Container Gardening vs Raised Beds: The Scoop

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Are you trying to decide between these popular methods of gardening? Raised beds and container gardens are my two favorite gardening methods. I utilize both, and they’re tops for people who have the two-fold problem of limited space and dysfunctional soil.

Sometime around 2015 or so (I think…) I started to experiment with growing plants in containers. I always remember staking out a plot in the backyard one day and testing it out with a shovel to see how workable it could be and what would be in store. After I’d gotten about 8 inches (yes, true story) I realized it was untenable…I was straining with the shovel after three tries…ugh, there had to be a better way!

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comparing gardening practices

Enter the container garden! I remember one year I lived in an apartment and it had a balcony – that could have been the ideal setting however, I couldn’t imagine lugging heavy bags of soil up three flights of stairs….wow, I get exhausted just thinking about that! Anyway, I digress a little…

I have a few 5-gallon buckets I started using for planting, and they worked great for some crop types – mostly for tomatoes and peppers.

One day I hit upon an idea…I went to a local thrift store and bought several of those big 18-gallon Rubbermaid totes. They were missing lids, but that’s OK, as I didn’t need them for this (which is one reason I went to the thrift store, other wise, if I needed lids too, I could have gotten these at Walmart or Target.)

I think I may have told this story before, but I reiterate to make a point about how this is a good option, and doesn’t cost much to get started and how you don’t need fancy materials. I got my cordless drill and proceeded to put some drainage holes in the bottom of each of them.. Then I filled them with the dirt. The resulting crop yield was not that great, for reasons I will elaborate on more shortly.

raised bed vs container gardening

I wasn’t keeping as many photos back then, but I did find one of a tomato and bell pepper plant in 5 gallon utility buckets. This is probably from 2019-20. I had a friend who was using these and it seemed to work out so I followed suit.

Container gardening has some advantages, mainly being great for limited space, and being able to circumvent the poor soil problem. 

Another thing is they are portable, and you can move them, if they’re not getting enough sun in one spot you can transport them to another, so you’re not set in stone. In other words it’s not a done deal if the spot is too shady, too much sun, whatever. Also, when the time comes to winterize them, you can bring them inside, or if a frost that is unexpected should be announced on the weather report, no problem, you can cover them with a blanket or just take them indoors.

It’s somewhat low-commitment, you can experiment and see what works, and they’ll probably produce for one growing season.

Third thing is that you can come up with some unique or artistic planters of your own. If it’s large enough, and hollow, and you can drill drainage holes in it, you can turn it into a planter. One time, just as an experiment, I used one of those mini-pond tubs (it’s about the size of a whiskey barrel) as a planter, and because I didn’t want to drill into it as I thought I might use it again for my next goldfish, so I put a layer of rocks in the bottom…disastrous. The plants all got root rot. So you MUST be able to put drainage holes in the object.

Lastly, you most likely won’t have to deal with weeds.(Who doesn’t love that, right?) Now to be fair, I do get a few stragglers as you can see…

advantages of container gardening

But there are a few disadvantages…namely:

You will have to buy lots of soil (sorry) but you can stretch it a little and add other components like aged compost, potash and straw to the bottom of the container.

They tend to dry out more. you’ll need to be on top of watering them on schedule.

Secondly, fertilizing can be tricky, adjusting the amount for each plant type may take more guesswork.

Nutrients absorption – container plants may be more susceptible to diseases or soil nutrient imbalances. I had tomatoes that were always getting blossom-end rot. It was a real bummer…(Yes, you can cut off that part and eat the rest, but that’s besides the point) With the buckets I was using, it was hard to know what the right ratio of nutrients (like potassium/nitrogen/calcium is correct.

I’ll tell you another thing I ran into….deciding on which plants to group together, some plants self-pollinate, but one exception is zucchini. I planted zucchini in one of my big totes, and after one fruit, it dried up like the Sahara. I think I made the mistake of planting something else with that zucchini (I could get two plants or four in an 18 gal tote) which was not smart.

Some types of plants, like pumpkins and watermelons, spread out and vine way too much to make container gardening practical. You’ll want to stick to things that don’t get conventionally huge, like tomatoes (you will still have to make sure to stake them). Herbs can do well, too, anything that has shallow roots is a good candidate.

Advantages of raised beds over container plants

Now fast forward three years after my husband’s passing, and I meet the love of my life, whose biggest passion in life is horticulture second only to raising animals) Now can you imagine how that can up-level your game? and he introduced me to raised bed gardening, and I haven’t looked back. Because my space is more generous than that of an apartment dweller the where-withal was present.

Does it seem like only yesterday that once that space was just a mess of weeds and grass that I had to spend money to have mowed twice a month if I couldn’t cut it myself, not to mention the trepidation I’d feel wondering if there were snakes in that tall grass. Now the backyard is a joyful place to be!

We do still make use of containers…we buy cat litter that comes in 5 gallon yellow buckets that work great for this purpose so I save them, drill holes in the bottom, and put them to work. I’m also working on planter boxes too, at the moment (we bought a whole slew of those long rectangular boxes at a yard sale a few weeks ago for a steal…)

So the biggest boon of having a raised bed garden is there is a bigger variety of things you can plant! Some things may work for containers, and some may not work well..

Not to mention that it is easier to get the right ratio of nutrients through fertilizers.

But yes, like the pots, you can come up with some clever designs, too.

Wrap-Up

So I hope I have enlightened you well about the advantages as well as disadvantages of both these methodologies. Whichever one you use will depend on your living space and amount you have, plus your budget and know how. Or you can do like me and combine both -heck, kill two birds with one stone, it’s fun!

 

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