Vegetable Container Gardening
We’ve come a long way from thinking that vegetables can only be grown in the ground, in rows, in the backyard. Not that there is anything wrong with that, you understand — but it used to be that we all thought it was the only way it could properly be done. Now we know we can have vegetables growing in our front yards, in sweeps rather than rows, in between flowers, and in our landscape beds. But what about containers? Yes, you can absolutely grow vegetables in containers, and we’re going to talk about why you may want to as well as how to do it successfully.
Why would I want to grow veggies in containers?
Well, not to be cheeky…but why not? You’re allowed to do something just because you can, but if you’d like more reasons, here you go:
- You may not have any ground to plant in. Do you live in an apartment, condo, or townhome? You may have little to no outside area with ground to plant in. But you might have a balcony, a terrace, a patio, a rooftop, or a courtyard. Perfect for potted veggies as long as you have the right amount of sunlight.
- Container vegetable gardening is fun. Container gardening in general is fun — who doesn’t like a micro garden? And add in a micro edible garden, and suddenly, we’re all swooning.
- You like to experiment. Perhaps you have vegetables and other edibles planted in the ground, but you’re wondering if the tomatoes would grow better in a large container. Or you have an arbor with an attached planter and you think, “Hmmm, I wonder if my squash will grow over that.” And off you go. You’re our kind of people.
- Containers are movable. For whatever reason you’d want to move containers around (to protect from weather, to create space for a gathering, to beautify your patio), your potted veggie gardens are like Meals on Wheels.
- Potted edibles are convenient. You might have your larger veggie garden farther out in your yard, but what if there’s particular edibles you want to keep handy because you use them frequently? Place those containers by your back door, on your patio, or wherever it’s most convenient for you.
- You have more control with containers. You can 100% control the soil quality and fertilzing to grow premium veggies.
- It’s lower maintenance. Think about giving up your weeding tasks, and adding in easier harvesting. It’s a win-win.
What edibles can I grow in containers?
Almost all of them, with a few exceptions. You’ll have more success with dwarf or “patio- sized” edibles like herbs, small fruits, and smaller veggies. Root veggies like carrots do well in deeper containers to accommodate their below-soil growth, and tomatoes are best if you use determinate or “bush” style so they don’t get out of hand.
Tips for Container Vegetable Gardening
Anything you can grow in the ground, you can grow in a container. Except for a 50’ shade tree, because whoever heard of doing that? But we digress. Vegetables in particular can be well-suited to container gardening as long as you give each type of veggie or edible what it needs to thrive. Let’s break it down:
- Decide your location. Consider sunlight patterns throughout the day, water accessibility, wind exposure, and simple convenience. You’ll want 6-8 hours of direct sun per day for most edibles, with some leafy greens accepting 3-5 hours per day.
- Determine your container sizes. You can use plastic or ceramic containers, or even hanging baskets and windowboxes. The size of each depends upon what you’re growing. Smaller herbs and lettuces can grow well in 12” pots, while larger tomatoes or squash require a 5-gallon size.
- Make sure containers have drainage holes. If your pot has one large drainage hole in the bottom, you’re probably good to go. But if it has no holes or inadequate holes, you’ll need to drill more. Smaller containers needs 3-6 drainage holes that are ¼” diameter, while larger containers should have 6-8 holes of the same diameter.
- Ensure proper support for vining veggies. Some tomatoes, peas, and squash have long stems or vines, so you’ll need to add a trellis or other supporting structure to keep them upright and healthy.
- Use a soilless potting mix. Under no circumstances use regular garden soil, thinking it’s the same thing. Most garden soils are too heavy to use in containers, and your veggies will suffer as a result. A good soilless potting mix that is well-draining is the way to go.
- Water adequately. Container plants tend to dry out more quickly than those planted in the ground, so you’ll need to take that into consideration. Plan to water once per day, and possibly twice if the weather is very hot and/or windy. Use a hose, a watering can, or install drip irrigation.
- Fertilize properly. We recommend a slow-release fertilizer in your potting mix and a liquid fertilizer twice a month when the veggies are actively growing. Never over-fertilize, which can damage plant health or lead to an abundance of leaves without any fruit. You can also use manure tea, liquid seaweed, or fish emulsion to go the organic route.
- Perform your usual veggie garden maintenance. Harvesting and pest control will be similar to your in-ground veggies with the exception that it might actually be easier to manage in containers. We love an easy win over here!
- Jenny Peterson