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Easy and Cheap Gardening 

By Debbie Roland and Emmy Ulmschneider, Master Gardeners 


You want to start gardening, but you live in an apartment, or have no space to grow in the ground, sigh. But you don’t need much space to grow your own food (or flowers!).  You can grow in a functional, gratifying way by using containers!    


Here’s how to start:    


  • Decide on your container.  Most people grow in pots but one of the best containers is a five-gallon bucket. It is large enough to allow for the growth of roots that most annual vegetables will have.  Your containers must have adequate drainage holes.  The color of your pot is important as well.  A white pot will not soak up as much sun as a black or darker pot.  This might not seem important now, but your plants will thank you for the light-colored pot in July and August.  And the containers do not have to be new.  A garage or estate sale is the perfect place to look for used pots, equipment, and fertilizer.  If you get used pots, be sure you wear gloves and scrub them well before planting in them.   


  • Look at your light.  Plants photosynthesize to grow but how much light they need varies.  The sun will rise in the east, arc over in the south and set in the west. You want your shortest plants facing east so arrange your tall plants at the back and consider a fence to tie them to.  As the sun goes behind the tall plants, they can protect the shorter plants on the east side.   


  • Buy or make a potting mix.  You can’t use topsoil because it is too dense.  For a super simple mix, try 1/3 compost, 1/3 peat moss or coco coir and 1/3 perlite. The peat moss and perlite make a good soil structure to keep the soil from drying out.  Mix thoroughly in your wheelbarrow or a large container.   


  • Fill your containers at the location where your pot will be located.  Pots get heavy when they are full of moist soil and lugging them around your yard might be a problem. Next fill the bucket or large pot to about 5” from the top of the pot; smaller pots about the same ratio.  Finally, finish by watering to saturate the soil.   


  • Plant your plants.  Gently press the sides of the pot your new plant is in and pull the plant out.  If it looks like the roots are bound tightly, simply pull them loose before planting.   It is a good idea to add a mycorrhizal inoculant to the base of the plant then place the plant in the bucket and backfill.  Add more soil if needed.  Press down to fill any airspace that might be in the pot.  Water one more time.  To water easily, leave some space at the top of your container. 


  • Water your plants.  In our West Texas summer, the buckets will dry out quickly.  Check the soil moisture; a long screwdriver should penetrate the soil easily.   Consider adding woodchip mulch around your new plant.  It is important not to let your plant get completely dry.  Check daily. 


  • Feed your plants.  Since your plant’s roots can’t reach for nutrients, it is important to feed your plants regularly using fish emulsion or an organic fertilizer with macronutrients.  Mix a small amount of your potting mix with the fertilizer and add a little.   


If you have questions, call the AgriLife office in Odessa at 498-4071 or in Midland at 686-4700.   Additional information, and our blog for access to past articles, is available at  Click on “Resources”.  


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