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How to Grow Vegetables in Pots and Containers - Tips, Guides, Facts

Updated on November 15, 2016
janderson99 profile image

John uses scientific skills (PhD) and 30 years experience as a home gardener to develop reviews & advice about gardening, organic methods

Growing vegetables in containers can be a good idea even if you have an outdoor garden as they are easier to plant and look after. Containers allow you to have a mobile garden, its easier to control pests and they can be very attractive. For people who live in units, flats and apartments growing in containers is the only way to produce homegrown and organic vegetables and fresh herbs. Growing vegetables in containers is a wonderful great to teach children about gardening. This article will help you get started with lots of practical tips guides and facts for growing vegetables in pots and containers.

The major problem with container gardening is watering. You need to maintain routine and regular watering because the containers dry out quickly, but there is little waste and you can use simple soil moisture meters to tell you when to water.

You also need to do some research as many vegetables simply don't grow well in containers and you may need to source dwarf or bush varieties that are more suitable for pots.

The primary vegetables that do well in containers are those with ore compact forms such as salad greens, radish, carrots, spinach, eggplant, Swiss chard, beets, peppers, bush beans, cherry and standard tomatoes, bush forma of summer squash and cucumbers, green onions, and many herbs. Look for dwarf and bushy forms that are more compact. Don't forget growing climbing varieties of beans and pea on poles or frames. Climbing varieties do very well in pots, supported by frames or stakes.

Growing vegetables in containers and pots has the following advantages and disadvantages.


  • the smaller containers and spots can be moved around to take advantage of particular micro-climates you may have available. This includes moving to avoid frost or excess sun to moving to an ideal sheltered spot in the sun to encouraging early growth or better ripening of crops;
  • protection from strong winds or heavy rain;
  • elevating planters on a shelve or a frame can make weeding, watering, planting and harvesting much easier for convenience of for people with restricted movement. People may even be able to garden when sitting down;
  • the garden is much more accessible and visual, which means that you are more likely to know when the plants need watering or there are pests attacking the crop. The garden is also secure from people who may pilfer your crops of interfere with them.
  • soils can be modified to provide idea fertiliser regimes and using water retention crystals may mean that they may not need to be watered when you go away for a few days. You may have no soils or souls that are unsuitable for growing vegetables.
  • Pots are especially useful and convenient for herbs and other crops offering great convenience when cooking..

Disadvantages and Potential Problems

  • yields are much smaller than in open ground;
  • pots can become hot and dry out quickly stressing the plants and reducing yields;
  • generally crops grown in pots and containers require more regular watering and application of fertilisers. This can be a general problem and can become a major issue if you have to go away for a few days (you may need a plant sitter);
  • setting up and maintaining the garden may be messy and there may be heavy lifting involved. The soil and other items may have to be carried through you apartment.
  • plants on elevated balconies may be prone to damage from strong winds.

Choosing the Containers

Any good sized container is suitable for growing vegetables, but the larger size that can fit your space the better, except for small plants such as herbs. Remember that larger pots can be very heavy to move, and always move them when dry as the water may double the total weight . Wooden barrels, old buckets, pots, drums and tubs, and many commercial varieties of all shapes and sizes are suitable provided drainage can be provided. To encourage good drainage, put a minimum 1 inch (3cm) deep layer of small stones, coarse gravel, or pieces of broken pot in the bottom of the container. These items stop the drainage holes being blocked. A saucer beneath each pot is a good idea for tidiness and to capture the excess water and store it so that it can be used by the plant

Most vegetables need containers that can hold 6 to 8 inches (10-15 cm) of good quality potting mix. See the tables for the soil capacity of various size pots and suggestions for the size of pot needed for various vegetable species

The appearance of the pots may also be very important in locations such as balconies. Certain types of pots offer special advantages. Pots with angled sides will generally stay cooler than vertical sided one. Plastics pots heat more quickly but retain heat for shorter periods. Terracotta, ceramic, concrete stay cooler and retain water. © janderson99-HubPages

The capacity of various pots is shown in the Table below.

Diameter inside top (inches)
Approximate soil content
1 cup
2 cups
1 quart
2.5 quarts
3 quarts
1 gallon
1.5 gallons
2.25 gallons
3.5 gallons
6 gallons

Soil and other Growing Media

A suitable potting mix needs to supply the plant with support, nutrients, water, and should be lightweight, well-aerated, well-drained. Do not use mixtures with anything like 100% garden soil, which is far too heavy, dense, and will compact and not drain adequately. It will also dry out quickly, and may be far too acid or too alkaline. Garden soil may contain diseases such as fungal pathogens and bacteria, weed seeds, pests and many disease organisms. Peat-based mixes using 30-50% soil combined with peat, compost and vermiculite, are generally the best.
There are many commercial pot media that can be used for growing vegetables. These are convenient because they come in bags ready for easy transport. For convenience choose one that contains nutrients and wetting agents so that your plants can be grown immediately in your mix. Commercial mixtures are relatively sterile and pH adjusted and are very convenient.
Use slow release pellets or other complete organic fertilizer at planting. You can supplement this with liquid fertilisers applied periodically are needed to keep your vegetables growing until harvest.

