Vegetable Container Gardening: A How-To Guide for Beginners
Container gardening is a great option for anyone who wants to grow their own produce but lacks the space to do so via a traditional in-ground garden. Even if you do have the space, vegetable container gardening can be a low-maintenance option that still allows you to grow a wide variety of different fruits and vegetables. If you are interested in container gardening, we are going to talk about what a container garden is, how to start a container garden, which vegetables are suitable for container gardening, and more!
What is Container Gardening?
Container gardening, simply put, is growing traditional garden vegetables in pots or other containers. This gardening method allows you to grow certain varieties of plants in a more compact and manageable way. Container gardening is popular for its ease, low maintenance, and flexibility.
How to Start Container Gardening
While vegetable container gardens may seem like a piece of cake, it does involve more than just picking out some seeds or vegetable plants and throwing them in a pot with some dirt. To help you be as successful as possible with your container garden, here are some things to keep in mind!
1. Choose the Right Container
The first step in starting your container garden is making sure you have the right containers. You can use almost any type of container as long as it is large enough and has good drainage.
The Bigger the Better
Your plants will benefit from being grown in larger containers and will also require less maintenance, so try to stick to pots that are larger than 12 inches in diameter. Larger containers can hold more soil which will retain more water for a longer period of time, and this will really be important during the hottest months of the summer!
Drainage Holes are Necessary
As much as moisture retention is important, it is equally as important to have good drainage! Your plants will not grow well and can easily become infected with fungus and disease if they are sitting in soggy soil. One way to avoid this is by making sure your pot has drainage holes so that any excess water can flow freely out the bottom of your container.
Pots Made out of Different Materials
There are all sorts of different kinds of pots that are made out of all sorts of different materials. There are wooden planter boxes, biodegradable pots, plastic pots, ceramic or terra cotta pots, fabric pots, self-watering containers, and so much more. You can even make DIY pots out of a lot of different materials. All of these are fine for planting, just keep in mind that each pot will affect your plants a little differently. Wood may begin to rot after a couple of years, terra cotta absorbs moisture which can cause the soil to dry out quicker, some plastics can leech chemicals into the soil (be sure to use quality plastic or food-grade plastic containers), fabric pots are very free-draining, biodegradable pots may start to decompose after a couple of years, etc. So, just pick your container type based on your preferences, and if you don't have a preference, maybe try a few different options to help you find out what works best for you! One material you will want to avoid is metal. Metal pots or containers can rust, which isn't ideal for your plants, and they can also get so hot that they can cause damage to the roots of your plants.
2. Use Quality Soil
It is important to use a high-quality potting soil in your container gardens. You should avoid using soil from your garden, as it is usually more dense and can easily become overly compact in your containers, causing restricted root growth and not allowing water to drain freely. Also, using soil from your garden can easily spread weeds or diseases to your container garden plants. One of the biggest benefits of container gardening is not having to deal with nearly the number of weeds and the significantly decreased likelihood of contracting diseases, so the last thing you will want to do is risk introducing these issues to your container gardens.
3. Find the Right Location
Location is also key to having a successful container garden. Most (if not all) garden plants require at least 6-8 hours of sunlight every day. If your plants do not receive enough light, they will not grow well no matter what you do. So, if you have space on a south or west-facing side of your home, this will be an ideal place for your pots. South exposure will give your plants the most amount of sun, with the second most sun exposure coming from the west (north-facing areas receive little to no sun exposure!). You will also want to be aware of any trees or buildings that may cast a shadow on your plants throughout the day. Just because your pots are in the sun in the morning does not mean that something won't block the sun later in the day.
4. Watering Your Container Garden
Most garden plants require a lot of moisture. This is likely the most intensive aspect of vegetable container gardening. Many of your plants will likely need to be watered daily, if not twice per day, during the heat of the summer. The goal when watering your containers is to maintain soil that is evenly moist but not soggy or soaked. Sometimes it can be hard to tell if your containers need water. If this is the case, just stick your finger into the soil about an inch deep. If the soil feels dry, go ahead and water it! During the hottest part of the day (usually late afternoon), your plants may begin to droop or look wilted. This is often just your plants' way of conserving energy and is not always a sign that they need water. Wait to water until the evening or the next morning. Your plants will likely perk back up, and if they haven't, that's how you know they need more water.
