If the only vegetable growing space your home has to offer is an urban patio or balcony, this article is for you. Growing vegetables in containers is really easy, and it’s a perfect option if you have little outdoor growing space. You can cultivate vegetable pots on your back deck, and collect a handful of cherry tomatoes, basil, etc. whenever you need it. Read on to learn more!
Tips for the Best Vegetable Pots
When growing a vegetable container garden, there are a few important tips that will help you provide the best care. Use these suggestions to help your plants grow healthier and stronger than ever.
Sunshine and Container Placement
Most veggies grow best with at least 8 hours of sunlight each day, but some varieties prefer lower light. Growing in containers allows you to easily move your plants into the best growing condition for their needs. You’ll want to find the best spot for each type of veggie or herb you grow. Otherwise, you may wind up with a disappointing yield.
Plant the Veggies You Enjoy
Most veggies grow well in containers, and while many gardeners suggest finding dwarf or compact varieties to grow in a small space, make sure to only grow vegetables you enjoy eating. By picking the right veggies for you and your family, you can ensure you grow the right amount of food in a smaller number of pots.
Knowing exactly which veggies you commonly use to cook meals can help you pinpoint the ones you should grow. A process like this can help you save money at the supermarket as well. Use this as a starting point to find great companion plants for these veggies, and build up your garden from there.
Most people begin with the following vegetables:
- Carrots – Plant seeds 3 inches apart in a 2-5-gallon deep pot.
- Tomatoes – Keep one plant per 5-gallon container.
- Potatoes – Perfect for potato towers, you can also grow potatoes in large containers.
- Green Beans – Sow seeds in a window box or 5-gallon container.
- Lettuce – Sow seeds or transplant in a container at least a gallon in size.
- Spinach – Plant seeds 3 inches apart in a container at least a gallon or bigger.
- Radishes – Plant seeds 3 inches apart in a container at least 2-gallons large.
- Peppers – Transplant a single plant per 5-gallon container.
- Onions – Sow seeds 2 inches apart directly into a container at least a gallon large. Leave 6 inches of space between seeds for bulb onions.
- Cucumbers – Transplant two plants per 5-gallon container or use a trellis or cage.
- Broccoli – A single transplant per 5-gallon container.
- Beets – Sow the seeds into a window box or 2-5-gallon container.
- Peas – Sow seeds in a 5-gallon container or use a trellis.
- Eggplant – Keep one plant per 5-gallon container.
- Cabbage – Transplant a single plant in a 5-gallon container or use a plant per gallon container for smaller varieties.
- Squash – Depending on the variety, you may transplant a single plant or two into a 5-gallon container.
- Strawberries – Perfect for transplanting in a tower or a container as small as 10-12 inches.
Select the Best Vegetable Pots
When container gardening, the pot you select needs to be right for each plant. Certain materials can dry out the soil fast, such as clay pots, or may heat up in the summer sun. Many gardeners have success growing large quantities in fabric containers, which are also easy to store between uses. A sturdy trellis may also help you grow vining veggies.
Larger containers are easier to work with and typically allow you to grow more using less. You’ll need to match the plant size to the container or group them together to fill a larger space. Use the list above for common veggies and the best container to plant them in.
Popular vegetable pots and 5-gallon containers include:
- Plastic 5-gallon buckets
- Grow bags, which come in sizes from 1-100 gallons
- Terracotta pots
- Wooden barrels or window boxes
- Metal or tin (if outside of direct sunlight)
- Repurposed items such as laundry baskets, garbage cans, watering cans, bathtubs, etc.
Use High-Quality Soil
Soil is extremely important when it comes to potted plants. Many gardeners create their own potting soil blend, while others buy a high-quality potting mix from a local garden center. A well-draining organic vegetable and herb mix works well when growing veggies in containers, but make sure to avoid using garden soil. The latter compacts easily and will stunt root growth.
