How to container garden vegetables?

Contents

How to Grow a Plentiful Container Vegetable Garden

Why go to the effort of growing vegetables rather than simply buying them at the store? Well, vegetable gardens allow you to grow produce that you typically cannot find at your local supermarket—and they’re way easier than you think! A container vegetable garden places delicious veggies right outside of your door. Use our tips and tricks to learn everything you need to know before planting your own container vegetable garden.

Our Best Vegetable Gardening Ideas Image zoom The materials that we used to make our container vegetable garden were organic soil, sage, eggplant, purple basil, hybrid tomato, and banana pepper.

Vegetable Container Garden Materials

Type of Container

Not sure what type of container to grow your vegetables in? Don’t fret—typically, you’ll care more about this than your plants will. Happily, most vegetables aren’t fussy about what kind of vegetable container garden they grow in. The only basic requirements are that the vegetable container garden is large enough to hold the plant and that it has drainage holes so excess water can escape.

In general, plants in terra cotta (clay) need more attention to watering for a vegetable container garden than other types of pots, because of the porous nature of the terra cotta. Also think about the color. Dark colors absorb heat—so they may make the soil too warm for some vegetable crops in summer, especially in hot-summer areas. And avoid vegetable container gardens made of treated wood, as it may contain chemical compounds that could be absorbed by your vegetables.

Size of Container

When it comes to size, the bigger the pot is, the better, especially for beginners. The reason for this is that large pots hold more soil—and thus, hold moisture longer so you don’t have to water as much. Look for vegetable container gardens that are at least 10 inches wide and 12 inches deep. Large flowerpots, half barrels, plastic-lined bushel baskets, window boxes, planters, and large containers (like 5-gallon buckets) work just fine.

Some vegetables need particularly large pots to grow in a vegetable container garden. Standard-size tomatoes and vining crops, such as cucumbers, will do best for you in containers 20 inches or more across. Peppers like pots at least 16 inches in diameter. In a pinch, most will still grow in a 5-gallon or larger container.

Plants that grow tall or produce vines—like tomatoes and cucumbers—will be more productive if grown up a support in a vegetable container garden. A wire cage, inserted into the container at planting time, will do. Use larger, heavier containers for trellised plants to minimize the risk of tipping.

Related: Planting Your First Vegetable Garden

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What Type of Soil to Use in Containers

While your vegetables aren’t fussy about the kind of pot they’re in, they do care about the potting soil in your vegetable container garden. As is the case with most other types of container gardens, your vegetable container garden will do best in organic potting mixes made for containers. Bonus: organic soil will give your vegetables better flavor. Ask at your nursery for a mix designed for use in larger outdoor containers, or save money by blending your own vegetable container garden mix. Use equal parts of peat moss, potting soil, and vermiculite, perlite, or clean sand. Fill the containers to within an inch or two of the rim.

To determine how much potting mix you’ll need, figure:

  • 3 pints of soil per 6-inch pot
  • 3 1/2 gallons of mix per 12-inch pot
  • 6 1/2 gallons of mix per 20-inch pot

Related: Grow an Organic Vegetable Garden

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How to Plant Vegetables in Containers

Start Seeds

Plant your vegetable container gardens at the same time you would plant in the garden. Depending on what types of vegetable you want to grow, you can start seeds in your containers, grow transplants from seeds started indoors, or purchase transplants from a garden center. Editor’s Tip: Start vegetable container garden crops such as beans, corn, carrots, radishes, and spinach, from seeds sown directly in the container.

Fill Pot with Soil

When filling your pot with soil, stay 2-3 inches below the edge of the pot so that you have room to fill with water. Regardless of whether you are planting seeds or transplants, thoroughly water the container before you plant. Soak the potting mix completely, then allow it to sit for a few hours to drain excess water.

Add Plants and Fertilize

Leave 3-4 inches of space in between each plant, and adjust according to the seed package directions. Because not all seeds will germinate, plant more than you need, then thin the excess later. Set transplants or starters at the same level they were growing in their pot (except for tomatoes, which you can pinch off their lower leaves and plant them deeper in the container). Bury plastic tags to help with identification of each plant.

