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How To Vegetable Garden In Containers

Updated on August 28, 2012


When you think of container gardening (growing plants in containers rather than in the ground), probably what first comes to mind is flower gardening.

However, more and more people are beginning to grow their own food but with so many of us being urbanites, the question arises "how can we plant vegetable gardens without any wide open spaces?"

The answer is planting a garden using containers. It's relatively inexpensive to do and you'd be surprised at how easy most vegetables are to grow.

All you need is the proper equipment, the seeds or plants for what you want to grow in your garden, and then some tender loving care as your plants emerge, thrive and bear fruit...or in this case, vegetables!

Let's look at some of the methods for planting vegetables in containers and then take a look at what vegetables need what to grow the best.

From herbs to squash to pumpkins, you can grow just about anything in a container and be a success at it. The key is knowing what you need, putting it all together and then caring for it properly.


When you decide that you want to plant a vegetable garden and grow your garden in containers, the first thing you'll need to do is select what you want to grow.

Next, you'll need to decide if you want to start your vegetable garden for the containers using seeds you start yourself or if you want to buy already established plants for your container vegetable garden.

If you decide to start your own seeds, allow 4-8 weeks extra to allow them to germinate inside or in a greenhouse before they are ready for transplant. A few seeds such as peas or beans you can plant directly in containers almost anywhere but the temperature has to be appropriate for planting.

In warmer climates, you can also start seeds directly in containers for many vegetables. Make sure to check what you buy to determine each vegetable's hardiness to your specific climate.

If you've started seeds yourself, allow them to have sprouted at least 1 or 2 sets of leaves before transplanting and then do not put the seeds (or even plants from the nursery) outside immediately. Rather, put your vegetable container gardens outside for several hours per day and increase that daily until they have "hardened" to the temperature changes.

Be sure to water daily but don't drown your plants or they won't do well. See below for recommended soil mixtures and fertilization schedules and components.

What To Plant In What Size Container- Container Gardening Ideas

2 gallon
1 plant
1 gallon
2-3 plants
1-2 gallon
1 plant
1 gallon
1 plant
Dwarf Tomato
1-2 gallon
1 plant
5 gallon
1 plant
Green Beans
2 gallon minimum
Space 3" apart
Green Onion
1 gallon
3-5 plants
Leaf Lettuce
1 gallon
2 plants
1 gallon
3 plants
5 gallon
1-2 plants
1 gallon
3 plants
1 gallon
2 plants
5 gallon
1 plant
5 gallon
1 plant
2 gallon
2 plants

Containers for Vegetable Gardening

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Glazed ceramic potsWood boxes - you can make your own with cedarThese go on railings - excellent for herbsRelatively inexpensive, very porousMetal pots just need holesUse landscape liner or cloth to hold dirtTerracottaFake stone long potsWhiskey barrels
Glazed ceramic pots
Glazed ceramic pots
Wood boxes - you can make your own with cedar
Wood boxes - you can make your own with cedar
These go on railings - excellent for herbs
These go on railings - excellent for herbs
Relatively inexpensive, very porous
Relatively inexpensive, very porous
Metal pots just need holes
Metal pots just need holes
Use landscape liner or cloth to hold dirt
Use landscape liner or cloth to hold dirt
Fake stone long pots
Fake stone long pots
Whiskey barrels
Whiskey barrels


No matter what you're growing in containers, your success will be directly related to what containers you choose. Selecting the right container is the single most important decision you will need to make after you've decided what you want to grow.

That said, there are many options for vegetable container gardening.

  • Bushel baskets
  • Laundry baskets
  • Drums
  • Tubs
  • Buckets
  • Wooden boxes
  • Terracotta
  • Barrels
  • Any number of commercial containers
  • Bags
  • Trash cans
  • Old tires
  • Old toys
  • Basically anything that you can drill holes in and will hold dirt


Containers can be classified as non-porous and as porous. Non-porous containers are perfectly fine to use with the caveat that watering needs to be watched carefully as non-porous containers can dry out quickly. Non-porous containers also need more drainage.

Examples of non-porous containers would be:

  • Glazed pots
  • Plastic pots
  • Metal pots
  • Glass pots

TIP: It is best to drill or poke drainage holes in the sides of container gardens as well as drainage holes in the bottom of the container. Place several inches apart around the sides about 1/4 to 1/2 inch from the bottom of pots to increase drainage.

Soil for Container Vegetable Gardens



After deciding what you want to grow and then deciding on your containers, the next most important thing you can do is make sure you use the best soil for the job.

There are many commercial brands out there that will do the trick such as Jiffy Mix, Bacto, Promix, Jiffy Pro and Miracle Gro to name a few.

However, as in most things, you can also create your own soil mixes that will accomplish the same end. There are 2 different kinds of soil mixes recommended for vegetable container gardening.

  • Soilless mixes (light mix that needs water to reduce dust)
  • Soil mixes


Mix together:

  • 1 bag of horticultural grade vermiculite (1 bushel package)
  • 1 bag of peat moss (1 bushel package)
  • 10 tablespoons of limestone
  • 5 tablespoons of superphosphate
  • 1 cup garden fertilizer (6-12-12 or 5-10-10)

Mix with a little water to reduce dust. Also wet this mix before seeding or transplanting into.


Mix in equal parts

  • 1 bag of sphagnum peat moss or compost (or combination of both)
  • 1 bag of pasteurized soil
  • 1 bag of vermiculite or perlite
  • 1/2 bag of composted cow manure or chicken manure

TIP: Soil mixes hold water better than soilless mixtures so keep that in mind when watering.

