Planting and Growing a Vegetable Garden in Containers

Growing container vegetables

No room for a traditional garden? Try planting and growing a vegetable garden in containers. One chief benefit: You can place containers anywhere there's sunlight — even on a patio, deck, driveway, balcony or rooftop. There's no need to fret about too much shade when you can place your containers anywhere you like.

Container gardening has been growing in popularity for years. While ornamentals are often the go-to plants, more people are discovering that vegetables and herbs have their place in containers, too. Here are a few reasons to try growing a vegetable garden in containers and some tips to help along the way.

Container Gardening Benefits

  • If you're a beginner, container gardening is an inexpensive way to try a vegetable or herb garden.
  • You can create gardening space where there was none before, such as on a deck, patio or stoop.
  • Containers foster optimum plant growth when filled with a lightweight, nutrient-rich potting mix.
  • You can easily move containers if your plants need more or less sunlight.
  • Container gardening extends the growing season because you can temporarily store your garden in the garage if frost is due.
  • Containers simplify watering by funneling all moisture into the root zone rather than letting it run off.
  • You can use practically any vessel, including buckets, bins, half wine barrels, old gutters or plastic nursery pots.
  • Containers reduce the need to weed around plants.
  • Containers cut down on pests such as snails and slugs.

Container Vegetable Gardening Tips

Choose the Right Pot

You can use just about any container that will hold soil as long as it has drainage holes (vegetables and herbs don't like constantly wet soil). You could repurpose old plastic nursery pots; check with landscapers who specialize in tree planting to get supersized plastic pots perfect for container gardening.

Plan for Watering

The greatest challenge of container gardening is watering. That's because soil dries out faster in pots than in the ground. Choose the largest pot you can find so there's a bigger volume of soil to hold moisture. You can also place a pot within another pot, so the sun doesn't heat up the surface of the container and bake the soil. You might consider grouping your containers — they're easier to water and the outermost pots shade those behind them.

Since potted plants often need daily watering, you can simplify the task by using self-watering containers. They make extra water available to plants with a reservoir that sits beneath a grid topped with soil. You won't have to water daily, but you will need to keep that reservoir filled. Another water-wise idea: Cover bare soil with mulch to slow moisture evaporation.

Use a Potting Soil Mix

Simplify everything by filling containers with a good-quality soilless potting mix that has slow-release fertilizer and holds moisture well. You'll have less concern about when to fertilize — and less to worry about if you miss a day of watering.

Seek the Light

Containers make it possible for people with shady gardens to grow edible plants. Simply place the container garden in a sunny spot. You can even put several of them on a cart, wagon or other device with wheels and follow the sun around the yard.

Deciding What to Plant

When planting vegetables in containers, remember that some are easier than others. You can grow corn if you have a large watering trough, but there are easier bets that won't need as much space, including arugula, beets, bush beans, chives, collard greens, eggplant, kale, peppers, radishes, sweet potatoes and Swiss chard.

Start With Herbs

Herbs are easy to grow in containers, especially if you begin with seedlings, and will add a fresh-grown taste to almost any meal. You can place herbs in a convenient spot near the kitchen that invites "cut and come again" harvesting. Just remember to give them the conditions they prefer: full sun and well-drained soil.

Many herbs also work well as companion plants in containers. Examples include basil with tomatoes, variegated sage with petunias and thyme with marigolds. You get more productivity and more beauty as well.

Level Up With Greens

Baby greens, such as lettuce and spinach, are among the simplest vegetables to grow in containers. You can get them off to a quick start because they actually prefer the cooler temperatures of spring. Sow seeds right in the pot. They'll take a week or more to sprout but then will quickly reach a harvest size of 3 to 4 inches. Use scissors to snip only the largest leaves and keep your harvest going for six to eight weeks — or longer if temperatures are cool. Eventually, the plants will bolt, or go to seed, at which point you can pull them up, let the pot remain fallow for a month or two, then sow a fall crop.

Challenge Yourself With Tomatoes

Tomatoes can take some work to grow as a container vegetable. Be sure to seek out varieties specifically recommended for containers, such as the 'Sweetheart of the Patio Hybrid'. Generally, these are "determinate," meaning they'll grow to a certain size, then stop and bear all their fruit in a few weeks. Cherry tomatoes also work well in a pot, and you'll love the convenience of stationing a pot or two outside your back door. Use a large container, 18 to 24 inches in diameter, and include a tomato cage for support.

Growing a vegetable garden in containers can be a great way to start a garden or take yours to the next level. Get growing with seeds, plants and gardening supplies from Burpee.

Written by Luke W. Miller, Garden Ideas

Luke Miller is an award-winning garden editor and Master Gardener who has worked with Better Homes and Gardens Special Interest Media, Lowe's Creative Ideas and Garden Gate magazine.

May 21, 2021
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