Sprinkle organic fertilizer in soil, either before or after planting. Don’t over-fertilize—plants will grow too quickly, get soft, and the flavor won’t be as intense. Starting about a month after planting, feed your vegetables about once a week with a water-soluble fertilizer, following the package directions. After planting, water gently but thoroughly to settle the seeds or transplants. Keep the soil in your vegetable container garden from drying out as fast by mulching with straw, compost, leaf mold, or a similar material. Water every few days to keep your plants healthy.

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Care Guide for Vegetables

Watering is the most important thing to watch for in your vegetable container garden. So inspect your vegetables regularly to make sure the potting mix hasn’t dried out. Editor’s Tip: Make watering your vegetable container garden easier by installing a drip-irrigation system. It can automatically irrigate your vegetables for you.

To keep your vegetable garden its most productive, keep an eye out for weeds and other pests. While plants in containers usually aren’t as susceptible to disease as varieties grown in the ground, you’ll still want to watch for problems. Remove or treat any plants that show signs of disease or insect damage.

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Vegetable Harvest Tips

Harvest is the most satisfying step, and all it takes is a few harvesting tips to get it right. Pick your crops as soon as they reach a size where you will enjoy them. Most vegetables are more productive if you harvest early and often. Letting plants “go to seed” will often cause a drop in fruit set.

At the end of the season, add the vegetable container garden soil to your compost pile. Reusing soil from year to year can spread infections and insect infestations. So, it is important to first thoroughly scrub the container to remove all soil. Rinse in a solution of one part bleach to 10 parts water, then rinse with clean water and store in a dry spot.

Related: 10 Vegetable Gardening Mistakes You’re Making

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Top Vegetables for Containers

Below are the basic instructions for growing a variety of vegetables in containers. Note that the suggested planting instructions are for optimal growth. You can often grow vegetables in small containers with acceptable results.

  • Beets: Direct seed into a 2- to 5-gallon window box.
  • Broccoli: One transplant per 5-gallon container.
  • Cabbage: One transplant per 5-gallon container. Or with small varieties, one plant per gallon container.
  • Carrots: Direct seed into a 2- to 5-gallon deep container. Thin to 3 inches apart.
  • Cucumber: Two transplants per 5-gallon container. If using vining types, grow on trellis or cage.
  • Eggplant: One transplant per 5-gallon container.
  • Green Beans: Sow directly into a 5-gallon window box.
  • Kohlrabi: Direct seed into a 5-gallon container. Thin to three plants.
  • Lettuce: Direct seed or transplant into 1-gallon or larger container. Thin to 8 inches apart. Thin to 8 inches apart
  • Onion: Direct seed into 1-gallon or large container. Thin to 2 inches between green onions; for bulb onions, thin to 6 inches apart.
  • Peas: Direct seed into 5-gallon container. Grow taller varieties on a trellis. Thin to 5 inches apart.
  • Pepper: One transplant per 5-gallon container.
  • Radishes: Direct seed into 2-gallon or larger container. Thin to 3 inches apart.
  • Spinach: Direct seed into 1-gallon or larger container. Thin to 3 inches apart.
  • Summer Squash: Direct seed or transplant, two plants per 5-gallon container.
  • Swiss Chard: Transplant or direct seed four plants per 5-gallon container.
  • Tomatoes: Transplant one plant per 5-gallon container.
  • Winter Squash: Direct seed one plant per 5-gallon container.
  • By BH&G Garden Editors

Growing vegetables in containers? Learn about the best and most Productive Vegetables to Grow in Pots to have the bountiful harvest this growing season.

Growing vegetables in containers is possible, but there are some that grow easily and produce heavily in containers. For your help, we’re adding 20 Best and Most Productive Vegetables to Grow in Pots.

A Tip: The productivity of a small garden also improves when you utilize vertical space. Using a trellis to provide support to trailing plants and vines always helps.

