Ready to learn organic vegetable container gardening for beginners?
Many experienced gardeners follow this same process to enjoy delicious veggies right outside of their doors.
This post contains 12 tips on how to grow vegetables organically in containers.
What Is The Best Container For Growing Vegetables?
For beginners, choosing the right garden planter for your veggie plants is the most important. It can make your limited gardening space productive.
You can use almost anything for a vegetable container such as garden planters, large pots, half-barrels, window boxes, plastic-lined bushel baskets, and 5-gallon buckets as long as
- it holds soil,
- it’s big enough,
- it drains excess water, and
- it says food-grade.
If you’re looking for cheap containers to grow vegetables, use a 5-gallon plastic bucket from the hardware store.
Or look for container-like items that end up unused in the garage or basement. You can use them as a planter to grow your edibles.
Make sure you drill some holes because recycled containers usually have no drainage holes.
Consider the weight of the container.
Once you fill the pot with wet soil and plant material, the weight is going to be substantial.
What about the appearance?
It should match your overall garden aesthetic and blend with your house.
Size Of Container
If you’re a newbie in container vegetable gardening, for size, the bigger the pot is, the better.
As a general rule, choose as large a container as possible.
It’s better to err on the large size.
Big pots hold more soil. Therefore, they retain more moisture, so you don’t have to water so often.
And they produce more yield.
Small containers dry out faster and may need frequent watering.
Plus, they often can’t store enough water to cope with hot days.
The most common pot sizes range from 10 inches in diameter to 24 inches in diameter.
If you’ve no idea what to plant in your container, then start with what you want to grow and find a planter that works.
Large Vegetable Container (20″ to 24″)
Certain vegetables need large pots to grow in a vegetable container garden.
They need a lot of space, and most roots need room to grow.
Vine crops need cages, stakes, arbors, or a trellis for climbing support.
They can produce straighter, cleaner fruit if grown on a trellis.
Best Plants For Large Planters:
- String peas
- Pole beans
- Vine cucumbers
Small vegetables don’t need the entire pot to grow.
So, you can plant a variety of them in big containers.
Alternatively, you can combine 2 to 3 medium-sized plants and 4 to 6 small ones in a large container.
In other words, the bigger your container, the more plants you can grow!
For trellised plants, get heavy containers to reduce the risk of tipping.
Medium Garden Containers (14″ to 20″)
Small or bushy vegetables grow well in medium-sized pots.
Best Vegetables for Medium Containers:
- Bush cucumbers
- Bush beans
Small Containers (6″ to 14″)
For herbs and small veggies, you can go with a smaller pot.
They don’t require much space.
Best Plants For Small Containers:
- Green onion
Watch this video on apartment vegetable garden!
How Deep Should A Container Be For Vegetables?
Depth of the container is the next thing to consider.
If the pot is not deep enough, especially for vegetables with deep root, it will stunt their growth.
Like the size, the deeper the pot, the more moist soil it holds. So, you can reduce the watering frequency.
If you’re using a self watering-planter, you can use shallow containers. Thanks to the water reservoir below the planting area that supplies the moisture.
The container depth depends on the type of vegetables you grow.
Small edible varieties such as radishes, green onions, lettuce and leafy veggies such as spinach can grow well in 6 to 8 inches deep containers.
Huge vegetables like zucchini, peppers, and tomatoes will need a pot at least 12 inches deep. But 18 inches is ideal.
Once you know the size and depth you need, next decide on what type of pot you will use.
Type of Container
You don’t have to stress out about the kind of container your vegetables grow.
All they need is it must be large enough to hold them. And excess water can escape through its drainage holes.
You’ll find the following varieties of container:
Most gardeners use terracotta pots for container gardening.
- Expensive, especially if you buy larger pots.
- Porous – need more watering.
- Heavy to move around once filled with potting mix.
- Likely to break if it tips over.
- Difficult to keep your vegetables moist because the clay absorbs the water from the soil.
If you want to retain the moisture in the terracotta containers,
- line a terra cotta pot with plastic sheets,
- seal it with a stone sealing product or,
- use a plastic planter as a liner.
You’ll find some glazed ceramic pots in garden centers.
- Comes in fun colors
- Pricey even they cost less than the terracotta pots
- Heavy when you need to move your plants around to get the light or shade they need
Plastic plant containers are ideal for beginners who want to start a container garden on a budget.