5. Fertilize Your Container Garden
With how much your plants will need to be watered throughout the summer, and with all of the excess water draining out the bottom of your containers, it is easy to wash a lot of nutrients out of the soil! Your plants will also be trying to soak up a lot of nutrients as well, and this makes it very easy for the soil in your containers to become depleted quickly. Without proper nutrition, your vegetable container gardens will not grow well. We recommend fertilizing your containers several times throughout the growing season. You can even mix organic granular fertilizers or compost into the soil before planting to provide your plants with nutrients from the get-go. Liquid calcium, liquid seaweed, liquid fish emulsion, or other liquid garden fertilizers are also great for periodic application. Always be sure to follow the instructions on the label to avoid causing accidental damage to your plants!
6. Choose Plants that are Suitable for Container Growing
Lastly, choosing plants that are compatible with container gardening will help greatly with the overall success of your plants. Certain plants that require certain soil temperatures, need a lot of space to grow, or have deeper root systems may not grow well in containers due to a number of different factors. Some garden vegetable varieties that are well suited for container growing may be labeled as such, though this is not a guarantee. To help you get a good feel for what you can and can't plant in containers, check out our list below!
What Types of Vegetables are Good for Container Gardening?
As we said above, certain garden fruits and vegetables are better for growing in containers than others. Here are a few different types of garden plants that we recommend for your vegetable container garden!
Peas are great for container gardens and are a delicious snack! Be sure to provide them with some support. They like to grow on trellises and will not produce a healthy crop without one.
Beans are also a great idea for containers. Similar to peas, just provide some support and watch them grow! Bush bean varieties will grow particularly well.
Potatoes are very easy to grow in containers, they can just take a while! Try to pick a variety that has a shorter maturity period for best results.
There are so many different types of tomatoes. Look for varieties labeled "determinate tomato", "bush tomato", or "container tomato". These varieties will stay smaller making them ideal for containers. Other tomato varieties can grow very large and will need very large containers to support their deep roots. Don't forget to provide your tomatoes with support as well!
Carrots can grow well in containers as long as you use containers that are very deep. We recommend using a container that is twice as deep as the mature depth of the carrot variety you choose.
Since radishes are a smaller root vegetable, they don't require as large of containers. They are also tolerant of cooler temperatures making them great for spring and fall gardening!
Similar to peppers and tomatoes, eggplants love the heat. Give them a big container to grow in for the best results.
Summer Squash and Zucchini
Similar to tomatoes, using a bush variety for either yellow squash or zucchini squash is best. These varieties will stay more compact, though they will still require a pot that is at least 2 feet wide. You can also use a trellis to provide support for the vines and fruit as the plants grow and develop.
Cucumbers are very similar to squash. Choose bush varieties and provide them with support for the best results!
Spinach and lettuces of all kinds are great for smaller containers. These greens have shallow root systems and grow quickly, providing you with multiple harvests. They can tolerate partial shade and don't mind cooler temperatures, making them great for spring and fall gardens.
Pepper plants generally stay rather small, making them great for container gardening. And with how many different types of peppers there are, you can plant a few and have some fun with peppers of all kinds!
Herbs are ideal for containers. Plant basil, mint, thyme, cilantro, parsley, dill, and so much more in containers for easy access to your favorite herbs!
Plants That DON'T Grow Well in Container Gardens
There are some garden plants that just do not grow well in containers. Generally, these are plants that are large in nature and require room to sprawl out or plants that have deep root systems. Here are a few that you should avoid adding to your container garden:
Container Gardening Tips
If you would like more tips and information on how to start a container garden of your own, reach out to us! We are happy to help you pick out containers, show you which soil will be best, guide you in choosing the right fertilizers, and can point you in the direction of container-compatible seeds and plants. Many of our seeds, soils, and fertilizers are available online, so check them out today!
We also have a ton of tutorial videos covering a wide variety of topics from container gardening, fertilizing your gardens, how to prepare your soil, and so much more. Here are two videos we thought might be helpful, and you can check out our YouTube channel for even more resources! Happy gardening, everyone!
References: Michaels, Kerry. "Vegetable Container Gardening for Beginners". The Spruce. 9 February 2022. Web. Date accessed: 14 July 2022. Retrieved from: https://www.thespruce.com/vegetable-container-gardening-for-beginners-848161