Best Vegetables to Grow in Pots

1. Tomatoes

Without a doubt, tomatoes are the most productive vegetables you can grow in pots. Tomatoes need ample sun (five to six hours minimum). The pot size depends on the type of tomatoes you are growing. In containers, growing dwarf varieties of determinate type is better. You should also try cherry tomatoes for higher yield. Click here to learn about the best tomato varieties for containers.

Also Read: How to Grow More Tomatoes in Less Space

2. Beans

Most of the beans are climbers or bushier type, and they grow upward. They are productive in pots and easy to grow. You can grow them on a trellis near a wall, and within weeks, you will get a green wall of beans running across the trellis. For growing beans, you need a sunny spot, and a pot that is minimum 12 inches deep (the bigger, the better) and a strong trellis-like structure for support. Since beans fix the nitrogen most of the vegetables that require more nitrogen are good to grow underneath them. If you’re growing beans in a very large pot, combine summer savory, kale, or celery with them.

Also Read: How to Grow Adzuki Beans

3. Lettuce

Lettuce grows up quickly, and you will have the opportunity to harvest this leafy green multiple times throughout the growing season. As lettuce is a cool season crop, you’ll have to decide what is the right time for its growth according to your climate. Usually, seeds are started in spring. But if you live in a warm climate, grow lettuce in winter.

For growing lettuce, choose a wide planter rather than deep (six inches deep is fine). When planting, make sure to leave space of at least four inches between each plant. Remember, leaf lettuces can be grown more closely than head lettuces. Use well draining soil and do shallow and frequent watering to keep the soil slightly moist always. Must check out our lettuce growing guide to learn more.

4. Peppers and Chillies

Peppers and chilies are super productive and excellent candidates for growing in containers. They look great in pots and need a sunny and warm place to thrive. If you keep the pot in a sunny spot and provide right soil and fertilize the plant time to time, it will fruit heavily. A large pot that is at least 12 inches deep is optimum.

Also Read: How to Grow Bell Peppers in Pots

5. Radishes

Radishes are one of the quickest growing vegetables and suitable for container vegetable gardening as you can also grow them in small and wide pots. A planter that is just 6 inches deep is enough but if you want to grow larger varieties use 8-10 inches deep pot. Allow 3 inches of space between each plant.

Also Read: Fast Growing Vegetables For Container Gardeners

6. Asian Greens

Asian greens are great crops to grow in pots as they grow fast and don’t need a lot of sunlight. You can grow them in part shade, in a spot that receives at least 4 hours of morning sun. Providing them plenty of moisture and organic fertilizer is important so that they thrive.

Also Read: How to Grow Bok Choy

7. Spinach

Spinach is one of the best vegetables for containers. It grows well in partial shade and any kind of space. Growing spinach in containers is easy too, you can even grow it indoors on a windowsill. For growing spinach in pots, choose a container that is least 6-8 inches deep. You don’t need a very deep pot rather use a wide one. Learn how to grow spinach in pots here.

8. Peas

Peas prefer moderate conditions, they are a perfect crop for container gardening and don’t require a large pot. They grow quickly without attention. You can even grow peas on a balcony. Choose a dwarf or bushier type varieties and do regular and frequent watering as peas prefer slightly moist soil. Keep the plants in a spot that receives full sun.

9. Carrots

Carrots grow best in cool weather. They need regular watering and moist soil. Otherwise, the roots dry out and crack. Growing this plant in containers is easy, and it doesn’t take much space as well. Learn everything about growing carrots in pots here.

Also Read: How to Grow Oregano in Containers

10. Cucumber

Cucumbers are heavy feeders and require regular watering too. Grow them in a medium to large sized pot (depending on the variety) and in full sun. You can have your homegrown successful crunchy cucumbers within a few months. To learn more about growing cucumbers read this article.

Also Read: Growing Cucumbers on a Trellis

11. Eggplant

Although eggplants are susceptible to many garden pests, still growing them is easy. They are heat-loving plants and need high temperatures both day and night, thus a suitable summer crop. But if you live in a warm climate, you can grow it year round.

Also, it is easier to maintain them in containers than in a large vegetable garden. It is necessary that you keep the pots in full sun and feed heavily (like all other plants from tomato family–peppers, tomatoes, potatoes; eggplants are heavy feeders too).

