Container Gardening for Vegetables

Carrots growing in a flower pot

All kinds of vegetables will grow in flower pots, including carrots! Image from Pernaculture for Renters.

Vegetable growing can be a lot of hard work – between the beating they get from tilling the garden and the back breaking bending to place each seed or plant in the ground, many gardeners give up and go shopping at the Farmer’s Market. Although this is certainly a viable solution, you still can’t be sure how your veggies and fruits were handled, or what kinds of chemicals might have been applied to them.

There is another way: container gardening! Containers simplify the labor intensive preparation required of vegetable gardens in areas with troubled soil and even allow apartment dwellers to grow a surprising amount of food in a very small space. With careful planning and the right containers, you can grow almost any type of vegetable in a planter pot, flower box, or hanging basket.

Choosing a Container and Medium

Before you plant your first tomato, pepper, bean, or onion, think about the spaces around your home where a planted container might fit. Small plants with upright growth like bush beans, carrots, beets or lettuce may fit nicely into an extra wide window box. A mixed planting of veggies can be every bit as pretty as flowers. Big hanging baskets are great for vining or tumbling plants like peas, small squash, cucumbers or runner beans.

Lettuce plants in a window box

In the city, grow veggies like lettuce in window boxes. Image from Dig Home Designing.

The selection of potting medium is vital to your success with container gardening. Starting with a sterilized, premixed general potting soil with slow release fertilizer is ideal, though experienced gardeners may choose to mix their own from a variety of sterilized mediums. Worm castings are a common addition to a basic soil mix, helping your container garden retain moisture and improving soil structure.

Caring for Container Veggies

Veggies in containers don’t usually need to be weeded and soil-borne pathogens are rarely problems, but they do require some special care. Since your plants are growing in a very small, limited area, they are going to need you to give them everything it takes for them to survive. Watering, fertilizing and careful pruning will ensure that your plants are all they can be.

Every plant needs water, but a container plant may need to be watered as much as three times a day in the summer. Check the soil a few times a day by sticking your finger in as deeply as you can. If it feels dry below the first knuckle, water the container evenly until water runs out the bottom. Try not to get water on the leaves, since this can invite problems with fungal disease.

Tomatoes growing in a hanging basket

You can even grow vegetables in hanging baskets! Image from Love Apple Farms.

All that watering will drive the nutrients from the soil, which is why a slow-release fertilizer in the mix is a nice bonus. If your plants are starting to produce lighter colored leaves, or just don’t seem quite right, a half-strength dose of water soluble 10-10-10 fertilizer mixed into the watercan may help. Don’t fertilize more than once a week, unless your plants are obviously struggling, and then only do so after performing a soil test.

If frequent watering seems like a challenge, consider a self-watering planter. You can turn any planter into a self-watering one by adding a reservoir. It will hold excess water at the bottom of the planter, and the thirsty plants will pull it up into their roots when they need it.

Some plants, like tomatoes, do better when they’ve been pruned heavily. It may seem counter-intuitive, but if you want big, fat tomatoes from your containers, limit the number of secondary shoots and pinch out excessive growth. Thin other plants, like carrots and lettuce, after seeding to give the strongest plants a little more room.

Recommended Container Size for Common Vegetables

Vegetable Minimum Container Size Spacing
Broccoli 14-inch pot 1 plant per container
Bush Green Beans 10-inch pot or basket
Extra deep window box
2 to 3 inch spacing
Carrots 5-inch pot or basket
Extra deep window box
2 to 3 inch spacing
Cucumbers 10-inch pot 1 plant per container
Leaf Lettuce 8-inch pot or basket
Regular window box
4 to 5 inch spacing
Green Onions 6-inch pot or basket
Regular window box
2 to 3 inch spacing
Peas 6-inch pot or basket
Regular window box
2 to 3 inch spacing
Peppers 10-inch pot or basket 1 plant per container
Summer Squash 14-inch pot or basket 1 plant per container
Cherry Tomatoes 10-inch pot or basket 1 plant per container
Standard Tomatoes 14-inch pot or basket 1 plant per container
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