Container gardening is a great way to grow your own plants at home, even without a yard to do so. This is an informative beginner’s guide to vegetable container gardening so you can get started this spring.
We have partnered with Renee’s Garden to provide you with quality seeds and resources.
Many of you live in apartments, condos, and other urban spaces without yards. But that doesn’t mean you can’t grow your own edible garden! A patio, a balcony, deck, or even a rooftop will work well for gardening with pots.
Containers are great for small spaces. Other advantages are that you can move them around easily and because they’re raised off the ground, there isn’t a lot of bending over on your part.
There are so many wonderful vegetable varieties on the market now which stay compact yet yield high quantities. Vegetable gardening in containers is fun and easy to do. If you grow yours from seed it’s cost-effective, as well as rewarding.
Experience is your best gardening companion. Your first year of vegetable container gardening may be an experiment and you may be a bit confused and unsure, but come the second or third year, you’ll be a lot more comfortable with the whole process.
Vegetable Gardening in Containers
Vegetable container gardening is easy to do once you create an organic foundation for your plants. We are big proponents of organic gardening here at Joy Us garden and we hope you are too.
Since your vegetables are growing in containers and not on the earth, they may require a bit of extra care and attention when it comes to maintenance.
Containers can only provide water and soil if the gardener is there to do it. The things to consider when creating a vegetable container garden are simple:
- The right amount of sunlight
- Containers that are large enough & allow adequate drainage
- A good quality soil mix
- Adequate water
In terms of maintenance, the good news is that there tend to be fewer weeds to pull in containers than in the ground. However, the vegetables grown in pots will most likely need watering more often.
1) Direct Sun (Location is Key!)
This is important for vegetable container gardening. Most vegetables will require full sun, which means they should see about 6 hours of direct sunlight each day. Check your preferred location first and make sure it’s getting direct sunlight—no shade.
In other words, monitor the location every 30 minutes on a sunny day. Make sure there is a 6-hour window where the sun is shining directly on the area where you want to grow your garden.
Depending on your location, reflected heat can be a problem in terms of sunburn. Nell lives in the Sonoran Desert so she’s experienced this firsthand!
We recommend starting your seeds inside first in a bright location. This gives them a chance to get growing first, then you can move them outside once they’ve grown a bit.
Starting your plants indoors first gives you a head start once the weather warms up. Renee’s Garden has plenty of information on its website to help you out with when to plant them outside, the exposure, days to germination, and days to harvest. Seed packets are a wealth of information!
2) Container Selection
Choosing the right container is an important factor. We recommend going with ceramic, terra cotta, wood, or plastic pots. Here are the key elements to look for: one that’s large enough, made with the right material, and one with drainage holes in the bottom of the container that yields good drainage.
The bigger the better is usually the case. Large containers are better for growing your own food as they hold more soil, will give you more options for things to grow, and need will need watering less often. If you grow lettuce, spinach, or arugula, a smaller container that is low and wide is fine.
Avoid metal and ceramics and dark colors because they can get very hot under direct sunlight which would heat-stress your vegetables. This is true for climates with long, hot summers.
Make sure the pots you choose are big enough because the roots need room to grow as the plant grows. Nell has seen potatoes grown in trash cans and tomatoes in half wine barrels.
If a plant needs support (like a small trellis or grow cage), put it when planting. Otherwise, it will be harder to do so when the plant is larger.
These lightweight containers are perfect for gardening, the 22-inch pot size will give your veggies enough room to grow.
This garden pot has a hand-painted finish to give the planter an attractive texture and rich color. It’s 20 inches in diameter and lightweight making it easy to move to your preferred location.
This natural solid wood planter is 4 feet long providing spacious growing space for your vegetables. Made of non-paint and non-toxic it’s a good selection for growing veggies. It’s large, but doesn’t take up much space.
3) Soil Mix and Fertilizer/Feeding
Use good quality, organic potting mix suited for containers and vegetables. Don’t use garden soil because it’s way too heavy. And, grabbing soil from the ground can increase the chances of weeds showing up in your containers.
The mix needs to have good drainage and the container at least 1 drain hole so the excess water can drain out. Otherwise, the roots may be subject to rot.
- Ready to use right out of the bag.
- This unique mix is alive with beneficial soil microbes and mycorrhizal fungi.