Also Read: How to Grow Eggplant in a Pot

12. Squash

Squashes are easy to grow plants. Summer squashes (Zucchini) are more productive than winter squashes. You can harvest bountiful even in containers. It is one of the most suitable crops for rooftop, balcony or patio gardeners.

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Container Vegetables

No place to dig a garden? You can still grow your own food with container vegetable gardening. Even those of us with no garden space can raise substantial volumes of container grown vegetables, fruit and herbs in all sorts of containers or pots on a patio, deck, porch or balcony. Container gardening has grown rapidly in recent years and gardeners have developed an increasing number of compact and dwarf varieties designed to succeed in small spaces.

Container Vegetable Gardening Quick Start Guide

Container Gardening Benefits

  • Easy to start for beginner gardeners.
  • Much easier to move than traditional, in-ground garden setups.
  • Easier to control the soil, light, water and fertilizer levels.
  • Does not require much space.
  • Many different types of plants can thrive in a single container together.

Container Vegetable Gardening Tips

Bigger is better. The greatest challenge of container vegetable gardening is watering since soil dries out faster in pots than in the ground. A larger volume of soil won’t dry out as quickly, so choose the largest gardening pot you can find. It’s fine to mix compatible plants together in a single large planter. Make certain that every container has holes so excess water can drain away from the soil.

Plan for watering. So-called self watering containers have a reservoir beneath the soil topped with a grid through which the roots can reach down to the water. With these containers you won’t have to water as often, but you still have to keep that reservoir filled. In the hot summer mature plants will empty that reservoir fast, so you may have to fill it daily. Spread mulch over the soil in pots just as you would in a garden, to keep moisture from evaporating. Planning a summer vacation? It may be wise to stick to spring and fall crops, such as greens, peas and radishes, and let the pot garden go fallow while you’re gone.

Start with herbs. They are easy, especially if you begin with transplants, and will add a fresh-grown taste to almost any meal. Just remember to give them the conditions they prefer. All herbs need full sun, but some, such as rosemary, prefer dryer soil and fewer nutrients; basil needs more fertilizer and watering.

Move your plants. With pots, you may be able to finesse a sun shortage. Place a wheeled pot trolley (available in garden centers) under a large pot and move it to follow the sun. For example, move it into the sun in the morning; in the evening, when you want to sit on the patio, scoot it out of the way.

Green up. Baby greens, such as lettuce and spinach, are perhaps the simplest vegetables to grow in containers, beginning in spring when they will tolerate cool temperatures. Sow seeds right in the pot. They will take a week or more to sprout, but then will quickly reach a harvest size of three to four inches. Use scissors to snip off only the largest leaves and you can keep your harvest going for several weeks. Then pull out the plants and re-sow.

Accept the challenge. Everybody loves tomatoes, but they can take some work to grow as a container vegetable. For pots, seek out varieties specifically recommended for containers, that are “determinate”–meaning they will grow to a certain size, then stop and bear all their fruit in a few weeks. You will need a large container, at least 20-24 inches in diameter. Tomatoes sprawl and the fruits get heavy, so provide a cage for all but the most dwarf determinate tomato varieties. Or install sturdy stakes in the vegetable container when you plant and be attentive to tying new shoots to the stakes.

Growing vegetables in pots is an excellent idea if you have a limited space, starting your own container vegetable garden gives you a chance to produce a bountiful harvest of edibles that are freshest and tastiest!

As you’re reading this article, you’ve already decided that growing vegetables in pots is something you should try. And you’re right; you can grow crops on a balcony, rooftop, patio, porch and even indoors on a windowsill. The possibilities are endless, and you can produce edibles in substantial amounts.

Also Read: Windowsill Vegetable Garden

Observe Identify, and Plan

Take a look at the space you’ve chosen to start your container vegetable garden

Take a look at the space you’ve chosen to start container vegetable gardening! See up and down, left and right. Identify, the direction! A South facing or West facing (especially in cool climates) is best, and if your space is North facing, your options are very limited.

