What Is A Container Garden? (Plus 11 Inspiring Ideas To Try)

A container garden can make a great addition to your home, either indoors or outdoors.  There are lots of options when it comes to what you can grow and how you can grow it.

So, what is a container garden?  A container garden uses pots, buckets, planters, raised beds, cold frames, window boxes, grow bags, and other containers to grow plants (including fruits, vegetables, herbs, or ornamentals). A container garden is a great choice for balconies, decks, patios, or indoors where growing space is limited.

Containers gardens also make it easier to protect frost-sensitive plants by bring them indoors when the seasons change.

In this article, we’ll talk about what container gardens are and why you might want to use them.  We’ll also give some ideas for what you can use to grow plants in a container garden and when to choose each option.

Let’s get started.

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What Is A Container Garden?

A container garden makes use of pots, buckets, planters, and other types of containers to grow plants.  You can grow edible plants (fruits, vegetables, and herbs) or ornamentals in a container garden.

pallet raised bed
A container garden can use lots of different types of containers to grow a wide variety of plants.

A container garden is great if you have limited space, but you can put one in a larger space as well.  Container gardens have other benefits as well.

Advantages Of Container Gardening

Some of the advantages of container gardening include:

  • Saved Space – container gardens are great for patios, decks, balconies, or indoors when space is limited.  You can use containers that are just large enough for the space you have, and you can also opt for plants that grow vertically instead of horizontally.
  • Portability – plants in containers are easier to move indoors (to avoid cold and frost in winter) and outdoors (to take advantage of warmer weather).  This also makes it easier to rearrange your container garden if you add and remove plants, or if you just want to change things up!
  • Keeps Plants Small – growing plants in containers naturally limits their size.  The roots cannot grow beyond the boundaries of the container, and this restricted root size will also restrict the size of the plant above the soil line.
  • Conserve Water – instead of wasting water by wetting the ground between plants, you can get all of the water you use in the container.  If you put a tray underneath the container and holes in the bottom, any excess water can drain down (the soil can soak it back up if it gets dry).
  • Improved Drainage – the soil in containers will drain a little faster than soil in the ground, due to the effect of gravity.  This is helpful for plants that cannot tolerate wet soil (such as many succulents and cacti).
  • Prevent Spreading Plants – many plants will spread on and on if you don’t restrict their growth.  Herbs (such as dill or mint) are culprits of this.  Keeping these spreading plants in a container means you can get them in part of your garden – not all over the place!
potted plant
Container gardening is nice because the elevation above ground means faster drainage and less chance of over watering.

To be fair, there are also some drawbacks of container gardens as well.

For example, the soil in a raised container is not insulated as well as soil in the ground.  That means a cold night could be worse for plants in a container.

Also, containers drain faster, so you might need to water more often.  This is especially true for thirsty plants and sandy soil.

If you need ways to keep your plants watered (even if you don’t have much time), check out this article for ideas.

11 Cool Container Gardening Ideas

If you are interested in ideas for a container garden, there is much more available than just pots.  You can use lots of different things made of various materials to grow plants in a container garden.

Some interesting ideas for container gardening include:

  • Clay Pots
  • Plastic Buckets
  • Wooden Planters
  • Raised Beds
  • Cold Frames
  • Window Boxes
  • Grow Bags
  • Pieces Of Pottery
  • Hanging Planters
  • Metal Stock Tanks
  • Stakes & Trellises (To Go Vertical!)

The University of Massachusetts has some guidelines about container sizes for various plants, which you can find here.

Clay Pots

Clay pots are a good choice for a container garden for several reasons.  For one thing, you can paint them on the outside to look however you want.

Clay pots are also porous, and so they allow water and air to move in and out of soil.  This prevents plants from “drowning” in wet soil and getting root rot.

clay pots
Clay pots are porous, allowing water and air to move in and out of soil.

Clay pots help to insulate soil and protect plants from rapid temperature changes.

