Spring is one of my favorite times of year for so many reasons, but especially because we plant our patio garden! We’ve been planting a patio garden for 12 years and it is the most inspiring experience! I love how quickly the little seedlings we purchase at a local nursery grow into the most productive and amazing greens and herbs! And there is nothing better than heading into your backyard to pick lettuce to make a salad, or Swiss chard to make a quesadilla, or herbs to make a salad dressing or season a sauce! It’s such a powerful experience to grow your own food and it tastes fresher than anything you can ever imagine!
The last few years, I’ve shared the journey of growing our garden from planting to harvesting on Instagram stories and after more requests than I can count, I’m finally sharing the how tos and our best tips here! So I hope you join us and grow a patio garden this year!
My husband and I have been growing vegetables and herbs in patio pots for over 10 years. It started small and each year we’ve added some, changed some things, learned a lot and have had a ton of fun!
When we moved to the suburbs 12 years ago, we knew we wanted to start a garden.
My family always had a garden (my great-grandfather had the most amazing garden, my grandmother grew a garden as did my mom) and my husband’s family owned a greenhouse for years and sold vegetables, herbs and flowers. So, we were destined to give it a try!
Plus the boys loved their grandmother’s garden and we thought they would love to watch things grow and then pick fresh veggies to eat!
We didn’t have an obvious place in our yard to start a garden, and there were the obvious concerns of animals getting to it.
Nowadays, there are raised garden beds and attractive fenced in spaces but that wasn’t an easy option 12 years ago.
But we had a beautiful patio with a ledge, so we decided to just plant a few pots on the ledge and so it all began…
Over the years, we acquired an eclectic mix of beautiful clay pots and we have tried our hand at lettuce, kale, Swiss chard, tomatoes of all kinds, cucumbers, eggplant and lots of herbs.
So sharing here, our experience and best tips for growing your own patio garden!
- We live in Connecticut, so our experience and timing is based on the weather in the Northeast. Check your gardening zone.
- We have only ever planted a patio garden. Lots of our tips apply to in ground as well but there are other considerations with an in ground or raised garden.
Let’s make this an interactive and ongoing Blog Post!
My objective with this post is to create an ongoing story which we’ll add to as plant our own garden and to create one space where I will answer questions about it.
So starting off with some general learnings and tips we’ve gained over the years.
Then, what you should be doing now if you want to plant a garden this year.
Finally, in the comments, I’ll answer all your questions!
Tips for Growing a Patio Garden
1. Start small!
Our current patio garden is expansive, but it didn’t start that way!
We started with some small pots on a ledge with herbs, then each year we added some more larger pots. Some years we purchased clay pots and others we purchased large plastic ones.
We also learned a lot each year about what grows well in our geographical area and our yard in particular.
And we learned what we loved to grow and eat!
So if this is your first year, don’t think you need to do it all at once! In the next section, Planning and Prepping, I talk more about how to choose where to begin.
2. What grows well in patio pots
In our experience, here is what grows really well in patio pots… Greens like lettuce, kale, and Swiss chard and all herbs are the easiest to grow.
It is tougher, though not impossible to grow fruits like tomatoes, cucumbers and eggplant in patio pots.
They are more challenging because they thrive and blossom in the sunny, warmer weather and require a lot of water, but with patio pots you don’t have a deep root system able to absorb water as needed from the earth, so you need to be willing and able to water them a lot — sometimes twice a day!
And it is a bit of a balancing act between under and over watering them.
In the past two years, we haven’t grown tomatoes, cucumbers or eggplant because we find we’re often traveling a lot in August when they are beginning to blossom and it was harder to stay on top it.
If you do opt to grow tomatoes, cucumbers or eggplant, look for smaller varieties…. such as patio or cherry tomatoes, pickling cucumbers, and the Japanese eggplant.
Not sure when/ what to plant in your area? Ask your local nursery/ garden center for help! They are awesome and happy to share their knowledge!
3. Planting Basics – timing/ weather
A basic gardening rule of thumb, whether you’re planting patio pots or in ground, is that greens are great in cooler, damp weather, herbs do well in moderate weather and tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini and the like do best in the warmer weather….
So, here in the Northeast, greens do great in May, June and early July. Herbs do great starting mid to late May, and you shouldn’t plant things like tomatoes until closer to Memorial Day when things start to warm up.
Even with that, the greens and herbs will be productive almost immediately, while the tomatoes, cucumbers, etc won’t start producing fruit till closer to August around here.
Again, ask your local nursery/garden center if you need help in your area!