Before beginning, observe the chosen space well for a day or two. Why? To calculate the hours of sunlight it gets, corners that receive more light and shady parts as well. Also, see if it is windy, humid or really cold.

Jot down the details in a planner or notepad of your mobile to make a plan. Does your space receive at least 6 hours of direct sunlight? It is essential for growing vegetables in pots successfully! If it is windy, your planters will dry out quickly. Using self-watering containers is an excellent idea in that case.

Choosing Pots for Container Vegetable Garden

plants of red tomatoes and zucchini in the big pots of an urban garden on the balcony of the house in the city

Once you’re done with everything mentioned above, it’s now time to gather pots for container vegetable garden that you’re planning to make. You’ll need to look at the variety of options– Standard pots, window boxes, grow bags, troughs, buckets, half barrels. To grow things vertically– stacked planters, railing planters, hanging baskets and also some DIY planters!
Don’t miss to read our article on Container Vegetable Garden Design Ideas to design your vegetable garden in containers.

What should be the pot size for growing vegetables

It depends on the type of vegetable (or its variety) you’re growing. For example, tomatoes can be grown in small to large sized containers (depending on the cultivar). For growing herbs, salad greens and vegetables like spinach, you don’t need large pots (6-8 inches deep is enough). Window boxes are suitable for them. Average 12 inches deep pots are readily available, and most of the vegetables like bell peppers, radishes, eggplants, okras adjust well in them.

Also Read: Grow Asian Greens In Containers

Vegetables to Grow in Containers

  • Tomatoes: If your container vegetable garden receives ample sunlight, try growing tomatoes. Pot size depends on the type of cultivar. Here’s a list of best tomato varieties for containers.
  • Beans: Most of the beans are climbers or bushier type, and they grow upward. They are productive in pots and are easy to grow. You’ll need at least 12 inches deep pot (depends on the type) to grow them.
  • Peppers and Chilies: Planting Bell Peppers in containers requires a pot that is at least 10-12 inches deep and wide. You can grow up to 2-3 plants (smaller varieties) in such a pot. For Chilies, you’ll need a large pot.
  • Salad Greens: Growing salad greens in containers is an easy task. Choose 6-8 inches deep pot that is wide a lot. Lettuces, Asian Greens, Mustard Greens, and Arugula can be planted. You can keep these vegetables in part shade.
  • Carrots and Radishes: Growing Carrots and Radishes in containers is a cinch. For Carrots, choose a pot that is 6-12 inches deep (depending on the type). For radishes, use a pot that is 6-8 inches deep.
  • Cauliflower and Cabbage: For growing Cauliflower in a pot, choose a container that is 12 inches deep, you can grow one such plant in that. Pot size is similar for growing cabbage.
  • Beets: This quick growing vegetable can be grown in 10-12 inches deep pot in a position that receives full sun to part shade.
  • Zucchini: Zucchini is one of the most productive vegetables to grow in pots. Choose a container that is 12 inches deep.
  • Herbs: Give space to herbs as well in your container vegetable garden. Most of the herbs can be grown in 6-12 inches deep pots.

Also Read: Productive Container Vegetables

Planting a Container Vegetable Garden

The main period to grow vegetables is from early spring to fall (autumn) and possibly in winter too, if you live in a warm climate or able to do a little more care of your plants by keeping them indoors or in a greenhouse.
Either start seeds or buy transplants and seedlings from a nearby nursery. Buying plants is a good idea if you don’t have a green thumb. Here’s an informative article on growing vegetables from seeds to read!

Soil

The potting soil is the most important thing of your container vegetable garden! Never use ordinary soil, use potting mixes made for containers or make yourself. Here’re two informative articles on the preparation of potting mixes– Visit BHG to read this one, visit Mother Earth News to read this one!

Watering

When growing vegetables in pots, be careful about watering as the plants may dry out quickly or else if you water them too much regularly they’ll die due to overwatering. While watering depends on the type of crop you’re growing, the one tip you can follow is to water only when top 1 inch surface of soil seems dry. Avoid doing this with the crops that prefer moist soil or if you’re in tropics.

