Since the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the global food supply chain and relegated non-essential workers to their apartments, some people have turned to container gardening to grow vegetables at home and start a fun new isolation hobby. If your apartment has a backyard or a balcony, you can easily start container gardening, and since no scientific evidence exists of COVID-19 transmission from plant matter to people, container gardening can provide a safe way to enjoy the outdoors without increasing your chances of contracting your virus.
Of course, container gardening isn’t just as simple as packing seeds and dirt into a box. Here are 10 helpful tips for container gardening in an apartment.
1. Choose the right spot for your container gardening setup
If you place your container garden in a spot where it will receive at least six hours of sunlight per day, you’re already off to a good start. To determine whether the spot in question gets enough sunlight, place your empty container there and check every 30 minutes to see whether sunlight falls onto it.
2. Consider temperature variations
Most plants won’t grow if their soil temperature is below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, so at cooler times of the year, you may need to find a windowsill appropriate for indoor gardening in smaller containers. Plants are also sensitive to hot temperatures, and certain container materials can increase the soil temperature too strongly, severely damaging your plants’ roots and their ability to grow.
3. Choose the right containers and materials
If you’re container gardening during hot months, using metal or dark-colored containers may backfire, as these materials can result in root-damaging soil temperature increases. Otherwise, any food-safe container with built-in drainage and enough space to grow your plant should work. Certain materials, though, may serve better than others.
If you’re on a budget and want to minimize your spending on containers, you can reuse old plastic buckets or other household objects. If you’re looking to buy new containers, then wood, plastic, ceramic, or self-watering containers may be best for first-timers. Terra cotta ceramic pots may also work, but the clay comprising them can extract too much water from your plants’ soil, introducing another variable to an already precarious system. You should also be sure your container is sizable enough to accommodate your plant at its largest.
4. Choose the right soil
Although the term container gardening may imply that you can use standard gardening soil, you’ll be far better off if you use potting soil, as standard gardening soil may not drain properly when compacted in containers. Additionally, gardening soil can introduce weeds to your container garden that are far less likely to grow there otherwise. You should also opt for organic soil, as using it has been correlated with vegetables that taste better and contain more nutrients.
5. Know when to water your plants
Ideally, your container garden’s soil will be evenly moist but not absolutely soaked, and it’s easy to check whether you need to water your garden more. Just insert your finger one inch into the soil, and add more water if the soil feels dry. If you can’t decide for sure whether you need to add water, check again a few hours later. During hot months, don’t be surprised if you need to water your plants once or twice a day.
6. Know when to feed your plants
Like humans, plants can’t survive on water alone. You’ll also need to fertilize your plants to ensure they’re getting enough nutrition to grow. Many potting soils include fertilizer, reducing the number of times per growing season you need to add fertilizer to your container garden. Regardless, you should fertilize your plants often during their growing season.
You may be able to incorporate fertilizer into your soil when you first plant your garden. If so, you can supplement the existing fertilizer with liquid fertilizer twice per month to enhance the nutrient profile its roots can access. You can also use compost in your garden to provide extra nutrients.
7. Set up ample drainage
When too much water collects in your container garden, plants can drown or succumb to root rot. Make sure that your container garden allows excess water to flow out through the bottom. If you’re using a container made from old household supplies, elevate the container and prop it up, cut a hole in the bottom, and cover the hole with a coffee filter or another material that will let water, but not soil, through. This way, as water needs to escape your container, it can do so without your garden crumbling or your floors trapping water inside your container.
8. Consider other potential challenges
Setting up your container garden outside can lure unwelcome pests, whether insects or mammals, that wouldn’t otherwise appear. Additionally, some plants may require vertical support as they grow larger. These challenges can be hard to predict in advance, but you should keep them in mind and prepare to deal with them if necessary.
9. Know whether to start from seeds or seedlings
Once you’ve set up your garden, you’ll need to plant vegetable seeds or seedlings, and choosing between these options can be one of the most challenging decisions you’ll make when container gardening. For a full list of seed and seedling considerations, click here.
10. Decide which vegetables to grow
As you finalize your container garden, keep in mind that not all vegetables are well-suited to this gardening method. Find a small list of appropriate, beginner-friendly vegetables here, and upon choosing the right vegetables for you, start your container garden quickly to stay ahead of any possible food shortages and begin a new hobby that might make passing your time in quarantine significantly easier.