Container Gardening: a Primer

container gardening in small buckets

Container gardening is a great way to increase limited space vegetable production, make toxic land useable, and create small-scale aquatic ecosystems. The containers used can often be obtained for free as well, such as bathtubs, baskets, toilets, wagons, buckets, or barrels. Be creative with what you have available.

Reasons for Container Gardening

  • Moveable: If you don’t have much light available to you (apartments), container gardening allows you to move your plants throughout the day so they get enough sunlight.
  • Toxic/No Soil: If your soil is contaminated with pollutants, or you don’t have any soil due to concrete or an apartment balcony, containers are a great way to allow your garden to thrive without having to be rooted to the earth.
  • Vertical Space: Containers allow plants to be grown anywhere that the weight of the container can be supported and the plants get enough sunlight. I’ve seen little pots hung from clotheslines, or lining the walls of a deck. Again, a little creativity goes a long way.


When you find a container to use, your first decision is if you want to grown aquatic or good-ol’ land vegetables.

Aquatic Gardening

water gardening in wading poolsIf you’ll be growing aquatic vegetables, make sure, obviously, that your container holds water. Be sure to place your container in a place that gets at least 6 hours per day of sun, as most aquatic plants require full sun. Also, using dark containers discourages algae growth. Finally, if you’re using a large container, pick your spot carefully, because you won’t be able to move it. For example, if you fill a bathtub with 75 gallons of water, the water alone weighs 600lbs (8lbs/g).


The big things here are to drill holes in the bottom of the container so that it drains. You don’t want large amounts of water sitting in the bottom of your container creating anaerobic environments. Other than that, pick a good medium to grow your plants in, put it in the pot, then plant!

City Codes

Make sure it looks nice because some city codes will consider an old bathtub or toilet in the yard the same as having junked cars lying around. Generally it’s only an issue if your neighbor complains, and, depending on how much work the city codes people have, it may never even garner a response. But in the interest of neighborly love, just make sure it looks nice.

car used as container garden

So find yourself a container and pick some plants to grow. Experiment, have fun, and enjoy your bounty.


Jeremy Jones runs a Missouri web design studio and loves all things permaculture.

  1. Pete Kane (@Buildingwell)

    This is a great primer piece to help people understand the potential of container garden. As a very flexible growing method, it can be used in a wide variety of instances. For multifamily buildings, people could do container garden within their own units, on balconies, or in shared common outdoor areas (with property manager’s approval of course). Thanks for providing this valuable information.

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