When you’ve got limited space and want to grow vegetables, container gardening is the best way. Imagine the deck, patio, and walkway lined with lush tomatoes, winding peas, and loads of bush beans. It is amazing how many vegetables grow happily in containers! Container gardening is an excellent gardening method for those without yards or minimal backyard space. It’s also a great way for beginners to get started growing vegetable plants.
The Benefits of Container Gardening
Besides being a great way to grow vegetables, herbs, and flowers in small spaces, container gardening is ideal for anyone not sure if they want to dig up their yard yet for a big garden. New vegetable gardeners can take gardening for a “test-run” before committing to a huge endeavor.
Also, gardening is the best way to provide healthy, fresh vegetables for your family and save a lot of money while you’re doing it. There are tons of heirloom and organic seeds available to choose from, many of which you’ll never experience unless you grow them yourself. Best of all, it doesn’t take a considerable investment to get started. You can start with a few containers, and if you like it, add more as the years go on until you have a fully sustainable garden. If you live in an apartment or rental, container gardening is an incredible way to still garden without digging up the yard.
Container gardening is also the perfect way to get kids involved in gardening and growing their own food. Containers are easier to access for the little ones, and you don’t have to worry about the kids accidentally stepping on the plants. Plus, kids who grow veggies are more likely to eat them! Who knows, they may even start requesting salad with those leafy greens, or want to eat a tomato fresh like an apple, or simply munch on some green beans.
The Easiest Vegetables To Grow In A Container
There are tons of options for growing vegetables in a container garden. Dwarf seed varieties are specially bred to thrive in smaller spaces. And, many plants don’t grow that large to begin with and thrive perfectly well in a container.
- Asian Greens
- Pole Beans
- Bush Beans
- Green onions (Scallions)
Tips: Tomatoes, peas, pole beans, and peppers need supports to hold their weight as they grow.
Choosing A Container
So many options are possible for growing vegetables and flowers. Anything, really, can be converted into a growing vessel. Old barrels, wheelbarrows, tubs, buckets, recycled plastic jugs and pots, and even discarded tires are all viable options. Container gardening brings out all the creativity! For beginners, though, it’s best to start small. Be aware of your budget and stay within it. Once you’ve experienced how well vegetables and flowers grow in a pot, then it will be time to get the imaginative juices flowing and create a whole container landscape design around your home. No matter which container you choose, it must have drainage holes, or water will accumulate at the bottom and rot the roots.
Popular Container Choices
- Ceramic – A ceramic planting pot holds moisture well, which is an extremely important container feature. Because plants only get the water you give them, it is easy for them to dry out when the temperature gets high in the summer. Ceramic pots are beautiful, with a wide variety of color options, but are also on the more expensive side.
- Terracotta – The most common planter option, terracotta containers look nice and work great. The sides of these clay pots tend to get hot easily, causing the water to evaporate and soil to dry out quickly. A terracotta clay pot will need more frequent watering. The evaporation issue is easily solved, though, with the use of plastic pot liners. Terracotta pots are usually heavier than other options and quite breakable. They are susceptible to breaking during freezing temperatures, so never leave them outside in the winter.
- Wood – The natural aesthetic of wood containers makes them very popular for container gardening. Plants and veggies thrive in them, making them an excellent garden choice. However, wood planters will start to rot after a few seasons.
- Plastic – The least expensive and easiest option when it comes to choosing a container, plastic is a popular choice and available at your local garden centers. While they may not be as pretty or aesthetically pleasing as other choices, they are generally the best option for the beginner gardener because of the low-price. Plastic containers are also much lighter than ceramic or terracotta pots. Gallon buckets, old laundry baskets, and tote bins are a few reusable plastic container ideas. A tomato plant will happily grow in any of these! As long as the containers are deep enough for the vegetable roots, it should work fine.
- Self-Watering Containers – A self-watering container garden eliminates a lot of the stress of watering. They have reservoirs filled with water, which is then distributed to the plants as needed. Most self-watering container set-ups are made from plastic or are wood or ceramic with plastic inserts. They are durable and easy-to-use but definitely more expensive than other options.
Matchmaking Tips for Containers and Plants
Whichever container you pick, make sure it is suitable for the entire life of the plant and their root system. The container you choose is the only home for this vegetable, so you must plan in advance. All plants start out as small seedlings; don’t be fooled by the size and neglect to accommodate for the plants’ full height and width at maturity. Here is a basic guideline for the container sizes each plant will need. This is by no means all-encompassing since vegetable varieties will grow to different heights, but it is a good starting point. The seed packet should tell you the ideal pot size for each plant variety, or at least tell you how big the plants will get. It is vital to make sure the container is big enough to hold the mature plant, including the roots.
