Container Gardening For Vegetables

Container gardening yields more vegetables with less work! 

Want to have more control over growing conditions and enjoy higher yields with a lot less work?  Container gardening is an easy way to garden, especially when you lack yard space.

TIPS FOR CONTAINER GARDENING

Picking a Spot for Your Container

Most vegetables grown in a container do best in full sun (at least 6 hours of direct sun a day). Tomatoes, peppers, and other varieties that often get diseases usually stay healthiest in an open spot with plenty of air circulation.

If you live in a cold climate, you can give your vegetable container garden a head start by placing the pots near a south-facing wall.

If you live in a warmer part of the country, be cautious about setting your vegetable container gardens on a cement patio, which may grow too warm for optimum growth. Put larger containers on dollies or carts; you can move them to various locations depending on the conditions at the time.

Vegetable Container Garden Materials

Not sure what type of container to grow your vegetables in? Don’t fret—typically, you’ll care more about this than your plants will.

Happily, most vegetables aren’t fussy about what kind of vegetable container garden they grow in. The only basic requirements is that the vegetable container garden is large enough to hold the plant and that it has drainage holes so excess water can escape.

In general, plants in terra-cotta (clay) need more attention to watering for a vegetable container garden than other types of pots, because of the porous nature of the terra cotta. Also think about the color. Dark colors absorb heat—so they may make the soil too warm for some vegetable crops in summer, especially in hot-summer areas. And avoid vegetable container gardens made of treated wood, as it may contain chemical compounds that could be absorbed by your vegetables.

When it comes to size, the bigger the pot is, the better, especially for beginners. The reason for this is that large pots hold more soil—and thus, hold moisture longer so you don’t have to water as much. Look for vegetable container gardens that are at least 10 inches wide and 12 inches deep. Large flowerpots, half barrels, plastic-lined bushel baskets, window boxes, planters, and large containers (like 5-gallon buckets) work just fine.

Some vegetables need particularly large pots to grow in a vegetable container garden. Standard-size tomatoes and vining crops, such as cucumbers, will do best for you in containers 20 inches or more across. Peppers like pots at least 16 inches in diameter. In a pinch, most will still grow in a 5-gallon or larger container.

Plants that grow tall or produce vines—like tomatoes and cucumbers—will be more productive if grown up a support in a vegetable container garden. A wire cage, inserted into the container at planting time, will do. Use larger, heavier containers for trellised plants to minimize the risk of tipping.

What Types of Soil to Use in Containers

While your vegetables aren’t fussy about the kind of pot they’re in, they do care about the potting soil in your vegetable container garden.

As is the case with most other types of container gardens, your vegetable container garden will do best in organic potting mixes made for containers. Ask at your nursery for a mix designed for use in larger outdoor containers, or save money by blending your own vegetable container garden mix. Use equal parts of peat moss, potting soil, and vermiculite, perlite, or clean sand. Fill the containers to within an inch or two of the rim.

How to Plant Vegetables in Containers

Plant your vegetable container gardens the same time you would plant in the garden. Depending on what types of vegetable you want to grow, you can start seeds in your containers, grow transplants from seeds started indoors, or purchase transplants from a garden center.

Here’s a hint: Start vegetable container garden crops such as beans, corn, carrots, radishes, and spinach, from seeds sown directly in the container. Regardless of whether you are planting seeds or transplants, thoroughly water the container before you plant. Soak the potting mix completely, then allow it to sit for a few hours to drain excess water.

Plant seeds according to the package directions. Because not all seeds will germinate, plant more than you need, then thin the excess later. Set transplants at the same level they were growing in their pot (except for tomatoes, which you can strip off their lower leaves and plant them deeper in the container).

After planting, water gently but thoroughly to settle the seeds or transplants. Keep the soil in your vegetable container garden from drying out as fast by mulching with straw, compost, leaf mold, or a similar material.

Care Tips for Container

  • Clay pots are usually more attractive than plastic ones, but plastic pots retain moisture better and won’t dry out as fast as unglazed terra-cotta ones. To get the best of both, slip a plastic pot into a slightly larger clay pot.
  • Black pots absorb heat when they are sitting in the sun.
  • Many plants grown in pots must be watered as often as twice a day. To keep plants adequately cool and moist during hot summer days, double-pot: Place a small pot inside a larger one and fill the space between them with sphagnum moss or crumpled newspaper. When watering the plant, also soak the filler between the pots.
  • Hanging baskets make good use of extra space, and herbs, cherry tomatoes, and strawberries grown at eye level can be easily tended and harvested.
  • Add about 1 inch of coarse gravel in the bottom of containers to improve drainage.
  • Vegetables that can be easily transplanted are best suited for containers. Transplants can be purchased from local nurseries or started at home.
  • Feed container plants at least twice a month with liquid fertilizer, following the instructions on the label.
  • An occasional application of fish emulsion or compost will add trace elements to container soil.
  • Place containers where they will receive maximum sunlight and good ventilation. Watch for and control insect pests.

Harvest Tips

Harvest is the most satisfying step, and all it takes is a few harvesting tips to get it right. Pick your vegetable container gardening crops as soon as they reach a size where you will enjoy them. Most vegetables are more productive if you harvest early and often. Letting plants “go to seed” will often cause a drop in fruit set.

At the end of the season, add the vegetable container garden soil to your compost pile. Reusing soil from year to year can spread infections and insect infestations. Thoroughly scrub the container to remove all soil. Rinse in a solution of one part bleach to 10 parts water, then rinse with clean water and store in a dry spot.