Soilless mixes - are made up of vermiculite, peat moss and generally coarse sand, bark or wood products. Vermiculite retains many times its weight in water and nutrients, and helps keeps the soil in the container moist between waterings. The soilless mixes are light in weight and preferred if the container is to be moved regularly. Soilless mixes are generally preferred by most people, although they can be expensive. They are guaranteed free of various plant diseases, pests and weed seeds, are less prone to compact. Soilless mixes hold moisture and plant nutrients well. You can make your own soilless mixture using the recipe shown below.

Soilless potting mix recipe
Materials to make 2 bushels (70 litres)
Quantity (Imperial)
Shredded sphagnum peat moss
1 bushel
35 litres
1 bushel
35 litres
Ground limestone
1.5 cups
345 ml
Superphosphate (0-20-0)
0.5 cup
115 ml
or Superphosphate (0-45-0)
0.25 cup
58 ml
Granular 5-10-5 fertilizer
1 cup
230 ml
Moisten with water; store in plastic garbage bags.

Watering - Plants grown in pots and containers, particularly in exposed locations require frequent watering because the soil in pots and containers dry out quickly. Some plants may even need to be watered every day. Apply enough water to ensure it drains and waters all the soil in the container and leaks out into the saucer. Don't allow the soil to dry out completely between waterings as this may kill the plants or slow plant growth. However, over­watering can slowly kill the plants because the roots will not receive enough oxygen. You can buy inexpensive water meters that are a good way to tell you when you need to water the plants. When watering, try to avoid wetting the leaves, especially when watering late in the day as water on the leaves can lead to plant diseases.

Fertilization - Plants grown in containers require nutrients to be topped-up more frequently than garden grown vegetables because they have less soil. A soluble fertilizer (N-P-K = 15-30-15 or 20-20-20) should be applied once a week or once a fortnight. Fertilises can be applied to liquids when watering.

Best Crops for Containers

  • Herbs such as basil, marjoram, thyme, parsley are ideal for growing in pots because they are picked fresh it is wonderful to have them readily at hand.
  • Tomatoes, Aubergines (egg plants), chillies and capsicum can produce wonderful crops, but you may need to add lime to your growing medium.
  • Table Greens such as silver beet, spinach, wom bok, Chinese cabbage, lettuce and bok choi produce great crops in containers but for larger plants such as cabbages, broccoli or brussels sprouts require large containers.
  • Bush pumpkins, zucchinis and squash grow very well in containers, but require containers at least 40cm deep.

© janderson99-HubPages

Size of Containers for Various Plants

Minimum Size (gallon)
No. of plants per container
2 gallon
Thinned to 2-3 inches apart
1 gallon
1 plant
2 gallon
Thinned to 2-3 inches apart
1 gallon
2 plants
2 gallon
1 plant
Green beans
1 gallon
2-3 plants
Leaf lettuce
1 gallon
4-6 plants
1 gallon
1 plant
2 gallon
2 plants
2 gallon
Thinned to 1-2 inches apart
1 gallon
Thinned to 3 inches apart
Swiss chard
1 gallon
1 plant
Tomatoes Cherry
1 gallon
1 plant
Tomatoes Standard
3 gallon
1 plant

Guide to Growing Vegetables

© 2011 Dr. John Anderson


Submit a Comment

  • MarleneB profile image

    Marlene Bertrand 5 years ago from Northern California, USA

    This is, by far the most helpful article I have read about container gardening. Thank you for your thoroughness.

  • DeborahNeyens profile image

    Deborah Neyens 5 years ago from Iowa

    Excellent hub. Lots of great info. Voted up and bookmarking!

  • Marsha H profile image

    Marsha H 5 years ago from My Retro Kitchen in NY

    All of our tomato plants contracted blight a couple of years ago, and we haven't planted them in the garden since. So this year we grew a tomato plant in a pot.

    The pot should have been plenty big enough, but the tomato plant got so big and so top heavy that the pot kept tipping. So my husband built this "elaborate" frame out of PVC and duct tape to hold it up. (I swear, I can't leave him alone for two seconds and he goes all MacGyer on me.)

    But it did work, and the plant kept us in BLTs all summer.

    If space is limited, container gardens are the way to go.

    Nice hub. +vote up.

  • phdast7 profile image

    Theresa Ast 5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

    What a fantastic Hub. Extremey detailed and helpful. SHARING

  • rebeccamealey profile image

    Rebecca Mealey 5 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

    Wow! This is super good. I love the charts for capacity, and how you wrote a synopsis about each veggie. Voted up and shared,shared,shared!

  • Natashalh profile image

    Natasha 5 years ago from Hawaii

    Yep. I have a container garden and had to find a plant sitter when I went to Florida recently. Voted up and useful!

  • emilybee profile image

    emilybee 5 years ago

    Lovely pictures and great information for potting vegetables in small spaces. Voted up.

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