- Down to Earth Vegetable Garden is a five-pound box of all-natural fertilizer with 4-4-4 formula
- This veggie fertilizer provides the perfect start for your sprightly spring greens, it gives your summer tomatoes super-powers, and it’s fantastic for growing your favorite fragrant herbs.
Vegetables have a short and very productive growing season. It takes a lot of energy for the plants to grow and yield their bounty. They do best with regular fertilizing and feeding. How much and how often depends on the fertilizer you use. They are many great organic vegetable fertilizers on the market, like the 1 above.
A layer of compost and worm compost on the top nourish. It also helps hold the moisture in. How much you use depends on the pot size. In general, Nell uses a 1/4-1/2″ layer of worm compost and a 2-3″ layer of compost over that.
A good quality soil mix is the foundation for your garden and this, along with amendments, ensures your vegetable and herb plants will grow successfully.
Checking your vegetable container garden should be part of your everyday routine. This will be especially true in the warmer summer months and when your plants are just getting started.
Depending on the container size and type along with your temps, you might not need to water them every day but you should at least monitor the soil. You want to keep the soil evenly moist because vegetables don’t like to dry out.
Once your vegetables are established and their roots have grown and are more developed, it’s best to water deeply and less often. As mentioned in “soil mix”, a good layer of rich compost will help to retain moisture.
Related: Essential Gardening Tools
5 Good Things to Know Before Getting Started
1) Gardening is all about experimentation and growing what you love. If something doesn’t work for you one year, try something else next year.
Nell has been gardening for over fifty years and is still learning. So, have fun with the whole vegetable container gardening process and enjoy the bounty!
2) It may help you to keep a simple record (like a diary) of what you grow including what does well and what you like. This way you know what you want to grow again next season.
There are many varieties of vegetables and herbs being introduced every year so be sure to leave space or make space for something new!
3) Do a little research about what does well in your area. If you have a reputable nursery nearby, see what they recommend. It’s best to avoid the big box stores if you’re just starting out.
4) If you love herbs and your container is large enough, it’s fine to combine an herb plant or 2 in with your veggies.
5) If you have an area with part shade, the leafy green vegetables such as lettuce, arugula, etc are more tolerant of lower light conditions. Herbs like mint and cilantro will work too.
If you’re new to vegetable gardening and want to give growing from seed a try, choose any of the following below. These are vegetables that are easy to grow in containers and also to maintain.
Your seed packet will come with instructions and provide the days to germination (the number of days it’ll take for seedlings to appear) and days to harvest (the number of days before ripening).
These snap peas were created just for container gardening. Peas grown fresh from the vine make the best snacks, additions to salads, and can complement lots of recipes like vegetable soup! Bush beans are great to plant in pots too.
We all need a tomato plant or 2! Three luscious color-coded varieties of cherry tomatoes in one packet: rosy Pink Champagne, rich Chocolate Cherry & tropical Mango Apricot. Harvest when fully colored and enjoy as sweet snacks, in salads, or quickly sautéed in olive oil with fresh herbs.
Think of the last time you ordered a salad at a restaurant. There was probably a variety of lettuces in different shapes, colors, and textures. These seeds will grow quickly so you can expect to gather second or even third cuttings.
Look at these beautiful leafy greens. Spinach is a great addition to a vegetable garden.
Astia is a French bush zucchini variety, developed for container growing and planting in small space gardens. This green zucchini has excellent flavor and are delicious whether roasted, sautéed, steamed or baked.
Bush Slicer offers juicy slicing cucumbers in record time on dwarf bushes, perfect for your container gardens. Enjoy this space-saving cucumber in delicious salads from your own patio this season
Can’t make up your mind because you’re confused by all the choices?
This seed collection is perfect considering the purpose of this article. The packet includes 5 individual seed packets including; tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, chard, and basil. Perfect for vegetable container gardening in small spaces.
If you’re a beginning gardener, we hope this post on vegetable container gardening will help you out.
Experience is a gardener’s best friend. Your first year of vegetable container gardening may be an experiment, but come the second or third year, you’ll be an old pro and will be a lot more comfortable with the whole process.
Nell and Miranda
Learn more about container gardening:
Note: This post was originally published on 3/20/2021. It was updated on 4/23/2022 with more info & new images.
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Miranda is a content creator that works behind the scenes at Joy Us Garden. In her free time, she enjoys spending time outdoors, watching movies, reading books, and snuggling with her dog.