However, there are some drawbacks.  Clay pots are heavier than plastic, so they are a little harder to move around.

They are also more likely to shatter if you drop them.  Finally, better drainage also means more frequent watering if you have plants that cannot tolerate drought.

So, clay pots might be a good bet for plants like succulents and cacti.

succulent echeveria
Clay pots might be a good choice for succulents and other plants that need good drainage.

You can learn more about clay pots vs plastic pots here.

Plastic Buckets

If you like to recycle, you can use plastic buckets to grow plants in your container garden.  Since they come in various sizes, you can almost certainly find one that fits your needs:

  • Small buckets would work great for herbs or bonsai.
  • Medium buckets would be good for small plants (dwarf varieties of tomatoes, peppers, etc.)
  • Large buckets would be best for dwarf citrus trees.

Remember to add any drainage holes you need before you fill your bucket with soil.  Secure the bucket and use a drill to makes holes (rather than trying to cut with a knife).

5 gallon bucket
A 5-gallon bucket provides some space for growing, and also plenty of depth for roots.

After the holes are drilled, put the bucket where you want to grow.  Then, fill it with soil and put the plant in its new home.

Leave a little space at the top for watering.  Otherwise, water can wash right over the edge of the bucket!

If a cold night threatens, you can pile up mulch (or a frost blanket) around the container.  You could also dig a hole and put it in the ground for some extra cold protection.

Wooden Planters

You can use what looks like a wooden bucket to add style to your yard and also provide a place for your plants to grow.

planter box pink flowers
A wooden planter adds style to your yard. You can combine tall plants, short plants, and creeping plants into one arrangement.

A wooden planter might look great if you grow a variety of plants:

  • Tall plants to grow vertically (you could provide some stakes or a trellis for support to hang onto as they grow).
  • Short, leafy plants to provide ground cover (this shades the soil to keep it cooler and prevent evaporation, hopefully also preventing growth of weeds).
  • Dangling or creeping plants (these crawl along the ground to fill in empty spaces or climb over the edge of the wooden planter).

You might also be able to find planters made out of plastic that look like wood.  Just make sure that they are food-safe if you will be growing edible plants in them!

Raised Beds

Raised beds elevate soil at least 6 inches above the ground.  Some are quite tall and raise soil a few feet off the ground.

wooden raised garden beds
Raised beds elevate soil above ground level, keeping some pests away and also offering improved drainage.

Often, their height is chosen to accommodate gardening for people who have trouble bending over or stooping.  Raised beds have numerous other benefits as well.

Like other containers, raised beds help to improve soil drainage and reduce erosion.  They can also keep pests out (both insect and animal).

Many times, raised beds are made of wood.  However, you can also find some made of other materials, including stone and plastic (you can learn more about the best materials for raised beds here).

stone raised bed
Raised beds can also be made of stone, in addition to wood and plastic.

There are lots of things you can use for raised beds – you can get 10 interesting ideas here.

Cold Frames

A cold frame is sort of like a mini greenhouse.  It is made of wood and plastic or glass, but it is not really big enough for a person to fit inside.

cold frame
A cold frame is like a mini greenhouse that keeps plants a little warmer.

However, it does keep plants warm, just like a greenhouse.  A cold frame is a great option to keep plants warm if you want to put them outside a little earlier than normal.

You could probably fashion a cold frame out of other containers as well.

You can learn more about cold and frost protection for plants here.

Window Boxes

A window box is a great way to add to your container garden if you have limited space.  You can put one of these on any window – you just need to find one that is the right size.

rustic planter box
A window box can be hung up anywhere, but you can one on every window if you can find the right sizes.

A window box is ideal for herbs and other plants that don’t get too tall.  After all, you don’t want tall plants blocking out all the sunlight from your windows!

You can learn more about other ways to start a garden without a yard (or with limited space) here.

