Container Gardening with Vegetables

Container Gardening Yields More Vegetables with Less Work!

By Robin Sweetser
January 22, 2020
Tomatoes Container Gardening

Tomatoes are an excellent candidate for container gardening.

Pixabay

Container gardening is an easy way to grow vegetables, especially when you lack yard space! If you have a small garden or simply a patio, balcony, or rooftop, explore the magical world of gardening in pots!

Want to have more control over growing conditions and enjoy higher yields with a lot less work? Garden in containers.

Tips for Container Gardening

Pots: The Bigger, the Better

  • Large plants need lots of space, and most roots need room to grow. Avoid small containers as they often can’t store enough water to get through hot days. Plus, the bigger your container, the more plants you can grow!
  • Use barrels (a wooden half-barrel can yield an amazing amount of food), buckets, baskets, boxes, bath- and other tubs, and troughs—anything that holds soil. Just be sure that it has drainage holes in the bottom.

Care Tips for Container Gardening with Vegetables

  • Clay pots are usually more attractive than plastic ones, but plastic pots retain moisture better and won’t dry out as fast as unglazed terra-cotta ones. To get the best of both, slip a plastic pot into a slightly larger clay pot.
  • Black pots absorb heat when they are sitting in the sun.
  • Many plants grown in pots must be watered as often as twice a day. To keep plants adequately cool and moist during hot summer days, double-pot: Place a small pot inside a larger one and fill the space between them with sphagnum moss or crumpled newspaper. When watering the plant, also soak the filler between the pots. 
  • Hanging baskets make good use of extra space, and herbs, cherry tomatoes, and strawberries grown at eye level can be easily tended and harvested. 
  • Add about 1 inch of coarse gravel in the bottom of containers to improve drainage.
  • Vegetables that can be easily transplanted are best suited for containers. Transplants can be purchased from local nurseries or started at home.
  • Feed container plants at least twice a month with liquid fertilizer, following the instructions on the label.
  • An occasional application of fish emulsion or compost will add trace elements to container soil.
  • Place containers where they will receive maximum sunlight and good ventilation. Watch for and control insect pests.

Vegetable Container

Window Boxes

A large window box can provide the makings for a handy salad within arm’s reach! (Here’s a video on how to grow salad greens in containers.) Whatever the size or type, place your containers where they are most convenient to be cared for and will grow best. Most vegetables need 6 to 8 hours of direct sun in order to thrive and produce well.

Plants in containers need the best possible soil, aeration, and drainage for healthy root growth and optimum harvest. Do not use soil from the garden: It is too heavy, can become waterlogged, and brings disease and insects with it. Choose instead a soilless mix (quick-draining and lightweight) or use compost, alone or combined with a soilless mix.

Nasturtium Flower

Attractive in window boxes, edible flowers such as nasturtiums, calendula, and signet marigolds also add color to the plate!

To keep vegetable plants growing, feed them organic soil amendments, like liquid seaweed, fish emulsion, or manure tea, weekly. To ensure growth, vegetables need consistently moist soil. 

Plant Supports

Support your climbing vegetables with trellises, stakes, netting, twine, or cages. Here’s how to build your own trellis or wooden supports

A teepee of bamboo stakes will hold pole beans or snap peas. Cucumbers trained to climb up a nylon mesh fence will develop fruit that hang down and grow straight. To avoid damaging the plants or their roots, put supports in place at planting time. 

To maximize space and thus your harvest, plant root crops, low-growers, and tall climbers together in the same container. The climbers will eagerly scramble up a trellis, while the small plants spread around their base. You’ll hardly need to weed because there won’t be any room for weeds to gain a foothold, and during the height of summer, some low-growers (leafy greens, for example) will thrive in the shade provided by the taller plants.

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Mix quick-maturing plants, such as lettuce or radishes, with longer-growing ones, like tomatoes or broccoli.

