Setting up your garden in pots

April, week 3 in The Simple Home

By now you have probably had enough time to think about what you want to plant and where it will grow and hopefully you've gathered a few containers and some growing mix. Depending on what you're hoping to grow, you might also have a trellis or bamboo and string and you might have thought about fertiliser and a few tools.  I hope you find second hand items and can keep your setup costs as low as possible because gardening can become expensive and it doesn't have to be.

Containers and potting mix

Types of containers
Look around your home, garden and garage, as well as your local recycle centre, to see if you have any suitable containers. Most of them need to be big. If you restrict the root growth of what you’re growing, it will also restrict your crops, so large containers are better than small ones. Of course you can grow a few herbs in small containers, or plant then around the edge of larger containers.  Look for old rubber tubs, an old slightly rusty wheelbarrow, boxes made from untreated wood, polystyrene troughs or metal containers. Most of the recycled containers won’t last a long time because they’ll be sitting in the sun all year long. But that doesn’t matter. You can change containers when you change seasons and start planting again. Keep that in mind and as you go through the year keep an open eye for follow-up containers.  And if you have any good ideas for containers that you're using at home, share them with us here.

If you don’t have anything to recycle buy a few of those coloured plastic/rubber flexi-tubs. They range in size from 15 to 60 litres. If you need something bigger than that, use grow bags. In the last Simple Home post there is a link to a YouTube video on how to make grow bags.
This is a long pot full of cos/romaine lettuce I grew last year during summer. I kept the pot in the bush house and we had fresh lettuce most of the summer.

What do you fill your containers with?
Potting soil and garden soil are very different. Potting soil is a free-draining light mix that will support the growth of roots in a container while allowing water to drain away. Garden soil contains microbes and minerals that you want for your vegetables, but it doesn’t drain well. Plants will suffocate if there is always water around their roots. There is no doubt about it; you’ll need to buy potting mix if you’re going to plant your garden in containers.

If you're in Australia, look for the red label on the potting mix you buy.

REMEMBER: Fill your large containers where they’ll grow so you don't have to move heavy pots around. You can move the potting mix around in a wheelbarrow. And don’t forget to add perlite if container weight is an issue.

You can buy good potting mix in 25 litre or 65 litre bags but if you’re going to use a lot of mix, it will probably be cheaper to get a quote from a local supplier of bulk potting mix. They usually supply loads of half a metre or one metre which will work out cheaper than buying the same amount of bagged mix.  There are two things to remember though: go to the supplier’s yard, look at the quality of the mix and ask if they mix it to the Australian Standard (or your country's standard). You don’t want potting mix full of pine bark or sand. The second thing is that you’ll have to be home when the delivery is made because it will be dumped where you tell the driver to leave it and you’ll have to deal with it fairly promptly. So either use it, put it in bins, or cover it with a tarp as soon as it's delivered. It will wash away if it’s sitting in the open and you have a storm.
Reusing potting mix
At the end of the season, your potting soil will probably hold a few roots and will have lost many of its nutrients. You can replace the nutrients and remove the roots and use the mix again for the coming season. 
Additives for the spent potting mix include, very old cow, stable or sheep manure, good compost, worm castings, perlite, a small addition of garden soil or mix the old and new potting mix together with some manure.
Setting up your trellises

Many of your container plants will do very well indeed without any extra support, or with a single bamboo stake to anchor the plant. Other plants need more elaborate support structures. Vine vegetables such as cucumbers, climbing beans and tall tomatoes need a trellis or a tripod. If you can give the plant a good trellis to grow on, you’ll be rewarded with abundant vegetables.
If you have tall plants or want to grow peas, beans, cucumbers etc., you may be able to attach your trellis or some light reinforcing metal mesh to a wall. Have a good look around home and use what you have, or look in the recycle centre.  If you have shade cloth or weed mat and a sewing machine, think about making a vertical wall hanger for your herbs. Have a look at this one.
In our last container garden post next week, we'll talk about how to make compost as well as the all important watering and fertilising.


  1. We are all ready to go here except digging out some of our homemade compost and adding it to the pots. My large pots are durable and I have tomato cages that carry over from year to year. We are past our frost date but have freeze warnings for tonight so we are waiting to be sure warm weather has indeed arrived.

  2. I spent a much needed day in the garden on Sunday. One section that will be in - ground plants had aged chook poo dug in and is looking really nice and full of worms. About a month ago someone gave me five fish that I had to fillet and of course the bones and skin went into the ground. It is totally decomposed, but you can be sure there is now some extra goodness in that soil. I planted out a few seedlings I had started, and then a few rows of seeds. We have had a deluge of rain yesterday so I have yet to see how those seeds fared. I use those polystyrene boxes as edges for my beds. so I have a mix of in ground and potted plants as you do. I love your pot of romaine lettuce packed thickly as I really think they love to grow that way!