Grow Bags

Grow bags are an interesting option for your container garden.  They are water-permeable and breathable, so your plants should be able to get enough moisture and air (as long as you water them enough).

burlap canvas
Grow bags are made of fabric like canvas or burlap. They can last for several years with proper care.

They are made of fabric (such as canvas), so they are light when empty and easy to fold up.  This makes them easy to store at the end of the season.  Even better, grow bags can last for up to 10 years (depending on the material they are made from and how you care for them).

Grow bags are best for shallow-rooted plants (lettuce, spinach, etc.) or ones that will not grow too tall (herbs, flowers, etc.).  You can learn more about the types of plants you can grow in a grow bag here.

You can learn more about the pros and cons of grow bags here.

Pieces Of Pottery

You can also use old pottery for a container garden.  Anything that looks interesting and can hold some soil could be used to grow plants.

clay pots
You can use pieces of pottery to add an interesting look to your container garden.

You could paint the pottery with pictures and words to match whatever you are growing in the container (flowers, herbs, etc.)

This is a good way to reuse pottery that you don’t want to keep in the house, but also don’t want to throw away.

Hanging Planters

Hanging planters have rope or hooks attached to a metal, wooden, or plastic basket (sometimes coconut coir) that is filled with soil.  These are great if your space is really limited, since you can add another “level” to your container garden: plants at ground level (in pots, buckets, etc.) and plants at eye level (in hanging planters).

hanging pot
Hanging planters add another “level” to your container gardening if ground space is tight.

I like the idea of planting hanging or crawling plants (strawberries for edible fruit, squash for vegetables, or philodendron for ornamentals).  You can let the vines spill over the edges of the hanging basket and hang down (maybe all the way to the ground if you want).

Metal Stock Tanks

Metal stock tanks are often used for food or water for livestock.  However, you can repurpose them into planters for your container garden.

Since metal stock tanks tend to be large, they are good if you want to plant several of the same type of plant.  They also tend to resist rust, since they are often used for watering.

metal stock tank
You can use a metal stock tank as part of your container garden if you want to grow lots of the same plant in one dedicated area.

You could paint the outside of a metal stock tank to give it a nicer appearance.  You could also use creeping or hanging plants and let them crawl over the edge of the stock tank to cover up the outside.

Stakes & Trellises (To Go Vertical!)

Stakes and trellises are another way to get more out of your container garden.  They let you “grow vertical” and save precious space on the ground when you are growing in a small area.

If you have a small pot, you can use a light mini-trellis to give plants something to climb. If you have a larger pot, you can use a taller trellis or stake to provide something more substantial.

tomato stake
Use stakes to provide extra support for tall plants in your container garden.

I think that the best materials for a trellis are bamboo, aluminum, and vinyl (you can learn more here).  A 6-foot tall trellis will be sufficient for most climbing plants.

Note: it might be a good idea to put some rocks or bricks at the bottom of a container with a stake or trellis.  The extra weight will prevent the whole thing from falling over (plants get more top-heavy as they grow taller).

wood trellis
Use a trellis to give plants a place to grow vertically in your container garden.

For more inspiration, you can get some unique and unusual ideas for a garden trellis here.


Now you know what a container garden is and why you might want to start one.  You also have some ideas to use as inspiration.

If you need to figure out the volume of your compost bin, try our soil volume calculator here! (or, get an idea of how to do calculations by hand here)

You can learn about 7 good reasons to start a garden here.

You can get some inspiration for perennials to plant in a container garden here.

You can learn how to improve drainage for potted plants here.

You can learn about fruit trees that grow in pots (and how to keep them small) here.

You can also get some ideas for practical garden projects to beautify your yard here.

You can learn more about Greek gardens (and get some ideas for plants) here.

I hope you found this article helpful.  If so, please share it with someone who can use the information.

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Jon M

Hi, I'm Jon. Let's solve your gardening problems, spend more time growing, and get the best harvest every year!

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