If we have a space to grow a raised bed garden then why should we consider a container garden? I hope this post will help you understand the differences and why you may even consider growing both of them.
A container garden will help you grow most plants in containers such as pots, grow bags, paint buckets, or even kiddy pools. A raised bed garden uses a raised bed of soil usually 8-12 inches deep. This helps you prepare the best soil conditions suitable to grow many plants.
Each of these methods of gardening has its advantages and disadvantages. I’ll help you make the decision whether you should choose container gardening, raised bed gardening, or a combination of both.
What is container gardening?
Container gardening means you’re growing plants in containers. This could be any container such as pots, grow bags, buckets, paint cans, kiddie pools, wine barrels, even old boots.
You can grow plants in containers that are 4-inches to 24-inches. This depends on the plant you want to grow in the container.
What is raised bed gardening?
Raised bed gardening means you’re growing plants in a raised bed. This bed could be just a mound of soil raised from its surrounding area.
Or it could be a bed made with planks, bricks, or concrete blocks. A raised bed garden is usually 8-12 inches deep.
Should you grow a container garden or a raised bed garden?
I asked 500+ gardeners what is their preferred method of gardening. Below are the results of that survey.
It was interesting to see that a lot of them used both container gardening or raised bed gardening. Some were growing plants using both methods as well.
If you have very limited space such as a patio, apartment balcony, windowsill, driveway, rooftop, or just an apartment then you can only use container gardening.
If you have a backyard then you can consider growing either a container garden or a raised bed.
You could even consider growing both if you want to grow a lot of plants and your backyard space is not sufficient. You can have the raised bed in the backyard and the containers on your patio, balcony, driveway, rooftop, or even the backyard itself.
Let’s look at some of the factors that can help you decide which type of garden you would prefer to grow.
Location of the plants
I’ve already mentioned that the location is the most important part of gardening. So much that it influences which type of garden you can have.
If you have limited growing space in your apartment or house such as a balcony, patio, driveway, rooftop, container gardening is the only choice you have.
If you have limited space in your backyard then it may be better to choose container gardening than a raised bed. You can use techniques like vertical gardening to increase the number of plants you will be able to grow.
If you have plenty of space in your front or back yard then you have the option to choose between container gardening and raised bed gardening. Or grow both kinds.
We have one raised bed that my GF wanted for her herbs, but they could have been grown in the ground. Some people just like the look of raised beds or containers, and she is one of them. – Chris
Sunlight requirement of the plants
The next important factor is the sunlight that your location receives. If the location in your backyard receives plenty of sunlight then you can pick any type of gardening.
If the location does not receive good sunlight, then you may need to go with container gardening as you can place the containers in locations near your house that get the required sunlight.
If you still want to go with raised bed gardening you will be able to grow only plants that need shade or partial sunlight.
Soil requirement of the plants
One of the reasons people choose to grow a raised bed or container garden is because their garden soil is very poor.
It may contain too much clay or sand. Or it may not have good drainage. Maybe it has harmful chemicals that were sprayed on a lawn that was previously grown.
So with the raised bed or container garden, you prepare your own soil that is the most suitable to grow plants. It will have the right texture to retain sufficient moisture and aeration for the plants.
You will need to create good garden soil suitable for a raised bed. This will have to be a mixture of good topsoil, compost, and fertilizer.
If you’re thinking about a container garden, you need to create good potting soil. This can be a mixture of perlite, vermiculite, peat moss or coco coir, compost, and fertilizer.
Creating your own soil is expensive whether you use raised bed or container garden. But it’s important if you want to grow healthy plants.
The good thing is you can reuse the garden soil in a raised bed or the potting soil in a container garden. You’ll need to reintroduce nutrients and the right texture to the soil by adding compost and fertilizer for every growing season.
Plants you can grow
You can have a raised bed garden that is 12 inches deep and several feet wide. This makes it suitable to grow almost any plant you want.
If you use container gardening, the type of plant you can grow depends on the container you’re using. If the container is small, you can only grow small plants. If the container is a large size, you can grow some of the larger plants.
If you have sufficient space whether, in a raised bed or container, you should be able to grow any plant. However, it’s much easier to get the required space in a raised bed than in a container.
It’s obvious that if you’re looking to move your plants and arrange them every few months then container gardening is for you.
You may also move the containers as the season changes and you want your plants to get the available sunlight. Or you may want to protect them from the intense sunlight during summer.
You may also want to move the plants to a secure location when the weather is bad with heavy wind or rain.
If the containers are small you can move them as you wish. But if the containers are large, you may have trouble lifting them.
I would recommend you place the containers on a trolley before you start growing plants in them. This will help you move the containers with ease when you want to.
Number of plants to grow
If you want to grow a lot of plants such as growing edibles to feed your family raised bed gardening is the better choice than container gardening.
You can grow lots of plants in containers if you wish but growing them in raised beds is much more efficient. You can grow the plants in an efficient setup where you have more plants per square foot. And the plants get better space between each other as well as in the soil.
If you just want to grow a few plants then it’s better to choose container gardening. You don’t need to worry about creating a raised bed and spending money on the required soil.
You can make your own container garden with a few containers that will make it a lot more efficient and cheaper as well.
Our house already had raised beds when we bought it but my gardening ambition far exceeds the capacity of our raised beds. So I do root vegetables and greens mostly in the boxes because they can be protected from pests and things that get “big” in ground. – Shana
Watering needs of the plants
You need to take more care of container plants than those in a raised bed when it comes to watering.
