight. This can be a problem in some apartments or homes.

The two herbs that tolerate shade are mint and lemon balm. Vegetables that tolerate shade are chile pequin and many of the greens including collards, spinach, kale and chard.

Right Mixture

Most commercial planting mixes are soil-less, that is, great for drainage but limited in nutrients. My recommendation for a container soil mixture includes 1/3 washed sand, 1/3 perlite and 1/3 high quality planting mix made from peat moss and pine bark.

The sand provides water holding and nutrient capacity, perlite reduces weight, and the peat and pine bark provide acids and carbon chains to assist with nutrients. All together they promote drainage, but increase water holding and nutrient capacity.

Even with a good container mix, fertilization is important. Fertilize with a commercially produced liquid fertilizer, your home-made liquid fertilizer or a granular product. The home-made liquid product is two cups of any soluble fertilizer in one gallon of water. Then use two tablespoons of this mixture in one gallon of water. For granular products, I prefer those with organic formulations.


The type of container is not as important as the drainage characteristics of it. Make sure the pot has at least two holes in the base, four is preferable. Placing gravel, rocks or broken pottery sherds in the bottom of the pot does not improve drainage, but prevent soil from escaping.

Also, use containers that are suited for growing vegetables, and watch out for cheap imports that may contain lead.


Container gardens do require more frequent irrigation because there is less soil to hold the water. Three times a week should be sufficient. Remember — any water that drains is wasted water. Your finger is the most effective soil moisture sensor there is. Use it.

Container gardening can supply your kitchen with a heathy supply of vegetables and herbs. All it takes is the right location, right soil and correct watering. Bon appetit!

Picture of Mark Peterson
Mark Peterson
Mark A. Peterson was a conservation project coordinator for San Antonio Water System before retiring. With over 30 years of experience as an urban forester and arborist, Mark is probably the only person you know who actually prunes trees for fun. When not expounding on the benefits of trees and limited lawns, you're likely to find him hiking San Antonio's wilderness parks or expounding on the virtues of geography and history to his friends.
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