Feed Plants Frequently
Potted plants also require regular feeding. Potting soil doesn’t tend to offer as much nutrition as your veggies need, so add a slow-release fertilizer to the container’s soil at planting time. Then use liquid organic plant food a few times again as the plants grow.
All vegetables require regular watering. Place your index finger in the soil, and if it feels dry down to your first joint, water the plants. If you live in a particularly dry climate or want to make watering your plants easier, try adding a drip-irrigation system. You can build your own watering system to make the process fast and painless.
Four Main Ways to Maximize Space Using Vegetable Pots
Container vegetable gardening doesn’t typically produce as much of a yield as crops in a traditional vegetable garden. However, vegetable pots are productive, and the plants can grow quickly with the right care. There are also a few techniques you can use to enhance the amount you can grow in a small space.
1. Vertical Gardening
Vertical gardening allows you to grow upwards, using planters or a trellis. Gardeners get creative with vertical gardening, using things like a wooden pallet, rain gutters, or a series of planters to grow along a wall or fence.
Use this method for vining varieties such as climbing vine tomatoes or pole beans, and don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Vertical systems work just as well for small plants like lettuce or herbs as they do for strawberries. When growing vertically, make sure the veggies that require the most sunlight are located at the top.
Try some of these methods:
- Stackable pots or beds: Perfect for compact crops such as salad greens, herbs, or strawberries.
- Tubes or towers: Grow towers of food, like potatoes, tomatoes, or zucchini, that normally take up a lot of space.
- Trellises: Drape vining veggies across a trellis, such as peppers, tomatoes, peas or pole beans, and use the grow space beneath for small plants like lettuce or purslane.
- Hanging baskets: These are helpful if your yard doesn’t offer enough sunlight, and perfect for lettuce, peas, cucumbers, strawberries, or swiss chard.
Smart gardeners use intercropping to double up on veggies. You may need to plan a bit more ahead of time to use this method, which involves sowing the seeds for an additional crop while the first harvest is still growing. That way, when the seeded plants reach maturation and need more space, you’ve already harvested the first crop. For this to work, you will need strong soil that’s rich in nutrients.
You can use intercropping on two different plants alongside each other with varying grow speeds or replace a harvest with the same veggie. Carrots, beets, beans, onions, garlic, and lettuce are all common veggies to intercrop. Vine crops are also perfect for intercropping with corn, as the two veggies won’t compete for nutrients.
3. Companion Planting
Planting some types of veggies together can allow you to grow more in the same container, but you need to select companion plants that will grow well together. Climbing vine tomatoes and zucchini, for example, work well in the same container because the tomatoes grow up while the other spills downwards. You can also train the tomatoes to grow across a railing and tuck in other veggies in the spaces between plants, such as basil or lettuce.
A few great companion plants include:
- Green beans, squash, carrots
- Green beans, eggplant
- Tomatoes, onions, basil
- Lettuce, herbs
- Spinach, onions, swiss chard
Terrible combinations to avoid include:
- Onions with peas and beans
- Tomatoes or squash with potatoes
- Green beans with onions and garlic
- Carrots with fennel and dill
Some gardeners also like to group plants based on a theme, such as Italian pots, salad green pots, or spicy pots.
4. Succession Planting
Similar to companion planting, succession planting helps you grow more by allowing you to use the same growing space. Only with this method, you plant another crop immediately after harvesting the first yield to continue growing all season. It’s all about the timing and selecting the right crops.
Here’s how it works: You first plant a cool-weather variety that’s harvested in early spring, then replace it with a slower-growing summer crop. Or, you can grow four quick-growing veggies in quick succession throughout the summer.
Try growing carrots, followed by cucumbers or summer squash. Or grow potatoes and then use the same pot for broccoli. There are many other partnerships you can try in your container garden.
With these methods, you can grow more vegetables at home in a small amount of space you have. Just do research as to which varieties will grow well in vegetable pots. Any variety will grow in a container, but smaller, dwarf varieties may grant you a healthier, more abundant harvest.