UPDATE: It may also be helpful to check out the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map as a general rule of thumb.
4. Size of pots
I often get asked about the size of pots and what size should you plant in. Part of the answer depends on your space.
But in general:
- Lettuce and greens do better in larger pots.
- Herbs can be grown in smaller or larger pots, depending on how much you like an herb and plan to use it. We use smaller pots for things like mint, lemon, thyme, chives and oregano and larger pots for basil, parsley and rosemary because we use those herbs so often.
- Fruits like tomatoes, cucumbers and eggplant need larger pots because they grow quite large and need the water and space for their roots.
This was our garden last year…
5. Potting Soil and fertilizer
It is best to use organic potting soil if you can. The soil really impacts the success of the garden!
And I am often asked why we use new soil each year… there are 2 reasons:
- first, since potted plants can’t draw nutrients from the soil in the ground, it helps to give them fresh organic potting soil which is rich in nutrients
- second, to protect the pots, we store them inside each winter, removing the soil first, so we have to get new soil!
And pro-tip, you always need more potting soil than you think!
And it’s important to fertilize when your first plant and then again every 2-3 weeks, especially in beginning.
We use just a small amount of Miracle Grow Organic fertilizer.
6. Keeping animals away
I am often asked if animals eat our patio plants and how we keep them away.
The short answer is one year we had a groundhog that ate everything, no matter what we did… But most years, we have found the animals stay away from our patio pots, at least until mid-August.
One thing we do to try and help keeping animals away is to spray the outside of the pots with a certified organic, natural, deer/ animal repellent. We tend to do this every 2-3 weeks.
Just a heads up, it smells horrible!
You can purchase this online or at a local nursery/ garden center. When we get ours this year, I’ll share the brand.
UPDATE: This is the brand we use. We purchase it out at our local nursery… I found it on Amazon but haven’t added a link yet because the pricing seems really high, so check out your local store first.
7. Garden Upkeep – watering, fertilizing, harvesting, weeding!
Once you plant your garden, there is a certain amount of work involved on a regular basis to keep it all growing!
It requires daily watering (maybe not in the beginning or if it is raining a lot) but once it’s sunny and warmer, you need to plan on watering daily, sometimes twice a day as it gets into July and August.
Also, you should plan on fertilizing every 2-3 weeks.
Finally, and this is the fun part, you need harvest or pick your produce! The more you pick your herbs or greens and use them, the more they will grow!
8. Enjoy it!
Lastly, planting a garden and watching it grow from seedlings to product you serve at lunch or dinner is amazing! So hope you love it!
What you should be doing now…
Planning and Prepping!
Late April/ Early May: Now is the time to be planning your garden and preparing for it.
Especially if this is your first year growing a garden, here is what you should be thinking about:
- What do you want to grow? If you’ve never grown a garden, think about what you like and what you think you’ll use. And think about where you’ll be placing your pots/ the type of sunlight the area gets. And again, start small!
- Where will you put your pots? What kind of sunlight does the area get?
- Do you already own pots you can use? or Do you need to purchase some? If you need to purchase some, where will you purchase them? We’ve purchased them at a local nursery/ garden center or even a place like Home Depot.
- Where will you purchase your plants and potting soil? Do you have a local nursery/ garden center/ home depot that sells seedlings (or flats of small plants)
- You can purchase your potting soil! Pro-Tip: You will need more than you think!
- Place your pots outside, purchase your potting soil and even put the soil in the pots so you’re ready to go!
Our Patio, now, April 2020:
Finally, when it warms up a bit, head to your local nursery and choose your plants!
This year, with social distancing, many places are letting you order over the phone and pick up. So check with your local nursery so you know the best way to proceed this year.
Up next… Planting!
April 25th: Planting our hardy greens!
So we decided to plant about 2 weeks earlier this year than usual. But we decided to start with only our hardy greens which thrive in the cool, damp weather we are having now.
So we planted green and red lettuce, Swiss chard, kale, rosemary and curly parsley, all things we have successfully grown in the past.
We plant seedlings, which are small plants with a little soil and root structure (see photo below), and we plant them so that they are just covered with soil.
Then we water each of the planted seedlings with a mix of water and a little miracle grown (about one scoop per gallon and 1/2 watering can, but read the directions on the box)
Also, you may notice we did not over crowded the planters because they will expand and grow big, soon enough!
Tell me…. Are you growing a garden this year? Is it your first time or have you been growing one for years? What are you growing?
And ask me anything! I’ll answer your questions in the comment below.