Group plants with similar needs for sun and water, such as pole beans, radishes, and lettuce; cucumber, bush beans, and beets; tomatoes, basil, and onions; and peas and carrots

Read seed catalogs. Many list varieties of vegetables bred specifically for growing in containers. 

Lettuce is excellent for container gardening.

Which Containers To Use for Your Vegetables

Here are our recommendations on which vegetable varieties are container-friendly and which container types are most suitable for each veggie.

Check out our video for more information on which plants will thrive in your container garden. 

For supplies, you only need a good container, the right soil mix, and appropriate seed (or transplant) varieties. In addition to providing 5 hours or more of full sun, watering is critical. As mentioned above, you may need to water daily or twice daily; in hot weather, the soil can dry out quickly. The good news: less weeding! Containers are generally low-maintenance.

Beans, snap
Container: 5-gallon window box
Varieties: Bush ‘Blue Lake’, Bush ‘Romano’, ‘Tender Crop’

Broccoli
Container: 1 plant/5 gallon pot, 3 plants/15-gallon tub
Varieties: ‘DeCicco’, ‘Green Comet’

Carrots
Container: 5-gallon window box at least 12 inches deep
Varieties: ‘Danvers Half Long’, ‘Short ‘n Sweet’, ‘Tiny Sweet’

Cucumbers
Container: 1 plant/1-gallon pot
Varieties: ‘Patio Pik’, ‘Pot Luck’, ‘Spacemaster’

Eggplant
Container: 5-gallon pot
Varieties: ‘Black Beauty’, ‘Ichiban’, ‘Slim Jim’

Lettuce
Container: 5-gallon window box
Varieties: ‘Ruby’, ‘Salad Bowl’

Onions
Container: 5-gallon window box
Varieties: ‘White Sweet Spanish’, ‘Yellow Sweet Spanish’

Peppers
Container: 1 plant/2-gallon pot, 5 plants/15-gallon tub
Varieties: ‘Cayenne’, ‘Long Red’, ‘Sweet Banana’, ‘Wonder’, ‘Yolo’

Radishes
Container: 5-gallon window box
Varieties: ‘Cherry Belle’, ‘Icicle’

Tomatoes
Container: Bushel basket
Varieties: ‘Early Girl’, ‘Patio’, ‘Small Fry’, ‘Sweet 100’, ‘Tiny Tim’

See our individual Vegetable Plant pages for advice on growing other common vegetables.

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Reader Comments

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Plant container/box

What is the 'minamum' depth a container should be for vegie plants?

Minimum Soil Depth

The Editors's picture

It depends on the vegetable. For leafy greens, 12 inches of soil will do. For fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes or squash, or for root vegetables such as carrots and beets, 18 inches is the minimum soil depth recommended. 

vegetables don't grow

I have planted some leafy greens, from seed, in about 8" of good compost in full sun. They sprang up quickly, but now they show no signs of growth. They seem healthy, but they are still only about 3" high after 3 weeks of achieving that height. I'm feeding them liquid Miracle Gro once a week and keeping the soil moist, and they were given in the beginning a slow-release fertilizer but they won't grow! Any idea what's wrong?

NEW IN POT GARDENING

What soil to use and what size of pot container for planting eggplant, okra, tomatoes. Any recommendation how to take care plant pest like powder mildew. Thanks

Selecting containers for gardening

Just to add to this already well-written article, a very important part of container gardening is selecting the right container to go with your plant. there are many types of container to select from and sometimes it can be confusing as to how you chosen plant fits into the material. You have to consider the material the container is made with, the drainage, and how much space the root of the plant needs.

Container Gardening For Kids

I'm developing a program ("Sprouts") to provide disadvantaged school aged children K-12 an opportunity to grow fresh produce in their homes (on a deck if available or inside under grow lights if natural light is limited). The combination of education and nutrition is a win/win. The plan is to adapt the Square Foot Garden model of intensive/dense gardening to a free standing garden bed. Specifically, I'm planning to use the City Picker Raised Bed Grow Box unless experienced gardeners have a better suggestion. The grow bed has to be durable, inexpensive, portable, and easy to assemble.

