Short on space? That’s no reason to not grow your own vegetables, fruit, and herbs! Growing vegetables in containers is a fabulous way to enjoy the fresh taste of homegrown food even when you don’t have land space. Container gardening is also an easy way to garden when you don’t want all the labor involved in a traditional in-ground garden, or don’t have the room (or desire) for raised beds. You can also use containers to supplement your current garden area. I use larger pots and two Earth boxes in my garden for more growing space without having to add another garden bed.
Container Gardening Favorites
While most vegetable plants can be grown in a container (my watermelon experiment did not end well last year), there are some that are more adaptive to life in a pot than others. The productivity of a container garden also improves when you utilize the vertical space. Using trellis to provide support to trailing plants and vines increases the produce yield. Get your containers ready and plant some of these vegetables that grow best in containers.
Using good quality potting soil, such as my DIY potting soil, and a high quality fertilizer are important elements to container gardening. Since you’re not growing in the ground where worms and other beneficial soil organisms live, you’ll need to amend the soil yourself. This just means more frequent watering and fertilizer use. A self-watering planter can help cut back on how much you have to water (and let you leave for vacation less concerned about your plants), but even traditional pots can be rigged with an irrigation system to make the watering issue not as big of a deal. And there’s always rain… But growing vegetables in containers is a great way to try your hand at gardening, or to get kids involved in growing some veggies and herbs of their own. So what grows best in Containers?
What grows best in container gardens?
Carrots need a deep pot, moist soil, and cool weather to grow their best. This vegetable does great in a pot in spring, then after harvesting, use the same pot to plant a warm season vegetable. Be sure to thin out your carrot seedlings, since you want to give each carrot plenty of room to grow large. And kids love pulling carrots, so put little garden helpers to work!
If you have the vertical space for a trellis, you can grow traditional vining cucumbers. If the vertical space is not available, plant a bush variety of your favorite slicing cucumber. You’ll need a large pot and full sun location for an abundant harvest. Here in the south, cucumbers grow abundantly well into the fall. I’m actually growing my pickling cucumbers in containers this year, and my slicing cucumbers are in the flower bed. A tomato cage can also come in handy to keep your container cucumbers supported.
These are heat-loving plants and need high temperatures both day and night, making them a suitable summer crop for container gardening. Just one plant can produce an abundant amount of eggplant, and the different varieties are so fun to try! (Southern Exposure Seed’s White Eggplant is my favorite.) But since eggplants can be such prolific producers, just plant one if your family isn’t crazy for eggplant… like mine.
Almost all herbs, mint and lemon balm included, are fantastic to grow in containers. (Mint and lemon balm tend to go a little crazy, but better to have them contained!) Herbs are also a great introduction to gardening, and the flavor difference between garden fresh herbs and store-bought dried types is incredible. Many herbs can grow until you’re ready to use them (just watch for blooming and seeding), and they make a lovely decoration for any patio or porch. Did I also mention that most herb varieties help keep mosquitoes away? True story.
Lettuce is a cool season crop, so you can plant it in easily spring and enjoy several harvests until the weather becomes too hot for it to produce. Plant a warm season vegetable in the container for summer harvest, then follow that with a second planting of lettuce for a fall harvest. All varieties of lettuce work well for containers including romaine, butter crunch, spinach, arugula, mesclun, mizuna, kale, it’s all good!
All pepper varieties grow on bush-type plants, making them an ideal choice for container growing. Peppers also enjoy the hot, dry conditions that are easy to achieve with a container. If the container is large enough, you may be able to fit two pepper plants! My favorite varieties are the Carolina Wonder from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and any variety of jalapeno peppers for making fresh salsa and grilled jalapeno poppers all summer long!
Start with a 12 inch deep pot, then plant a dwarf or bush variety of your variety green pea for a summer-long harvest. The deep pot will help you keep soil moist for better pea production. Also, once the plant is established, mulch around the base of the pea plant to keep moisture in the soil. (A great dwarf variety to try is the Dwarf Sugar Snap variety from SESE.)
Radishes grow quickly and are well adapted to grow in a shallow pot. Plant radishes in a container 6 inches deep and enjoy a harvest in less than one month. Just like with carrots, be sure to thin out the seedlings so that the radishes have plenty of room to grow. A personal favorite is the French Breakfast Radish from Baker Creek Seeds.
Spinach grows well in partial shade and can be grown indoors or outdoors. Use a shallow (6 inches), wide pot to grow spinach and enjoy several harvests before the weather gets too hot for it to grow. Once the weather warms, spinach can bolt and the flavor is affected. Bloomsdale is one of my favorite varieties to grow.
Full size or salad size, red, yellow or pink, any variety of tomato grows well in a container. Select a bush or dwarf plant and a location for the container that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight each day. Tomatoes will benefit from a vertical support system such as a thick stake or stick. And for dwarf or patio varieties, also called determinate, don’t feel the need to prune them. Just let them do their thing. Here are our patio tomatoes so far this year. I like to plant them with marigolds to try to keep bugs at bay. If you do grow an indeterminate tomato plant in your container, be sure to prune them as they grow and provide them with lots of support.
A word about water
In container gardening, it can be easy for soil to dry out. Always keep an eye on your plants and a finger in the dirt. If your soil is dry and crumbly when you press your finger into the pot, then gently water your plants. If the soil is damp and dirt clings to your finger, then you can wait to water. Self watering planters, like the one I have above or the Earth box (which I keep in the garden area) are easy, no-brainer containers for growing amazing vegetables.
So even if you don’t have tons of space, container gardening can still help you grow food of your own. Try out several things, and also remember that each vegetable comes in numerous varieties. I’d love to know what you enjoy growing in containers. Comment below and let me know what you’ve had success with! Have a great week and happy gardening!