Additional Tips

  • Plants growing in containers often suffer from nutrient deficiency. Applying general purpose liquid fertilizer (10-10-10) once in every other week is a great idea. You can also use time-based fertilizer.
  • Avoid applying too much nitrogen to fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers.
  • If you don’t want to use chemical fertilizers, use well-rotted manure. Use it in a 20-30% volume.
  • If you’re growing vegetables in a really cool climate, keep your pots close to South or West facing wall.
  • Keep an eye on pests, always check the underside of leaves to detect the pest infestation in time.

Container vegetable gardening is a great solution for people who have limited yard space. It’s also a way to bypass poor soil conditions. Here’s what you need to know to choose the right containers for your urban garden.

Be sure to check out these easy vegetable crops, too — many work well in container gardens!

This is a guest post from Tiffany at Don’t Waste the Crumbs.

Sometimes it feels like my home doesn’t want me to have a garden. We rent a townhouse (so no permanent structures) in California (with severe drought) and have a backyard comprised of sand (i.e. no soil). We solved the last two issues by re-using house water for the garden and employing dozens of ways to naturally fertilize store-bought dirt for free.

Growing a vegetable garden in a rented, urban setting though, requires a bit of resourcefulness. How can we have a bountiful garden to off-set our small grocery budget when we can’t even dig up the yard? Enter garden containers!

Growing Vegetables in Pots for Beginners

A container garden was the first thought to come to mind, but we felt limited to a small handful of plants that grow well in containers. Fortunately, we were wrong! With a bit of creativity, you can have a flourishing garden in all sorts of containers. The key to growing vegetables in containers is knowing which containers are best for which plants.

Large vegetable container – 18″ to 22″

This is what most people think of when they think of vegetable container gardening. These large planters are best for single vegetables that need a lot of root space, cages, or a trellis.

Best Plants for Big Containers:

  • Tomatoes
  • Vine cucumbers
  • Pole beans
  • String peas
  • Tomatillos

Big containers are also great for planting multiple varieties of smaller vegetables that don’t need the entire pot to grow. You can often plant 2-3 “medium” plants and 4-6 “small” plants together in a large container. (See “medium containers” and small containers” below for specific plant recommendations.)

Tip: Kris has had great success with large grow bags for her vegetable container gardening.

Medium Garden Containers – 10″ to 18″

A bit less cumbersome than big containers, medium-sized pots and are perfect for compact vegetables or those of the bush variety.

Best Plants for Medium Containers:

  • Peppers
  • Bush beans
  • Bush cucumbers
  • Lettuces
  • Spinach
  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Eggplant
  • Peas
  • Chard
  • Celery

Small Containers – 6″ to 10″

Although they don’t seem to offer much growing room, small garden containers are ideal for vegetables that don’t require much space, as well as some herbs:

Best Plants for Small Containers:

  • Arugula
  • Lettuces
  • Spinach
  • Cabbage
  • Green onion
  • Radishes
  • Carrots

A hanging container garden

When you can’t plant at ground level, consider planting above! Some plants actually do better when they’re not lying on the ground and with vertical gardening you can utilize the space, freeing up the ground surface for plants that need it. A hanging vegetable container garden helps combat pests, too.

Tip: Hanging doesn’t have to mean high. Use longer ropes so the plants are within reach.

Best Plants for Hanging Containers:

  • Strawberries
  • Herbs
  • Lettuce
  • Spinach

Window boxes

Despite the name, window boxes don’t have to sit just by a window and they can hold more than just flowers. Some boxes fit over railings or can be hung on the side of a fence, turning those lost areas into a little container garden to grow vegetables. Plants that tend to keep to themselves, don’t need much root space, and/or grow up are best for window boxes.

Best Plants for Window Boxes:

  • Beets
  • Strawberries
  • Green beans
  • Radishes
  • Green onion
  • Celery
  • Herbs

Related: How to: Growing Blueberries in Containers

Raised garden beds

The biggest “container” of the bunch, raised garden beds are an easy way to work around the limitation that are problematic for many renters: no-permanent structures. You can build a raised bed for under $15 and it’s perfect for plants that like to roam.

