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.


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.


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.

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’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

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

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

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.


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

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

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.

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

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:
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

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

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.


My first time with container

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

Hello! I am really unsure why


I am really unsure why there are little nats around my plants. I am growing tomatoes in a topsy turvy, sweet banana peppers, bell peppers, green onion, sweet onion, garlic, cucumbers, lettuce, and multiple types of flowers in clay/plastic pots. Everything is growing amazingly and I am so proud of it. These nats are very confusing to me. I water them once a day because of how warm it gets down in Florida and since its been sunny out. My roommate is growing chives and mint. Can that be attracting these little critters to all of the plants? I am not understanding why these annoying bugs are even near the plants! Also how can I avoid bugs coming near my plants? I put coffee grinds in my soil and I use potting/garden (specifically for vegetables) soil. Is the soil way too damp where these bugs are growing in it or do my plants have a disease or something? Please help me out!

Hi Tori, These gnats are

Hi Tori,
These gnats are sometimes called fungus gnats and are common around houseplants. They infest the soil in the containers. The larvae feeds on organic matter and roots. Let the soil dry out and then spray the plants and soil with insecticidal soap. If possible water the plants from the bottom.

There are several tiny flies

There are several tiny flies that might be causing a problem. Could these be fungus gnats? They can often be a problem in wet, rotting organic matter. The adult gnats don't harm your plants, but they lay eggs in the soil. The larvae of the gnats live in the top of the soil feeding on decaying matter, root hairs, mulch, compost, and fungi. Since they can feed on root hairs, the larvae can stunt a plant's growth if in large numbers, but this usually only occurs in indoors situations, such as greenhouses. Outdoors, they usually don't cause serious damage.
Outdoors, they might be harder to control, but to help get rid of the eggs, you can try to remove and discard some of the loose soil around your plants without disturbing the roots. Add fresh sterile soil and a thin layer of sand to the surface of the soil. Let the soil dry out and only water when the soil becomes dry down to about 2 inches deep or so.
To control adult gnats, you can try setting out yellow sticky traps. Or, trap them by setting out a jar filled with 4 parts apple cider vinegar and 1 part liquid dishwashing soap; cover the jar with a lid in which several holes have been punched.

My husband and I just built a

My husband and I just built a really cool raised garden for our rather small patio. We live in an apt complex and have very limited space, so when we found this idea on Pinterest, we were immediately sold. The plans cost $10 and they are worth EVERY penny. She gives perfect, step by step instructions. Check it out... http://www.raisedurbangardens....

hello, I live in the greater

hello, I live in the greater portland area in oregon. I have been notorious for not being able to keep plants alive, but I am desperate for a cost effective food source and love the idea of successful gardening. does anyone here have tips for creating a successful vegetable and herb garden in containers? I am completely lost as to where to start, other than I know I'd like to raise my own starts and hopefully outdoor transplant into containers. I'm just a little confused as to where I start this process exactly.... any help is much appreciated.

I live in Baltimore and

I live in Baltimore and maintain lots of container plants in my 'concrete' backyard. I am also on my second year at an allotment garden plot (10' x 15'), through a program administered by the city. Ten yeas ago I wanted nothing to do with gardening, but I've really developed sort of a green thumb. Baltimore is blessed with good sunshine and usually good rainfall. I also water the vegetables in my containers with water collected in a basement dehumidifier, and flowers with dishwater after it's cooled (careful not to use dishwater after eating a meal that contained meat). Containers are a great way to get started, can be bountiful, and you can begin your new avocation in small steps. Begin with a couple or few pots, then add some every Spring as time and schedule allow. A few perennials, like strawberries, spearmint (think tabbouleh or sauteed with yellow squash or zucchini and garlic), and possibly rosemary will impress you with a return every year. Buy sturdy pots, good potting soil, and add some slow fertilizer to each pot, like bone meal. Water but don't over-water. Pay attention to the needs of your plants and move according to each container's requirement for sunshine.

Regarding edible plants, I recommend you start with herbs. I've only met a few people who couldn't grow basil and such. I transplanted a Genovese (or sweet) basil seedling from a big box store in 2006. The basil volunteered in the same pot the next year, and I've planted larger quantities of basil from seeds I gather from those plants every Fall. Don't discount herbs as merely flavorings, basil is essential for making pesto and Insalata Caprese.

Another suggestion is to try potting some strawberry seedlings. I planted several 'All-Star' variety strawberry seedlings (also in 2006) and have had them thrive every year, producing five or six dozen delicious strawberries every Spring. Be patient, sometimes strawberries need some time to 'pop', and a lot depends on the variety you select to grow.

Neither of these recommendations will put a ton of food on your table, but you are likely to grow them with relative ease. It's important to start small with plants that provide a pleasant reward. The treat of a handful of fresh strawberries or the aroma of freshly made pesto will inspire you to try something new in your container garden every spring. This year I am trying potatoes in containers (adding straw as the plants grow taller), leaf lettuce, scallions, cilantro, dill, and purple basil.

Best of luck and happy gardening!

A good guideline for

A good guideline for containers is square foot gardening there's a book on it and you can also find info online