  3. so do you mix the potting soil and garden soil to get the "mix" you mentioned? Just curious. Thanks

    1. I only add garden soil when I need to bulk out the potting mix in a large container. For instance, my potato grow bag is approximately 50% potting mix, 10% garden soil, 20% compost, 20% old regenerated potting mix.

  4. Perfect timing to receive this message as we are moving house and will be in temporary accomodation for 4 months so am planning to grow in pots. Am motivated to grow the lettuce plants indoors :-) Have brought a lot of flower bulbs this year so the container planting will be perfect

  5. If you have farmer friends check if they have any left over salt tubs. Hopefully they have them in Australia, here we use them to hold the big licks of salt or feed
    for cattle. They're sturdy, you can drill holes for drainage and they last for several years.

  6. I'm planning to use an old baby bath to grow a small selection of herbs, hoping that the existing plug hole will provide good drainage and that I'll be able to move it small distances (and thanks Rhonda for the posts to go with The Simple Home, have been following your blog and books since 2016 but have not commented before).

    1. Hi
      I have a couple of small baby baths as well. I saw them once planted up with various herbs. The person said to make sure to drill drainage holes in the bottom.
      Claire in Melbourne

  7. we are re organising our vege patch for our later years but herbs are in abundance and I will be potting some for giftsl I often wonder when I am out in the garden how remarkable my life really is. I'm still working until the end of this year but we are planning now for living on a reduced income. Of course the garden will be my main area of contentment

  8. Now that i'm back in pots I've been reusing a whole lot of things including: polystyrene boxes, plastic storage tub, 2kg cheese buckets, old wicker clothes basket, old bathtub, milk cartons, a teapot and a half wine barrel (very un-original).
    I've also seen a vertical garden made in an old hanging shoe holder - it probably wouldn't last as long as weed mat/shade cloth but could be a good repurpose if someone had one lying around.

    1. We watched a movie, 'Still Mine', and they had their raised beds in old refrigerators laying on their backs with the doors removed. I think it is brilliant but can imagine what the neighbors would say since all our sun is in our front yard. :D

  9. I'm motivated to try growing some food in a few containers. (most of our gardens are in-ground, and in raised garden beds) I haven't figured out the best spot in the yard yet...enough sun, but not where it is blazing hot. I find planters dry out so very fast. I really like the way the lettuce looks in Rhonda's photo. (Deb v)

  10. Great information as always. My herbs, lettuce and sugar peas in pots are coming along great. I have a couple of tomatoes to get planted. I’m useing the springs from an old baby bed for my peas to climb up on.

  11. Belated Birthday wishes Rhonda. It looks and sounds as though you had a lovely time. All that food looked so delicious. I have never been a big party person for my birthday I always celebrate in a similar way that you have just done. Lisa W. Tasmania.

  12. We have lots of old wellies which we have lined up next to each other and secured and planted up the tops with herbs mixed in with a few annuals like nasturtiums. They're an effective and attractive recycle and visitors always comment on them.

  13. Hi Rhonda I grow in containers and I grow in the ground. I have small trees growing in pots along the sunny side of the house. The plants initially had a heat well and now provide cooling shade in summer. Hubby picked up old sand pool filters from the tip. He cut these up to give me large planting pots. He has also picked up plastic tanks in metal frames that he has cut in half. Old bath tubs are also a great way to have a smaller raised garden. Old larger diametre PVC pipe has had caps put on the end and holes drilled in with a hole saw. Great for growing succulents along a fence. 44 gallon drums have also been used here for planting. My grape vines along the fenceline are planted in drums and are doing quite well. None of the large pots on this property cost a great deal of money.
    I recycle my potting soil by putting it through my compost. I get good soil with lots of lovely growing medium in a matter of weeks. I do the same with cheap potting mix.
    My 4 year old garden is now providing us with most of our fruit and veg. The effort is so worth it.

  14. We are repurposing our garden en are cutting back on the veggiepatch at the moment. One thing we still invest in is fruit, I think it tastes so much better than the fruit I buy, especially soft fruit like raspberries and such. A big plastic tub, used to mix cement in at one time, is going to be for strawberries. So far we haven't been able to enjoy a lot of strawberries here, the birds and snails got to them first. So with putting them high up in that tub and put a net over it (that was hard to do in the open soil the way we had it laid out before) we are hoping to eat a lot of the strawberries ourselves this year. To me nothing tastes as good as a homegrown sweet strawberrie!

  15. We have planted our potatoes in wicking beds that we have made ourselves. Our best crop was the one we planted in the ground where the turmeric used to be. Just thinking about them makes my mouth water! I like them boiled served with salt and lashings of nut butter.

  16. Rhonda, I am a little late on this but I was wondering if you can grow blueberries in pots? We get a lot of snow in the winter so I was thinking of putting them in the storage shed then. Thank you for any help with this.

    1. I grow my blueberries in large pots, Cate. I do it so I can move them around when it's very hot. I think the same would apply in your conditions so give it a try.

  17. Thank you, Rhonda. I will try this then.

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