Best Plants for Garden Beds:

  • Zucchini
  • Squash
  • Pumpkin
  • Watermelon
  • Tomatoes

Tip: Maximize the space within your garden bed with urban square foot gardening.

General tips for choosing a container for a vegetable garden

  • Err on the large side; the bigger the pot the better. More pot means a better yield.
  • Be sure your container has a drainage hole – especially important if you’re recycling containers that might not already have a drainage hole.
  • Instead of wondering what to plant in your container, start with what you want to grow and find a container that works.
  • Ask friends what works for them – you can learn a lot from their experience!

It might take a bit of creativity to grow a container garden, but with a little bit of planning you can still have an amazing harvest!

Tiffany is passionate about feeding her family real food and living healthier lives, without going broke in the process! She shares her enthusiasm for affording real food on a budget, and documents her baby-sized strides at Don’t Waste the Crumbs.

Originally published in June 2015; this post has been updated.

A Beginner’s Guide to Container Vegetable Gardening

Container gardening is a useful method of growing both edibles and ornamentals when you have little or no yard, have compromised soil or simply enjoy the freedom to move your plants from place to place. It is an ideal technique for those in urban situations, such as apartments.
One of the biggest bonuses to container gardening is that you get to skip the backbreaking work of weeding and amending soil. Container gardening can include traditional pots, window boxes, hanging baskets or little planters in a window sill. Get creative with your space and experiment with different placement options, such as on a balcony or porch, around a deck or even on a rooftop.

Gather Your Gear

Very little gear is needed for container gardening. Standard gardening tools include gloves, a trowel and a hand fork. For larger plants that require pruning, a good pair of shears or kitchen scissors are helpful. Always keep your tools clean and blades sharp for easy cutting.

Another important thing you will need is potting mix, which is available at any nursery or home improvement store. Use potting soil rather than soil from the ground, as potting soil has water retentive elements (such as peat moss or vermiculite), is free from weeds or disease and contains a balance of nutrients ideal for plants. Most potting soils are ”soil-less.” Some are specific for seed starting or acidified for specialty plants, but many are all-purpose and are suitable for most types of containers and plants.

Pick Your Plants

Many edible plants can be grown in containers. Potted herbs are a popular choice and can be placed in a sunny window or even on a patio. Herbs are compact, so they can easily be grown in a small space. Try chives, mint, basil, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme and more. You can even grow fruit trees in containers. Dwarf varieties of trees, such as orange, fig, apple and pear, can (with some effort) grow in large containers. These usually need to be protected or brought inside during the winter. Strawberries are another fruit easily grown in a pot; there are even special terra cotta pots with holes in them that are widely available. If vegetables are what you want, try greens such as arugula, lettuces, swiss chard and spinach. Smaller varieties of tomatoes, peas, pole beans, bush zucchini and peppers can also be grown successfully with some staking or trellis for them to climb.

Consider Location

Your first consideration for any garden project should be location: specifically, sunlight and exposure. Container-grown plants tend to dry and wilt more quickly than plants in the ground. Once you’ve identified where you intend to put your containers, observe the amount and strength of sunlight. Does the space get full afternoon sun, or dappled shade? Is the area near a wall or blacktop, which increases ambient temperature? Will your containers sit outdoors in the rain, or on a covered porch or patio?
Porches and patios might be the expected spots for container gardening, but here are some other ideas.

  • Tuck large pots into your landscaping or flower bed for an instant mini vegetable garden.
  • Use containers to add height and visual interest in a planting bed. For example, a tier of flowerpots overflowing with blooms can bring a desirable vertical effect to a cutting garden.
  • Find unexpected spots. Set a teacup full of tiny flowers in a rock garden, for example, or tip a pot on its side and plant it like it’s spilling out into the landscape.
  • Arrange a collection of container-grown herbs by your kitchen door for easy snipping. Or, plant herbs in glass canning jars and place them on a sunny windowsill.