- Herbs like Parsley, Mint, Basil, Chives, Oregano, and Cilantro – 18″ deep pot
- Zucchini and Summer Squash – 1-2 gallon
- Peppers – 3-5 gallons
- Eggplant – 3-5 gallons
- Tomatoes – 5-10 gallon
- Carrots – 1-2 gallon
- Radishes – 10-12″ deep pot
- Onions – 12-18″ deep pot
- Spinach – 1-2 gallon
- Beans – 12-18″ deep pot
- Lettuce (and other leafy greens) – 8-10″ deep pot
- Kale – 1 gallon
- Beets – 2-3 gallon
How To Choose The Best Soil For Container Gardens
Plants need nutrition to survive; don’t underestimate the importance of a high-quality organic potting soil. Sure, it may not seem like a big deal to buy the least expensive option, but for container gardening, good soil is everything. Plants need to grow in high-quality soil; the soil you choose is the foundation of your plants’ life. They will get the majority of their needs from the potting mix, as well as the base structure to grow strong and healthy. This is not a place to cut corners. Potting soil must be loaded with high-quality nutrients, have excellent drainage abilities, and provide proper aeration for the roots to breathe and for beneficial microorganisms to thrive. Never use garden soil or reuse potting soil from other plants. These may introduce pests and disease to your newly planted vegetable and herb plants.
The Importance of Nutrients for Container Plants
Yes, you must supplement the soil with an organic vegetable or flower fertilizer. The potting soil mix alone won’t provide all the food and content a plant needs for the entirety of its life. There are many options for fertilizers, but we prefer a high-quality organic option, so we don’t introduce any potentially harmful chemicals into our food.
The amount of fertilizer a plant needs depends on the variety. The needs of a tomato plant are vastly different than those of a nasturtium. Most fertilizers bags or bottles have a feeding chart and schedule on the back indicating how often and how much to feed various types of plants. Choose vegetable specific ones for heavy feeding crops like tomatoes and peppers. Use an all-around fertilizer for low feeders, like lettuce, herbs, and radishes.
Adding compost to the seedlings and plants during the growing season also helps add plentiful nutrients to the soil. Tomatoes, green beans, zucchini, and cucumbers all benefit from a regular monthly addition of high-quality compost. A fish emulsion also adds excellent nutrition to the soil.
Where should I put my container garden?
- Sunlight -Does the location get full or partial sun? Be sure to monitor the space for an entire day before determining if the conditions are good or not. The sun changes position throughout the day, and a sunny morning location may get a tree or building overshadowing it later in the day. There are several ways to determine if a site is getting enough sun: create a sun map or use a sun calculator. This sun calculator is a popular way of determining overall sun exposure. It is quite common for tree shade to fall over a balcony or deck for some portion of the day, which is a big problem. Be aware of shadows cast from the house too and the potential for water dripping from the roof when it rains. It may seem ideal to place the containers next to the side of the house, but there they are likely to get drowned out or washed away during heavy rains when water gushes off the roof. Most vegetables need between 8-10 hours or sunlight per day. If the location doesn’t receive this much light, consider moving the containers or planting vegetables and herbs that don’t mind some shade or a lower temperature. One of the great benefits of container gardening is the ability to move the plants to a new home as needed.
- Water – How easy or difficult will it be to water the containers? If the container garden is on the back porch, can you fill a watering can inside? Or, is there an accessible water spigot outside? A garden that is complicated or time-consuming to water often ends up neglected. Don’t let this be your garden. Place containers in a location that is easy for you to water.
- Accessibility – One of the great benefits of a container garden is that it is moveable. Set-up the containers in an easily accessible location (not on the opposite side of the yard where you have to trek water to!). It’s really incredible when you can step outside, cut some lettuce and herbs, and pick a cucumber for a fresh salad with very minimal effort. One thing to keep in mind; pots and containers filled with soil are quite heavy. Moving them after planting, especially the larger ones, is quite difficult. Do your best to plan in advance where to locate the containers to avoid having to move them later.
Step-By-Step Container Gardening For Beginners
For the newbie gardeners, setting up a container garden can seem overwhelming. However, it doesn’t have to be complicated at all. You can take whatever old plastic jug you have laying around, poke holes in it if there aren’t any, add soil and seeds, and be on your way to becoming a vegetable gardening pro. This easy guide will take you through the process of container gardening from start to finish, so you don’t have to worry about missing anything! Pay attention to the growing season for each vegetable variety to ensure it is being planted at the correct time. Plants in pots grow at about the same pace as those in gardens, as long as the containers are large enough.
