DIY container gardening in a small area

Storage tubs can be used in containers for gardening

Hawaii is home to the most geographically isolated human population in the world. In view of the current COVID-19 pandemic and more than half a million residential units on the islands, growing vegetables in containers is ideal for small spaces: apartments, condominiums, terraces and areas with poor soil conditions. With enough growing space, soil drainage and ventilation, sunlight, adequate nutrients and irrigation, people can grow vegetables quickly – right at home.

university Hawaii at the Mānoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources Cooperative Extension Service Agents Jari Sugano and Kalani Matsumura provide tips on converting frequently discarded items in vegetable gardens that produce food.

Plant in a milk cartonOld milk cartons can be used as planters

Pots and root space

Plastic, clay or cement pots are ideal for vegetable and herb production. But in a pinch, many common household items can be used as planters – leftover plastic containers to take with you, old gutters or storage tubs. Use a little potting soil and fertilizer, making sure to cut or drill enough holes for drainage: about half an inch wide, evenly spaced.

Choosing the right container starts with knowing how much space the roots need to fully develop. Some plants need more root space, like cucumber, eggplant, daikon, soybean, ginger, taro, pumpkin, rosemary, vermin, and pepper. They should be planted in large containers – a 3 to 5 gallon bucket with holes in the bottom is great. Medium-sized plants like spring onions, lettuce, spinach, basil, beans, mint, cabbage, kale, or radish should be placed in 1½ to 2½ gallon containers. Small herbs like mizuna, chives, and parsley can thrive in ½ to 1 gallon containers, like a plastic milk jug with the narrow lid cut off. In general, it is better to plant plants in a larger container than something that is too small, which could limit root development.


Remember, vegetables in containers are prone to the same pests and diseases as vegetables grown in the ground. If soil-borne plant diseases are a problem, try “soilless” potting mixes. Another important aspect is fertilization, especially in Hawaii.

For specific questions, visit the UH Master Gardeners website.

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