Can You Make a Container Garden Out of This? Yes!

By Barbara Pleasant

Last year my friend Eydie said she was done with weeding because she was growing her vegetables in a kiddie-pool garden. “Easy watering and no weeding!” she said, and eagerly planted a soil-filled plastic kiddie pool with lettuce, chard, tomatoes and zucchini. A few months later she reported that everything except the squash prospered, and like thousands of other gardeners using wading pools to grow veggies and herbs, she didn’t pull a single weed.

The past five years have seen a steady increase in the number of gardeners using wading pools to create growing spaces in parking lots, on rooftops, and in space-squeezed yards. The method was pioneered by Dr. Job Ebenezer, president of the nonprofit organization Technology for the Poor, as an inexpensive way for anyone to grow vegetables and herbs.

Setting Up a Wading-Pool Garden

If you have a level spot that receives at least six hours of sun each day, you have a great place for a wading-pool garden. The only modifications the pool needs are six or more drainage holes drilled around the base, about two inches above the bottom of the pool. When heavy thunderstorms flood the pool, the drainage holes will keep the plants from drowning.

Opt for the old-fashioned hard plastic pools rather than the blow-up plastic variety that can contain nasty chemicals.

Place the prepared pool in its permanent location before you fill it with soil or plants because it will get heavy!

At this point you can choose whether you want to fill the pool with soil and plant it like a giant container, or place a group of potted plants in the pool. If you want to fill a five- to six-foot-wide pool and use it as a permanent garden bed, Dr. Ebenezer recommends this mixture as a versatile growth medium for a wide range of plants:

    • One 1.5-cubic-foot package of vermiculite or perlite

    • One 1.5-cubic-foot package of peat moss

    • Seven 40-pound bags of yard-waste compost or humus

    • Seven 40-pound bags of composted manure

If you would rather use containers placed inside the pool, you should have room for five to six large pots, or you can use soil-filled cloth shopping bags as plant containers, arranged a few inches apart in the wading pool. Soft-sided cloth containers never shatter, save on weight, and are pleasing to plants that like a little oxygen around their roots, such as peas and potatoes.

What to Grow in a Wading Pool

In a wading-pool garden the root zone is aboveground, so plants’ roots get warmer than they would if the plants were growing in the ground. This is good news to plants that like warm conditions, including tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, basil and beans. Cucumbers are often phenomenal producers when grown in a wading pool garden, and you can grow a summer’s supply of kitchen herbs in a one wading pool. As the seasons change, new plants can be tucked in to replace old ones that are ready for the compost pile.

But what interests me most is the absence of weeds. Three times in the past, I have given up on growing strawberries because of aggravation from weeds. With help from a kiddie-pool garden, I’m ready for another try.

bpleasantBarbara Pleasant is not just an expert, she’s passionate about everything garden. She’s the author of four books, including Starter Vegetable Gardens: 24 No-Fail Plans for Small Organic Gardens and is a contributing editor to Mother Earth News and the Herb Companion magazines. Her work has garnered her multiple awards.