I am NOT an experienced gardener, so I'm reaching out to you for advice on: (i) top 10 easy to grow DWARF veggies for an indoor garden; and (ii) alternative free standing garden beds for consideration.

Thank you from me and all the kids who will benefit from your experience. Once this program gets going...fingers crossed...we'll teach the kids to adapt other types of containers for their use,

vegetable garden

I want a raised vegetable garden but cant afford new wood. I have some old book shelves I can used but the wood is painted or varnished. Is it safe to use or will bad chemicals from the paint or varnish seep into the ground. Thank you

old bookshelves as container?

The Editors's picture

That’s probably not your best idea, Elaine. Look around: almost any clean container will do for some kind of plant. Just be sure the container has holes in the bottom. Here is an uncommon container idea https://www.almanac.com/news/editors-musings/blog-uncommon-plant-containers and here are some small plant ideas: https://www.almanac.com/content/dwarf-and-mini-vegetables-containers

and more here https://www.almanac.com/search/site/container%20sizes

Think different, as the saying goes.

biting ants

great topics, I need help badly with ants that is taking over my silver lavender plants. I tried the soap and oil method, didn't work, ashes, nothing. Does any one have a solution besides using boiling water in their nest? Thank you

Container planting

I have acquired a couple of planter boxes approx 30x30x14. Whats the best veggie to try in these? Our favorite is tomatoes but not sure the boxes are deep enough. Would they be big enough for 2 tom plants? Or 1 tom and a companion plant? Any advice is appreciated!

re-use of pots

I have a few old (7-10 yrs old) pots and planters, some plastic, some ceramic, are they still ok to use after a good washing?

Yes! Feel free to reuse clean

Robin Sweetser's picture

Yes! Feel free to reuse clean containers until they begin to deteriorate or no longer hold soil.

Drainage layer....

Don't add gravel at the bottom of containers. It does not improve drainage. That's a persistent myth in the container gardening world. It's too much for me too explain here; it's physics. If your wish to explore this subject, start by googling "perched water containers".

Black-Eyed Peas

Where can I find the old-fashioned, large black-eyed peas? All I can find are small ones.

black-eyed peas

The Editors's picture

I’m not sure if this is what you might be thinking of, but Victory Seeds and others offer a “Big Boy” southern pea (aka cowpea or black-eyed pea) that is fairly large. It is an heirloom variety.  http://www.victoryseeds.com/cowpea_big-boy.html

 

Birds Eating My Potted Plants! @ !# !$ !% !^ !&*

I've just moved to a rental in an older senior park. I have pots for a few flower plants and vegetables on my wood landing, but the BIRDS here are ruining them by eating either the leaves or the blossom buds! Would like a simple method of protection that is easy to place over the plants. Does anyone have any ideas? Thanks.

A Fishy Upside Down Solution

The Editors's picture

Hi, Kathy: We feel your pain! (But we’re glad we can’t hear you!) Without seeing your exact situation, it’s hard to be specific. As you no doubt know, the common solution here is to use bird netting draped over some sort of framework. Unfortunately, usually people see the word “framework,” and they go into a panic and start thinking about some big construction project. Remember, anything that stands vertically and can be used to keep netting off the plants will work: sticks, old golf clubs, new golf clubs if your game has deserted you, etc. But here’s a little trick from the Old Farmer: turn furniture upside down. You may have or be able to get rather cheaply some outdoor furniture in the form of little tables or even large stools. Turn the table upside down and place the plant(s) on the underside of its top. Then drape netting over the upturned legs. No netting? Try wrapping fishing line around the legs at close intervals. Use little pieces of (duct) tape to attach the line to the legs and keep it from falling down. Cut out a piece of cardboard for the top. Be creative and think outside the pots. Thanks for asking and good luck!

Bird advice

I had a similar issue with birds on my deck leaving a mess on my patio furniture and hot tub. I hung a fake owl in a tree beside my deck and they don’t want anything to do with him. I read that NASA does this same trick with fuel pods.

