No matter how small your space or green your thumb, growing vegetables in containers is an easy introduction to the national grow-your-own trend. When there are fresh veggies right outside your back door, why buy from a store?
Top reasons to grow veggies in containers
- minimal space needed
- hardly any weeds
- no back strain
- watering is easy
- growing your own food saves money
Mary Moss-Sprague, master gardener and author of Stand Up and Garden (Countryman Press, 2012), grows all her vegetables in containers after a disease ran rampant through her garden soil and decimated her tomato plants — a non-problem with containers because they don’t share soil.
“I’m never going back to growing things in the ground,” she says.
Tips for container gardening
Containers: Any container will do, as long as it’s deep enough for the plant (check the seed packet). Just drill ½-inch drainage holes in the bottom.
Moss-Sprague suggests snagging 5-gallon food buckets from your grocery store or deli, or asking your neighborhood garden center for 5- to 7-gallon grower’s pots — both are free. Before using, wash out the container with a gallon of water mixed with a cup of chlorine bleach to kill off any lingering bacteria.
Soil: All-purpose soil is pretty goof-proof. But don’t use topsoil — it won’t work because it doesn’t have the required nutrients.
Plants: Read instructions on the seedling or seed packet first. The same rules for sun, watering, space, and hardiness zones apply to container vegetables.
Top 10 container vegetables
1. Tomatoes: All kinds do well in pots. Try grape and cherry varieties for easy growing — their small size makes them easy to handle. Put up a trellis because they love to climb.
- Pros: Growing them in containers makes them a snap to water because it’s easier to get under their leaves; cherry tomatoes produce quickly.
- Cons: Don’t seed directly in container — young tomato plants need specific growing conditions to get started, which can be tricky; buy seedlings instead.
2. Peppers: Bell and chili peppers are good container contenders. Peppers can be picky when starting out, so plant seedlings instead of seeds.
- Pros: Red mini bell peppers are quick producers — about 2 months until they’re ready to eat.
- Cons: You’ll need some patience — regular peppers take up to 3 months to mature.
3. Lettuce: Any kind of lettuce will grow in pots. You can seed directly in the pot.
- Pros: Huge selection to choose from, and you can plant different varieties in the same container — a beautiful look.
- Cons: They need full sun — you might have to move your containers around to ensure good exposure.
4. Spinach: All different varieties really thrive in containers. Scatter the seeds and thin them out as they grow.
- Pros: You can trim off the leaves when you want them and they’ll just keep growing more.
- Cons: Good drainage is really important for spinach; it prefers sunny days and cool nights.
5. Radishes: French Breakfast, White Icicle, and Short Cherry Bell are three varieties to try. Plant 1 to 2 inches between, and thin as they grow.
- Pros: Super quick! About 25 days and they’re ready to crunch.
- Cons: They don’t like heat — if you live in a hot zone, look for varieties that are heat-resistant, or grow in the spring and fall.
6. Green onions: Very pretty and very easy to grow.
- Pros: They don’t take much room and are easy to manage — they like sun, but be sure to wait until the danger of frost has passed before planting.
- Cons: They take a couple of months until they’re ready.
7. Carrots: Any type of carrot will work in containers — when they’re ready to harvest, soak the container with water first to making pulling easier.
- Pros: There are many types to choose from; “kaleidoscope” mixes come with a variety of flavors and beautiful colors.
- Cons: Some will take up to 80 days until they’re ready; if you’re an impatient gardener, look for quick-maturing types, such as Touchon and Little Finger.
8. Swiss chard: Seed directly in your container and trim leaves as needed — they’ll continue to produce. Chard is tastiest when it’s young.
- Pros: Very durable plant that tolerates warmth.
- Cons: Getting your kids to eat it (unusual flavors).
9. Cucumbers: Another good plant for impatient gardeners, cukes add crunch to summer salads and sandwiches.
- Pros: Quick to germinate and quick to grow.
- Cons: They need sturdy support posts or a trellis so the plants have somewhere to climb. Or try smaller, less-heavy bush cucumbers.
10. Green beans: So easy to grow, you can put your kids in charge.
- Pros: Quick growers and you’ll have a bumper crop if you pick regularly — they’ll just keep growing more.
- Cons: Climbing beans — called pole beans — grow 5 to 6 feet, so stick to bush beans, which hit 1-2 feet on sturdy, self-supporting stems.