Getting started with gardening seems easy at first, but there are definitely ways to make your seedlings' chances of success a little higher. After all, the smallest things have a way of surprising you when you're least prepared for them.

Container gardening, in which you grow seeds in pots or raised beds, can make it much easier to avoid some of the weeds and pests that plague typical gardens. Make sure to borrow or purchase each of the following to start working on your container garden.

Hardy Seeds and a Seed Organizer

radish seeds

The seeds you choose, be they flowers, vegetables, or herbs, have a huge impact on the success of your first container garden. For that reason, you'll find it worthwhile to learn more about your hardiness zone and how well the items you wish to grow tend to perform in it. If you plan to grow a variety of seeds (as many gardeners do), be sure to keep them all in a cool, dry place, and organize them based on which ones are most likely to thrive in your area. Your "organizer" can be anything from an old recipe card holder to a ziploc bag. Anything's better just leaving them loose.

Peat Pots or Biodegradable Mini Pots

If you live in an area where it helps to start seeds indoors first, these little pots that allow roots to grow right through them are a great way to avoid damaging your plants when it's time to transplant them.

Quality Potting Mix

Many gardeners use their own backyard soil in their containers, which sometimes works well if mixed with some kind of compost material for nutrients. The downside to this is that there may already be weed seeds in that soil. If you want at least one year of fairly weed-free gardening, consider purchasing potting soil at your local home improvement store. Many gardeners recommend buying a mixture that's equal parts vermiculite (tiny gravel that helps soil drain), peat moss, and compost. To be in peak condition, soil needs something that helps water move through it and something that fills it with nutrients.

A Watering Can

watering can

Unless you have the world’s smallest container garden, using a large cup to give your plants water is going to get annoying very quickly. The other plus of having a dedicated watering can is that it can be the reminder you need to actually water your plants on those hot days that might otherwise kill them.

Shears or Pruners

Depending on the thickness of the plants you are growing, you’ll want at least one dedicated pair of clippers to help you cut back overgrowth. These can also be helpful for cutting up particularly tenacious weeds before pulling them up, and over the years I've found that having shears or pruners with me just tends to be helpful in general — no matter how small and controlled my garden might seem.

A Sturdy Spade

While a container gardener can usually work all season without needing a large shovel, a spade is incredibly useful for making sure plants seed at the correct depth (as opposed to just leaving them close to the surface). If you grow root vegetables, it can also help to have a spade on hand for harvesting carrots and potatoes.

Strong Work Gloves

work gloves

You can choose your preference when it comes to work gloves, but it's always a good idea to protect yourself, even if it's just from dirt under your fingernails. Leather gloves can be very nice but also provide more protection than the average container gardener needs. A simple pair of cloth gardening gloves, or a pair with a plastic coating for wet-soil work, should be more than enough.

Balanced 10-10-10 Fertilizer

While many container gardens will require little to no fertilizer in their first year, you may still want to try finding one that is balanced exactly for the plants you want to grow — especially if you want to see some substantial fruit or vegetable yields. 10-10-10 is common but by no means the only valuable fertilizer blend. The people in the garden department of the local home improvement store should be able to tell you what their available fertilizers can do for you.


container gardening

To fulfill the "container" part of container gardening, you’ll need to either build raised beds or purchase planters. Planters come in so many shapes and sizes that it's often best to look at the depth requirement for each of your plants and simply pick something deep enough that looks nice. To build raised beds, you’ll need to get your hands on wood and hardware cloth, which keeps roots from digging their way out of the frame and weeds from growing into it.

A Tote or Rack

I always end up with multiple armloads of items when I start a new gardening project, so take it from me when I say that dedicating an old tote bag or plastic tote box to supplies is a great way to keep dirt out of your home. You’ll also have an easier time locating all of your items when you need them.

If you use these tools, all of which are either fairly inexpensive or able to be borrowed, your first year of container gardening will be filled with success and teach you a lot about planning for future years.