Second try this year

Last year I started indoors with container gardening and when my potatoes and tomatoes got to about 4" tall I moved them outside. Big mistake. My 20 containers were down to 6 containers within 4 days. The remaining two containers were those potatoes that just didn't make it. So now I want to start again but keep them inside entirely. Last year I about bankrupted myself in natural light bulbs and high intensity bulbs. This year, I plan to use a multilevel bookcase right in front of an east facing window and hope they will grow pas their 4" and become real veggies. I have copious plastic and clay pots and I will use the idea of putting the ugly plastic into the prettier clay, but I have to say, reading the comments, this all sounds pretty overwhelming. Any ideas to just tame it down to some njce veggies growing in my house?

Vegetables like potatoes and

The Editors's picture

Vegetables like potatoes and tomatoes will grow best outdoors. Depending on where you live you can plant potatoes in the ground as soon as the soil warms up. Tomato seedlings can be started in smaller pots indoors but then transplanted into bigger pots before placing them outdoors. Some of your vegetables will need to be pollinated by bees or other insects to produce fruit. Please see our growing guides for different vegetables before getting started. www.almanac.com/plants

Moving veggies from indoors to outside

You should acclimate your veggies,plants etc. to the change in outdoor conditions by gradually bringing them in and out for longer periods of time. Tomato's will get burned moving them directly outside as will other plants,even if you've had them under artificial lights.

There are insects on my

There are insects on my plants which are destroying it which insecticide is better to kill them which is available in india

If you have neem oil - that

If you have neem oil - that kills most bugs and it won't harm plants. Soapy water is also good. Won't hurt plants.good luck:-)

Bugs on plants.

To rid plants of bugs, spray with a calcium drench. You can use coral mineral and mix a half cup into a gallon of water and spray with that, or cal/phos and do it the same way. Bugs don’t like the calcium and will leave immediately; however, the plants need it and it will give them a nice boost.

I started growing container

I started growing container vegetables last year very sucessful. Do I need to spill out the dirt from last year and refill it in order to start over again? or will the vegetables come back. I had tomatoes, cucumbers,kale collard,zucchini,peppers and some herbs.

Good question. The bottom

The Editors's picture

Good question.
The bottom line is, do not plant the same vegetables in the same dirt.
However, the dirt may still be useful, in the same container/s if you know what vegetable grew in which pot. If you carefully rotate your crops, just like a ground-level gardener, you can continue use the soil. Here's a video on crop rotation for more details: http://www.almanac.com/video/h...
If you haven't kept track of what grew in which pot, it would be best to start with new dirt this year. Then, plan to rotate in the coming years.
Have a great harvest!
 

I would like to know what you

I would like to know what you think about growing squash in large pots sitting on a table? I want to try this because I don't have good garden space. Thank you!

It would need to be a very

The Editors's picture

It would need to be a very sturdy table, such as a garden workbench or sturdy picnic table. For squash, even patio types, you'll need to use at least a 5-gallon pot that's 24 inches deep. With soil added, they can weigh quite a bit. A 10-gallon pot, for example, can weigh more than 50 pounds. If you do want to try it, make sure the table is very solid, not wobbly, and won't tip if children, adults, pets, or wildlife might bump it or (in the case of animals) walk over it. Also, the drainage from the pots will spill out onto the table--so it should be able to handle moisture. As an alternative, tiny, compact squash varieties can be grown in upside-down hanging planters.

Hi, I am quite new at

Hi,
I am quite new at gardening and I am grateful for the advice you give which seems to be life saving to me. It has always been listed on my bucket list to start growing vegetables and be good at it and it looks like your tips could help me realise that. Post reading your article, I am now opting for Peppers and Tomatoes for a start. Thanks from Mauritius to the Almanac staff for such precise and helpful tips.

Nathalie

My first time with container

My first time with container veggie garden and I'm also trying out with a sub irrigation system.

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