These are all the supplies you will need:
- Containers appropriately sized for what you are growing, and make sure they have a drainage hole
- Potting soil
- Plant labels
- Plant supports, for tomatoes, peas, beans, and peppers
- Make a plan (this is what the notebook is for!). Which container is for which plant? How many will you be planting, and when? Create a calendar with planting dates to optimize growth and yields. Evaluate the ideal growing conditions for each plant and decide where to put it.
- Write out plant labels in advance. List the vegetable variety, planting date, and days to maturity. Not only does this help streamline the process, but you are less likely to forget to label the containers if they’re already prepared. And, they act as a quick resource when you’re tending the plants throughout the year.
- Place containers in their permanent locations before filling them with soil. This prevents having to move heavy pots later on. Believe me; you’ll be glad you did! This does create a little bit more extra work if you have multiple locations, but it’s well worth it.
- Organize your seeds and put the seed packets with the appropriate containers.
- Fill the containers and pots with the potting soil mix, leaving 1/2″ free at the top.
- Water the potting soil in each container before planting seeds. Add enough water, so the soil is damp but not soggy. Watering in advance prevents the seeds from getting lost in the container later on, which a common problem beginners encounter.
- Gently press on the soil to eliminate any large air pockets.
- Plant the seeds in the containers and pots per the instructions on the seed packet. Never plant a seed deeper than the recommended depth, or it will struggle to reach the surface to sprout.
- Lightly cover the seeds with soil.
- Water the containers every day just so the soil is moist. Be careful about overwatering; this will drown the seeds. Keep the soil damp but never soggy.
- Once the seeds germinate, water plants only when the top of the soil feels dry to the touch. Overwatering leads to soggy bottoms and rotted roots. But also, underwatering will cause plants to wilt and die.
- Add fertilizer to your container vegetable garden once a month or as directed on the package to keep your plants healthy and thriving.
- Be sure to monitor the container garden daily to see if the plants need water or more (or less) sun. A container garden will dry out faster than a traditional garden plot since it cannot gather moisture from the ground. And, containers themselves don’t hold moisture well.
What Can Be Grown In A 1-Gallon Container?
A great place for beginners to start is with simple 1-gallon containers. They’re easy, inexpensive, and the perfect starting point for new container gardeners. A one-gallon container can be used to start seedlings and grow small fruits and vegetable plants. Never re-use containers that once held chemicals or other toxic materials as that can get passed on to the plants. Food-grade containers can be washed and re-used, or buy new ones from a garden center. Don’t forget to poke holes in the bottom for drainage if there aren’t any already.
In general, it is best to use the largest pot possible to grow a plant, so it has the space and depth to spread out as needed. Of course, bigger containers take up more space, which may not be an option for you. One-gallon containers are a great all-around size for many veggies.
The best seeds and plants to grow in a one-gallon pot are:
- Swiss Chard
- Green Onions
Can Vegetables Be Grown In 5-Gallon Buckets?
Yes! In fact, 5-gallon pots are ideal for growing many types of vegetables. They’re inexpensive, easy to move around, and adaptable to many situations. Don’t forget plants need drainage holes in their pots to keep the soil well-drained. Drill or poke holes in the container if needed.
The best plants to grow in a 5-gallon container and how many:
- Tomatoes (Cherry Tomato or Determinate Bush Tomato) – 1 per container
- Melons – 1 plant
- Cucumbers – 1 plant
- Eggplant – 1 plant
- Squash – 1 plant
- Peppers -2 plants
- Bush Beans – 2-3 plants
- Radishes – 8-10 plants
- Carrots – 8-10 plants
- Beets – 4 plants
- Onions – 4 plants
Which Plants Are Best For A Hanging Basket?
Hanging baskets are excellent containers for growing plants, especially flowers and herbs. We recommend growing vining flowers in hanging basket container gardens. Make sure the basket is big enough for what you are planting. Keep your plants in hanging baskets away from roof drips, and they will grow well.
- Cherry Tomatoes
- Leafy Greens
- Herbs, like dill, parsley, basil, tyme, sage, lavender, mint, rosemary, and oregano.
The Best Plants To Grow In A Window Box
Small, shallow-rooted vegetables, herbs, and flowers are the best option for a windowsill box. Most window boxes aren’t deep enough to grow root vegetables. There are window boxes, though, that are designed with deep compartments for growing.
- Herbs, like basil, mint, lemon balm, sage, chives, parsley, thyme, and oregano.
- Mini Bush Cucumbers
We hope you learned a lot from this container gardening for beginners guide. We want you to be successful in growing food no matter what type of space you have available. There are so many options besides the traditional dug-in bed garden. A container garden is an amazing low-effort gardening technique that doesn’t require a huge investment in space or resources.