Choose the Right Plants

If you fancy a vegetable garden, choose plants that are specifically developed for containers, like “patio” varieties of tomato, zucchini, cucumber and peppers. Match your plant selection to your location as well. Plants labeled ”full sun” require at least six hours per day of direct sunlight. Consider the depth of the container and the plant’s root system (carrots, for example, don’t do well in standard pots, but lettuce does). If your budget allows for many plants, go ahead and pack them into the containers to create a lush, full look.

Choose Your Containers

There are numerous types of containers, each with pros and cons. On one end of the financial spectrum you have plastic containers that are light and cheap, but might not capture the aesthetic you’re going for. Compare that to stone or marble, which are gorgeous and sturdy, but are as hefty in price as they are to move around the garden. You need a vessel that has enough space for the roots of your plant, proper nutrients to feed your plant and drainage holes to allow for excess moisture to flow out to prevent waterlogged roots. Additionally, consider where this container is going. For example, if you are putting it on a rooftop or in a windowsill, choose something light. Be aware that some containers such as terra cotta can retain heat quickly, so extra watering may be necessary.
And don’t be afraid to get creative! Containers of various shapes, colors and sizes add visual interest to a conventional backyard landscape. Here are some fun ideas for unusual and interesting garden containers.
Reuse (upcycle) items that you’d ordinarily throw away when they’re empty or broken:

  • Empty coffee cans (optionally, you can spray paint them in fun colors)
  • Kiddie pool or plastic sandbox (these work great as small backyard vegetable gardens)
  • Large glass or plastic jars (ask a school cafeteria or local caterer if they have extra-large food service jars)
  • Plastic milk jugs or soda bottles, cut in half (you can also use half-gallon paper cartons or empty yogurt cups to start seeds for transplant)
  • A note on re-using tires in the garden: Opinions are split on whether this practice is safe, with some gardeners and environmental experts saying that heavy metals in tires may leach out over time, a particular concern with vegetables.

Scour flea markets, yard sales and antique shops for vintage items like these:

  • China cups, bowls and tureens
  • Enamelware bowls and basins
  • Old canning jars
  • Old-fashioned washtubs

Think of the items you use to hold stuff elsewhere in your home—if you have extra bins, boxes or buckets, repurpose them in the garden. Even things like rubber rain boots your kids have outgrown make cute planters.

  • Colorful plastic or galvanized metal buckets
  • Large storage bins
  • Wooden wine crates
  • Craft paint cans
  • Over-the-door shoe holders (the kind with fabric or plastic pockets)
  • Guttering—mount lengths of conventional roof gutter to a wall or fence (drill drainage holes at three- or four-inch intervals); fill with soil and plant with lettuce, succulents or trailing flowers

Maximize Drainage

Over- or under-watering is the No. 1 cause of plant failure—and growing in containers exacerbates the problem. Plants must never sit in accumulated water. If you’re using alternative containers, make sure there is ample drainage. This can be a real challenge if, for example, you’re using an old enamel washbasin, glass jar or china soup tureen. If possible, drill or punch several holes in the bottom of your container. If drilling holes in the container doesn’t seem like such a good idea, place nursery pots inside the planter (instead of planting directly in it) and be sure to pour out the excess every time you water.
Use these proven techniques to properly water plants growing in containers:

  • Wait for the plant to show very slight signs of wilt, then add water.
  • Feel the soil—poke your finger down about an inch; if it’s dry to that depth, then water.
  • Pick up the pot when it’s dry and gauge its weight; when the pot feels light, that’s a clue that it’s time to water.
  • Top watering: Use a spouted watering can to apply water on the surface of the soil (not on the plant), until you see water pouring out the drainage hole at the bottom.
  • Bottom watering: Set the container (or nursery pot) into a bucket or saucer of water, saturating the root system through the drainage hole.

Fertilize

Choose a balanced (10-10-10) fertilizer that you can add to your watering can. For continuous feeding to produce steady growth and bloom, mix at 1/10th the recommended rate every time you water.
Once you have your plants, location, and containers, the sky’s the limit! Start out small with easy-to-grow plants and build from there. Soon, you’ll have a new hobby that brings you joy as well as good health. Happy container gardening!

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