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Growing Vegetables in Pots

Whether you are limited on yard space, you’re a city or apartment dweller and short on outdoor space, you have mobility issues, or you have garden space, but you just want to grow vegetables right outside your back door, Growing Vegetables in Pots is for you.

In our ½ acre yard, we have lots of space for a large vegetable garden or even gardens, but we’re trying to keep things manageable, and that’s the reason I grow vegetables in containers. We’re going to cover everything about container vegetable gardening: the benefits of growing vegetables in pots, the best containers to use, what kind of soil to use, tips for planting your veggies, along with how to maintain your vegetables growing in containers. With all of these ideas and information, you should have everything you need for a great harvest of fresh, delicious vegetables. 

Image of Vegetables in Pots

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The Benefits of Container Vegetable Gardening

  • The first benefit of growing veggies in containers is that you can grow lots vegetables in a relatively small space.
  • Another benefit of growing vegetables in pots is the ease of caring for your plants. There’s also the ease of access. Vegetable containers can be placed wherever they will get enough sun. You don’t have to bend over as far and with some containers you won’t have to bend at all.
  • You also don’t have weeds to contend with container gardening.
  • If you’re in an area with bad soil, you won’t have to worry about amending your soil and the restrictions of growing in poor soil.
  • You won’t have to contend with rabbits eating your fresh produce.
  • You don’t have to worry about companion planting. Some vegetables don’t behave when they are planted next to other vegetables. If you plant veggies in pots, you don’t have to worry about what is planted next to them.

Choosing the Right Container for Growing Vegetables

The bigger the container, the better. This is where the saying, “go big or go home” comes into play. Really, I cannot emphasize enough – bigger is better! Many herbs and some veggies will grow in small containers, but you’re going to be better off using large containers. Case in point is the picture below of the beautiful zucchini plant. Look at the size of the container – it’s way too small, and we only harvested two zucchini before the entire plant died. The pot just wasn’t big enough to sustain the growth of the plant.

Zucchini growing in a pot

There are tons of cool self-watering pots available, but they can be pricy. If I’m going to be honest here, I don’t really take very good care of my flower pots and containers, so I don’t like to spend lots of money on them. I’d rather spend my money on seeds and plants to put in them. Self-watering containers are a great way to go if you want to fork over the cash. I will share some alternative watering gadgets that I recommend in the section below on vegetable container garden maintenance.

The Best Containers for Growing Vegetables

Grow Bags are the way to go for vegetable container gardening. Especially if storage space is limited. You don’t have to deal with a big pot to store, because grow bags store fairly flat. Grow bags also have natural drainage and aeration for the roots. They are available in 5 gallon size and extra large sizes, plus lots of other sizes too.  I’ve grown potatoes in grow bags and they work wonderfully. Really though, any vegetable can be grown in them.

 A few other suggestions for good containers for growing vegetables are stock tanks, half whiskey barrels or 5 gallon buckets (not black). If you are a thrift store or garage sale shopper keep an eye out for large containers that would work for container gardening. Remember to drill holes in containers that don’t have them. Adequate drainage is important.

Again, the right sized container is the first thing to consider in the success of your vegetables. If the container is too small, your veggie’s roots will get too crowded. When roots are crowded, it’s difficult for them to take up water and overcrowded plants dry out very quickly. Without ample water, your veggie production will be very low.

The Best Soil for Container Grown Vegetables

There are lots of soil recipes for the best growing medium for vegetable container gardens. If you have the time and the ingenuity, go ahead do your research and make your own potting mix. Another combination I use is bagged Pro-Mix and compost.

I usually just purchase a decent organic potting mix every year. Costco has giant bags (that I can barely lift) of organic potting mix for relatively cheap. Just be sure you are getting potting mix for containers and not soil to go in ground.

Because I live in an area that maintains temperature below freezing for several weeks in winter, I reuse my potting mix from year-to-year and just freshen it up with new before I plant. I do not recommend this if you had pest or disease issues the year before.

Do not use garden soil for your container gardens. It is not light enough for container grown plants. 

Cucumber plant on steroids. Not really, but this plant was very happy and we were rewarded with lots of cukes.

Cucumber plant growing in a planter

Which Vegetables Grow Well in Pots

You can look for dwarf varieties or varieties specifically designed to grow in containers. But, really most any variety of vegetables will grow well in containers if planted in the correct sized container and maintained properly.

If you are looking to preserve the vegetables that you grow, look for plants that are determinate. Determinate plants are those that produce most of their yield at one time. On the other hand, indeterminate vegetables will produce throughout the growing season and work well if you want to just eat from your garden for the season.

Vining plants like cucumbers, small melons, squash, pole beans, peas, etc. can be grown vertically in containers with a tomato cage or other type of trellis. Heavy fruits like melons or squash may need extra support. Growing plants vertically is a huge space saver.

Experiment and see which varieties work best for you. Keep track of your findings in your garden journal.

Some plants like to be started from seed and some are better planted from starter plants. If you live in colder gardening zones, you might be better off purchasing plants, as opposed to starting seeds directly in the garden. Depending what gardening zone you are in, there are always variants on whether to use seeds or plants, but the list below is a good plan to follow for the earliest harvest.

