The Q&A Archives: Container Garden - First Attempt - Help!

Question: I am trying to get excited about starting a container garden , but I am realizing I don't know what I'm doing!! I have two large 20 gallon plastic tubs that I want to use, and they have been washed and rinsed well, with large holes in the bottom for drainage. I have a large amount of potting soil that claims to be good and loose for container gardening. The tubs will be sitting on the lawn in full sun all day if I leave them where I had planned to. What I'd like to do is grow two tomato plants in each tub, also planting basil in one and a small climbing bean or some type of peppers in the other. Are the tubs large enough to support three plants each? If I water daily or every other day, how often should I fertilize? The potting soil mix I purchased has some plant food mixed in with it which is supposed to last 6 months, but with such frequent watering, my mom-in-law says I should fertilze after three months. I have been reading as much of your archived material as I can and still do not have the confidence to go out and actually purchase the plants -- so far, all I have is two tubs of dirt and some neat gardening tools...! Any advice you can offer will be most appreciated.

Answer: Much of gardening is an experiment and we learn as we go along, so give it a try and see what happens. The containers sound fine, as do the soil and location. Watering will depend on the weather, whether or not it has rained or been windy, how large the plants grow, how hot it is and what type of soil mix you use.

Fertilizer will leach out eventually, but you will see your plants begin to slow and thus know it is time to supplement the mix. Tomatoes are heavy feeders but it is better to underfertilize than overfertilize so don't worry about it too much, just keep an eye on the plants and they will tell you. You can always topdress with compost if in doubt.

You might try one tomato in each tub (perhaps one a cherry and one a larger fruited tomato) because these are rather large plants. Alongside them you might try several basils or one pepper, since peppers can also become good sized plants. You might also tuck in a few bush beans early on, as they will produce and then fade and be removed to make more room for the tomatoes. You could also add some more smaller herbs such as parsley, chives, or thyme around the outer edges, or even a dwarf marigold or two.

Enjoy your containers!

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