This is because the plants in containers have limited soil from where they can get the required moisture. This limited space in the soil causes the moisture to dry out faster than in a raised bed.
This can be a hassle if you have several container plants that you need to water every day. Then it may be better that you choose raised bed gardening that would need less of this effort.
You can solve this issue with container gardening by automating the watering needs of the plant. You can use drip irrigation with a timer so the plants get the required water at the required time.
You can use this drip irrigation method with raised beds as well. Just set the timer and the required flow of water in the drip irrigation system.
Fertilizing the plants
Similar to watering the plants, you need to provide more care to plants’ nutrient needs in a container than in a raised bed. So if you want to spend less time fertilizing the plants go for raised bed gardening.
The potting soil you use in plants is sterile so it does not contain any nutrients. You add the nutrients when preparing the soil using materials like compost and organic fertilizer.
Since the plant is in a container and the roots can’t reach out into the ground, you need to provide fertilization every few weeks to most plants. This could be applying organic slow-release or liquid fertilizer at the required time.
The soil in a raised bed contains plenty of nutrients because of the compost and fertilizer you added when preparing it. You will need to add fertilizer and compost to replenish the soil but it’s less often than in a container.
You may need to add the compost and fertilizer every month or couple of months to a raised bed to give the soil a boost of nutrients for the plants.
Mulching the plants
You need to mulch the plants whether you grow them in a container garden or a raised bed. Mulching is the process of laying out organic material such as dried leaves, straw, grass clippings, wood chips on the soil near the base of the plants.
The mulch helps insulate the soil near the plants so the temperature remains regulated. The soil won’t lose moisture as fast. The change in temperature will also not affect the soil as quickly.
You spread the mulch near the base of the plant making sure it’s not touching the plant as you want to avoid pests and diseases from the soil reaching it.
It will take you the same effort to use the mulch near the plant whether you’re growing them in containers or raised beds.
Removing weeds from the plants
The potting soil you use for container plants is sterile. This reduces the chances of weeds reaching the soil.
There can be weeds growing in the raised bed garden and you need to remove them out as soon as they pop up.
So if you’re looking to spend less time taking out weeds container gardening may be suitable for you.
There will still be some weeds growing in containers because birds, animals, and wind may drop some seeds in them. But these will be a lot less than what you would see in a raised bed garden.
Dealing with pests and diseases
I think you’ll deal with pests and diseases whether you’re growing plants in containers or a raised bed. That’s just nature doing its thing with the cycle of life.
You will need to check on your plants every day to see how they are doing and if they have any issues due to such pests and diseases.
It’s always best to identify the problem as soon as possible so you can take care and get your plant back to health again.
The benefit of growing plants in containers is that they are isolated from each other. This means if one plant gets attacked by a pest or disease, it won’t spread to the others.
You can move the container to an isolated location away from the other plants till you can take care of the problem.
In a raised bed garden, the plants are growing together so an attack by pests or disease may affect a lot of plants at the same time.
In the worst case, you may need to take out the entire plant and either isolate it from the others or dispose of it if the problem is severe.
Physical effort for gardening
In both container gardening and raised bed gardening, plants are grown at a height. This helps reduce stress on your back as you don’t have to bend as much.
You can place the containers on a table or desk so you can tend to the plants sitting on a seat. This is especially beneficial to seniors who can’t spend too much energy working in the garden.
Container plants tend to get fewer weeds than raised beds. This helps reduce the effort you need to spend tending weeds in your garden.
Container plants do need more watering than raised bed plants but that can be automated if you use either a drip irrigation system or self-watering containers.
Personally, I use container gardening because of the limited growing space on my apartment balcony. If you want to learn the basics of container gardening check out the post below,
Here are some of my favorite container gardening tools
Thank you for reading this post. I hope it helps you with your gardening needs. I’ve listed some tools below that can help you with container gardening. These are affiliate links so I’ll earn a commission if you use them.
Gardening Gloves – I find the Pine Tree Tools Bamboo Gardening Gloves really good for both men and women. It’s made from bamboo so helps absorb perspiration. They are also comfortable and fit very well.
Containers – You know picking the right container is crucial for your container gardening. I’ve written a detailed post on the best containers you can choose from. If you’re happy with a plastic container, you can check out the Bloem Saturn Planter.
Watering Can – This is a must-have tool when you’re growing plants in pots or grow bags. It helps to water the potting soil without splashing on the foliage. The Kensington Watering Can is stylish, strong, and can provide precision when watering potted plants.
Trowel – Garden Guru Trowel is my favorite because it’s durable and comfortable to use. My gardening friends really love having a trowel because they use it for digging soil, mixing fertilizer, moving seeds, leveling out the soil, mixing compost or mulch, and also dividing tubers
Bypass Pruner – I really like the Corona Bypass Pruner because it’s durable and gives a clean cut that helps plants recover faster. If you’re looking for something cheap, get the Fiskars Bypass Pruner that is really good as well.
To see an extensive list of the best container gardening tools gardeners recommend, check out this resource that I made for you.
Kevin is the founder of Gardening Mentor, a website that aims to teach people to grow their own food in a limited space. As a self-taught gardener, Kevin has spent several years growing plants and creating gardening content on the website. He is certified in Home Horticulture and Organic Gardening by expert gardeners from Oregon State University.