Start these plants from seeds right in your containers:

  • green beans
  • carrots
  • radishes
  • beets
  • lettuce
  • spinach
  • peas
  • potatoes (use seed potatoes)
  • corn 

Okra is a beautiful vegetable plant to grow and it did very well in a container. Plus, it’s packed full of great nutrients.

Okra growing in a planter

If you are planting seeds, following the instructions on the seed packet, and be prepared to thin seedlings to avoid overcrowding.Botanical Interests (my favorite seed company) has a great selection of vegetable seeds specifically for growing in containers.

For these vegetables (or fruits) use starter plants:

  • broccoli
  • cauliflower
  • cabbage
  • cucumber
  • eggplant
  • onions
  • peppers
  • squash
  • tomatoes
  • melons
  • okra

Grow a Salsa Garden in Containers

It’s really easy to grow the ingredients for a yummy salsa in containers. Pick out your favorite determinate variety or varieties of tomatoes. Grow a few different varieties of peppers. We like to have bell peppers and a few hot peppers like jalapenos, banana peppers and a few chili peppers for a more mild salsa. You can go as hot or mild as you want by growing different varieties of peppers. Onions and cilantro can also be grown in containers. Here is my favorite recipe for canning salsa.

Super Sweet 100s Tomatoes grow in a large container on our patio every summer.

Super Sweet 100s Tomatoes Growing in a Container

Tips for Planting Your Vegetable Containers

Pretty much any vegetable can be planted in a container and will do well if the container is big enough to support its root system. Even though, plants will look small for the first few weeks, they will fill in and grow really quickly. Resist the urge to add more starter plants to the big container (speaking from experience). 

If you use an overly large container, fill it completely with soil. Don’t put junk in the bottom of the container to cut down on the amount of soil you use. You can add a layer of compost, twigs, leaves or untreated grass clippings at the bottom of large containers and that organic matter will eventually break down.

Leave a few inches at the top of your container, so it’s easier to add lots of water to the container without it running over the sides.

Placement of Your Vegetable Pots

Choose the sunniest place you can find in your yard, your balcony, sidewalk, patio, front porch. We have an area on the non-entrance side of our house that has steps leading around to the backyard and it gets full sun. That’s where I have lots of vegetable containers. I also have veggies in pots on my patio.

I highly recommend placing your heavier pots on plant dollies. It makes it so much easier in case you have to move them, or turn them. As your plants grow you may need to do some rearranging so taller plants don’t shade the shorter ones.

Tips for Maintaining Vegetables Growing in Pots to Get the Highest Yield

So after you select the appropriate size container, add a good potting mix and plant your veggie plants or seeds, maintaining your veggies is the key component in getting high yields and super delicious vegetables. Appropriate amounts of water and fertilizer are essential!

Check your containers every day by sticking your finger down a couple of inches into the soil, if it’s dry, your plant needs water. You can also use a moisture meter. I like to add moisture meters to some of my thirstiest plants and just leave them there. Then its really easy to see if they need water. 

When you water, hold the hose nozzle down at soil level and give the plant a deep soaking. I like my long-handle wand-type nozzle for watering my container gardens. Self-watering spikes used with wine bottles also go a long way to keep the soil in your vegetable containers moist. I like using them in my smaller containers, because they keep them from drying out. 

Vegetables, especially those grown in containers, need fertilizer. Because container gardens are watered a lot, any nutrients that the soil contains are washed right out. For vegetables, I recommend using a good organic fertilizer. I like to use liquid so I can simply add it to a watering can. For the best vegetables and highest yield, fertilize every 10 – 14 days. Definitely do not over-fertilize, as that will result in weak plants and the flavor of your veggies won’t be as good. If you used a potting mix that includes fertilizer, wait about 3-4 weeks after planting before you start fertilizing.

Vegetable Container Garden

Harvesting Your Veggies

When you are ready to harvest your veggies, use sharp garden shears so you don’t damage or uproot your plant by tugging on it. You will find that growing your own food can be incredibly rewarding and growing your own food in a limited space can be ever more gratifying.

And, one final tip- Be sure to add some flowers in pots around your veggies. If you do this the pollinators will come and do the job of pollinating your vegetables. Plus, it just looks so good!

Thank you for stopping by Gingham Gardens today. I hope you enjoyed learning how to grow vegetables in containers and are leaving with valuable information and great tips.

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Happy gardening,

Joanna

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6 Comments

  1. I started container gardening this year when I developed health problems. It’s great. The only thing I need help with is carrying bags of soil(I can’t carry them).) So I bought a dolly, my hubby loads bags and I can take the soil where I need it. Container gardening is great for the disabled or those w/health problems.

  2. This is a perfect game changer for me. I never given a thought to a potted garden. What a fantastic idea. I wanted a garden, but did not have means, until now, how to make that happen. Thank you so much.

    1. Hi Ivory – I’m so glad you were inspired by Growing Vegetables in Pots. Be sure to send me some pictures of your container gardens. Good luck and happy gardening, Joanna

    1. Hi Julie – thanks for stopping by Gingham Gardens. I’m glad you enjoyed Growing Vegetables in Pots. Let me know if you have any questions. Happy gardening, Joanna

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