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

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Last year was our first using

Last year was our first using one of these planters - but it was also our first year having agarden in our new home. We placed it on the wrong side of the house (too much direct heat in 100+ degree weater), but after switching it over it did amazing. We did have to water mroe frequently, but this just meant more time examining for pests. We did not have nearly as many pest issues with the topsy turvy plant as we did out 5-Gallon bucket tomato plants. I would recommend using these for smaller tomatoes - cherry, plum, or something like Early Girls. The Topsy Turvy broken when we tried to pull the dying plant out, so don't expect them to last more than one season - if memory serves, the included informational packet noted that it should last more than one season. =D

Additionally, we liked that

Additionally, we liked that it uses so little soil compared to a tradition container. We used good organic potting soil from our local feed store - if you stop by your local feed store, they should be able to give you a great recommendation!

Topsy Turvy

I live in Maine where the sun is not as intense as other places. They were watered everyday, the pot and soil got too hot, watering everyday was not enough. Must be grown in partial shade, but tomatoes like full sun and to have their roots in cool soil. Not a very workable idea.

We have a problem with White

We have a problem with White Flys this time of the year.They get on anything green it seems.I spray with water from the hose trying to drown the things,but an hour later their back.How can I kill them and repel them??can't grow anything in containers or the ground,they die.

Hi there Cactus4, I was told

Hi there Cactus4, I was told by the Cooperative Extension office to take a Yellow Plastic plate (disposable kind) & smear vaseline on it & hang it outdoors. They are attracted to the yellow color. (Although it might get real dusty because we haven't had any rain.)There are LOTS of whiteflys this time of year because of the crop dusters spraying the cotton. You also might try a spray bottle with water & a little dish soap in it & spray the whiteflys on the plants. The dish soap wont hurt the plants.

I was told to save my dish

I was told to save my dish water to pour over my plants to kill pests. It helped. The dish liquid didn't hurt them and the tiny food scraps in the water is like feeding them.

I had white flies on my

I had white flies on my tomatoes last year. I tried the yellow plastic smeared with oil or Vaseline. They were attracted to it, but were still on my plants.

My neighbor told me to use 2 tablespoons of bleach to a gallon of water and spray my tomatoes. This worked better than the oil on a yellow plate. It did not harm my plants either.

Any tips for container

Any tips for container gardens in a green house? We use 5 gal buckets as well as large plastic planters in our green house.

Hi, Sam, Here is a good

Hi, Sam, Here is a good reference source for container gardening in a greenhouse:

We also have a nice article on Cold Frame Gardening on our Web site here:
--Your OFA Editors