by Tamara Oliver
If you have limited or no ground in which to grow plants, but yearn for green flowering things in your life, container gardening is a great option. It's also the most efficient gardening method for a beginning gardener, especially if you only kind of give a shit about the outcome.
Container gardening is exactly what it sounds like — gardening done in containers, instead of directly in the ground. It's been around for a while, but maybe you've been living in the same Netflix cave that we were, cribbing fashion tips from all 12 seasons of Murder, She Wrote, and you missed the trend. It's okay; we're here to get you caught up.
The same principles apply to indoor and outdoor container gardening: you don't have to do it perfectly, some things won't work out, and you'll need a few basics to get started.
Gardener, Know Thyself
Getting started, it helps to know what you want out of a garden. Food? Flowers? Dirty hands? The science-y part of learning about soil chemistry and growth cycles and plant biology? The awe-inspiring process of watching something grow that you can then kill and eat like an all-powerful demigod of yore? Yes, yes, yes, yes, and YESSSSS.
Next, get honest about how much experience you have growing things. Not everyone is born with a green thumb; some of us have the Black Thumb of Death and leave death and decay in our wake. Knowing your aptitude for growing things will help you achieve moderate success and ultimately will save you from having to give a shit.
It's also important to look at your budget. Many talented hands have eked beauty and sustenance out of a few seeds and a scratch in the earth's crust, and some people can spend luxuriously on this truly stunning AYFKM $895 ceramic planter, but most of us will likely fall somewhere in between. You can get started for as little as $20 spent on potting soil and seeds or plants.
Get It Together
You will need to organize a few essentials to get started. This isn't reality TV; don't mope around Home Depot on a Saturday hoping to get picked for Yard Crashers — a crew of moderately attractive dudes of appealing variety are not coming to landscape your yard. There are a lot of opportunities for euphemism in that last sentence, but that isn't helping you learn how to garden right now. At the very least you will need:
Containers: What kinds of containers are suitable for gardening? Anything that will be big enough for the plant to grow to its natural full size. Little seedlings can start out in cups, and it gives all those red plastic cups a second life while conveniently freeing you from the judging eyes of your neighbors peering in at the contents of your recycling bin. Reduce, reuse, don't even rinse them out — beer is great for gardens!
Dirt: Gardening snobs and farmers will roll their eyes at you for calling it "dirt" but it just is. There is potting soil and top soil, and then there is just dirt you can dig up out of your own yard with your bare hands in the night; we aren't here to judge where you bury your bodies. Suffice it to say that you need some sort of planting medium in which to put the plant. You have to say that phrase, "planting medium" in your snottiest, most nasal, shittiest tone of voice, too, but only if you buy organic.
Plants: Do yourself a massive favor and buy seedlings from a garden center or farm stand. Growing plants from seed is a giant pain in the ass and requires giving a shit about the life you're coaxing from the remnants of plant sex, which is fine if that's what stamens your pistil. For the rest of us, growing from seed is just annoying because it takes forever and seeds are fussy and moody and shitty.
Pick seedlings and plants that seem well formed and healthy; avoid things that are tipping over in their pots, are dried out and wilting or yellowing from overwatering, or any kind of black, white, or red spots — spots that move are the worst and you have to seriously give a shit about gardening to do battle with critters on your plants.
Most important is to get plants that please you. Who cares if it's not native, not heirloom, or not designed for your climate? Try anything once, and when it dies and you feel like a failure, Google how to raise that plant and try again next year. If you want to grow a prize-winning pumpkin, you're going to have to really get into this, which means giving a huge shit. But with only kind of giving a shit you can grow enough cherry tomatoes on your back porch to keep yourself in salad for a season.
Ah, Ah, Ah, Ah, Stayin’ Alive
You're doing it — you're really gardening! Now that you have successfully put plants in dirt in containers, you will need to raise them into the creatures you will eventually kill for their beauty and to steal their life force. To do this, the best thing you can do is keep them warm, watered, and in the sun.
By warm we mean not below 50 degrees F. Most plants prefer not to freeze their little leaves off overnight. Water them so that the soil is damp enough to just barely stick to your finger if you poke it — do not drown the poor, defenseless creatures. You cannot prove your love for them through watering. Sun typically means full sun, unless you've found a plant that specifically needs indirect light (houseplants, mostly), partial sun, or shade. Grow lights are a giant pain in the ass and require you to give a shit while the sun is entirely, gloriously free.
Once you have water and sun situated, the trick to gardening is to actually sit back and let nature take her course. Just poke at them once in a while, talk to them if you're so inclined, give them gifts — whatever floats your boat. Personally, I like to gather my plants together and give them a spirited pep talk, like an over-enthusiastic youth softball coach. A good friend gives all her seedlings the same earnest sendoff of "Godspeed, little broccoli." Another friend puts something sparkly in every pot as an offering to the faeries so they don't fuck with her flowers.
Over time you'll figure out what works for you and your plants in your climate, but don't be afraid to try a bunch of things and get weird with it — the plants can't look at you with that shitty, judging expression your cat does. If you really kind of do give a shit, you can Google how to optimize the growth of the plants in your collection. In as few as three to four weeks you can be enjoying blooming flowers, lettuce that you grew yourself, and soon after that your little tomatoes will be plumping on the vine.
But the best part about not really giving a shit about your container garden is that you can abandon this process at any time and go directly to the store or farm stand and just buy a fresh goddamn tomato.
Tamara Oliver is great at banana bread but pretty awful at Twitter. Find her there and admire her socks @sensoryoverlord.