You can also buy commercial ready-made mixes that will suit any kind of container vegetable gardening.

Make sure you read the label though to be sure that the soil mix has the adequate nutrients for the vegetables you plan to plant.

Seeding Vegetables for Containers

Peat pellets that expand to hold seeds
Peat pellets that expand to hold seeds


Seeding your plants is easy to do but keep in mind you'll want to start out 4-8 weeks before actually putting your plants outside in containers.

You can germinate seeds in many different ways. Fill seeding container, add seeds according to specifics and then cover seeds with 1/4 to 1/2 inch of seeding medium.

For instance:

  • Use a cake pan
  • Milk cartons make great seed trays
  • Peat pellets - no muss and no fuss
  • Peat pots
  • Plastic tray lined with landscape cloth or screen
  • Pots

TIP: Cover seeds with clear plastic sack or wrap to enhance germination. Keep moist but do not over-water. When seedlings start to sprout, feed with a fertilizer mixture to grow healthy, sturdy plants. Also give them a "plain water flush" (leave out fertilizer) once per week.

Fertilizers for Container Vegetable Gardens



There are many commercial fertilizers such as those pictured that work really well for vegetable gardens in containers. Some of the ones I've used that I recommend are Miracle Gro, Osmocote, Peters and fish emulsion.

Look for fertilizers with the following breakdowns for the best success:

  • 14-14-14
  • 20-20-20
  • 15-30-15

Some are time release and can be added when you first mix your soil and begin planting your transplanted seedlings or new starts you've purchased at the nursery.

You can also make your own nutrient mixture for your vegetable garden containers.

Mix together:

  • 2 cups fertilizer (10-20-10 or 12-24-12 or 8-16-8)
  • 1 gallon of warm water

This makes a concentrate that will last for a long time.

Mix 2 tablespoons of this concentrate with 1 gallon of water.

Use the nutrient solution on your seedlings once the plants emerge.

Then use the nutrient solution the day that you transplant your starts or seedlings.

Once a week, water with no nutrient solution to leach the soil (plain water flush).

Plants for Growing in Containers

Click thumbnail to view full-size
LettuceStrawberriesArugulaPeppersCucumbersParsleyPurple sageTomatoesBasilSageItalian parsley
Lettuce | Source
Strawberries | Source
Purple sage
Purple sage
Italian parsley
Italian parsley


Now that we've covered all the prep work, containers, the soil and fertilizers, there are a few important points to consider when growing in containers.

  • Make sure the container fits the vegetable and will allow for root growth. Herbs and things like lettuce or spinach do not need as deep a pot as a squash or a carrot for instance.
  • Try not to get the foliage wet when you water the vegetables as they grow.
  • Water daily but in extreme hot weather, check to see if they don't need a rewater. Test soil by putting your finger into the soil. If it feels dry, it needs to be watered.
  • Drainage is essential. Adding 1 inch of fine gravel in the bottom of your container vegetable gardens will increase drainage, even if you have adequate drainage holes around the sides.
  • Mulch the tops of your container gardens regularly to prevent water loss.
  • Move the vegetable container gardens if necessary to get the right amount of light.
  • Never reuse soil. Dump it out in another area of the garden after using but don't try to regrow vegetables in used soil.
  • Use hydrogels sold commercially to retain water.
  • Cover plants at night if frost is a possibility - tarps, plastic, or even sheets work.

TIP: Mulch can be compost you make yourself, commercially prepared compost, grass clippings, chipped bark, pine needles, bark, straw, etc.

Sun and Shade Plants for Vegetable Container Gardens

Chard and other greens
Parsley and other herbs


As you can see, there are many ways that you can plant a vegetable garden even if you don't have lots of space.

You can plant vegetables in containers just about anywhere and you can grow as many different vegetables as you have room and time to care for.

Hanging baskets also make wonderful container gardens for things like cherry tomatoes or strawberries. I plan to ditch my hanging flower baskets this year and plant these 2 practical items instead!

The most important things to remember when you plant your vegetable container gardens is to select seeds or plant starts that are indigenous to where you live, select the proper sized container, and then use the appropriate soil mix to give your plants the best start possible.

Then remember to water and fertilize at regular intervals, make sure the plants have adequate drainage and the right amount of sun.

Protect your plants as necessary with eco-friendly products should they develop any pests or diseases and you should see a pleasing yield for your "farming" efforts.

Growing vegetables in containers is a fun way to dig in the dirt and feel like you're gardening because in fact you are! It's also a great way for kids to participate in gardening and to learn about how plants grow.

Make it a family project today and see if you don't agree that vegetable gardening in containers is a great solution for today's world.

If you have more helpful suggestions on how to grow vegetables in containers, please leave them in the comments section below. In the meantime, happy gardening!

What's Wrong With My Plants?

Spindly, tall, not producing
Needs more light
Move to receive more light
Needs less nitrogen
Reduce nutrient feeding interval
Yellowing from bottom, poor color
Too much water
Check for drainage/water less
Not enough fertilizer
Increase fertilizer level in solution
Wilting though enough water
Poor drainage or aeration
Increase drainage holes
Use more organic matter in soil
Burning of leaves
Too much salt in soil or water
Leach container with tap water
Plants stunted, sickly, off color
Low temperature
Relocate container to warmer spot
Low phosphate
Increase phosphate in solution
Holes in leaves, misshapen leaves
EPA-friendly insecticide
Leaves with spots, powder or rust
Plant diseases
Remove spots found
Use EPA-friendly fungicide

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