They are available in various styles from ones that look like real wood, ceramic, and fun, bright colors.
- Most cost-effective container.
- Better moisture retention compared to clay pots – won’t dry out as fast as unglazed terracotta containers.
- Durable – less likely of breaking
- Lightweight – easy to maneuver based on sunlight needs
Is it safe to plant vegetables in plastic containers?
Yes, as long as they are food-grade plastic.
You may want to repurpose 5-gallon buckets to save more money.
Before planting, determine the type of plastic used in the bucket. Also, find out the kind of stuff stored in it.
It must never have any contact with agricultural chemicals like herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides or hold other toxic chemicals or dangerous substances.
If you like classic, modern, or country appearance, wooden planters would be your choice.
They look lovely when growing vegetables in containers.
Don’t use a container made of treated wood. Your plants may absorb the chemical compounds.
- Last for years even placed outside
- Hard to move when full of soil or left sitting in the same spot for a long time
- The bottom tends to rot after a few years.
- Durable – last for a long time
- Permanent location – unlikely to move anywhere
Resin planters come in different colors and textures. It’s not surprising to find them that look like metal or wood.
- More durable than the plastic garden container. Resin containers are treated to resist UV rays when using outdoors.
- Light to move around
Metal plant containers increase the aesthetic value of your container vegetable garden.
You can buy ones made for planters or recycle old washtubs into rustic planters.
- Metal conducts heat. To protect the roots of your plants, add a thick plastic liner inside the metal planter. Or use it in shade gardens.
Usually, you find a window box or stacked ones at the windowsills.
But some fit over railings or hang on the side of a fence.
They can hold more than just flowers.
They convert unutilized spaces into a compact vegetable container garden.
They are within arm’s reach when you need herbs or small greens for your cooking.
Plants that tend to keep to themselves don’t need much root space. So, they are best for window boxes.
Best Plants for Window Boxes:
- Green onion
- Green beans
You can plant vegetables in colorful fabric pots, making your container garden a bit odd.
If you don’t have space on the ground, consider hanging your plants!
You don’t have to hang your vegetables high.
Let them grow at eye level so you can tend and harvest them without hurting your neck.
Use long rope make it easy for you to access them.
Some plants do better when they’re not lying on the ground.
With vertical gardening, you accomplish 3 things.
- You free up the ground for other vegetables that need it.
- You make good use of extra space (above the ground) for container gardening.
- You have better pest control for hanging edibles.
Best Plants For Hanging Pots:
- Cherry Tomatoes
Raised Garden Beds
You can reckon raised garden beds as the most substantial size for container gardening.
They are an ideal solution for home renters who want to grow vegetables in temporary structures.
And they only cost under $15 to set up.
They are perfect for plants that like to roam.
Best Vegetables For Garden Beds:
Vertical Gardening Tower
If you want to grow a lot of vegetables in a small space such as a balcony, you need a garden tower!
It’s a vertical gardening system that lets you grow 50 plants in just 4 square feet.
Its unique design makes it easy to harvest.
It also acts as a composter. As your compost breaks down, it feeds the plants growing inside.
Try out these vertical garden design ideas!
Self-watering planters are excellent for urban balconies and patios.
They make watering plants a cinch.
You don’t have to water your vegetables often.
All you have to do is to keep the water reservoir full.
- Easy to use
Improve Drainage To Prevent Rotting Of The Roots
Poor drainage will drown your vegetables.
Without the holes at the bottom of the pot, waterlogged soils will ruin your vegetable planting.
If you don’t see any holes or need to improve drainage, either puncture in the center of the bottom of the container for a large opening or drill a few small ones.
To stop the dirt from being washed but allow water to seep out, cover the large hole with
- a plastic screen,
- a piece of burlap,
- a wire mesh, or
- a coffee filter.
Add about 1 inch of coarse gravel on top of the screen to improve drainage.
Best Soil For Container Vegetables
The success of your container-grown edible crops depends on the soil you use.
So, what type of soil to use in containers?
Fill your containers with a soilless potting mix that will hold moisture and not cause compaction.
Visit your nearby nursery and ask for organic potting mixes made for containers.
Studies have shown that organic soil will give your vegetables better flavor and a higher percentage of antioxidants and phytochemicals.
Organic soil has more variety of nutrients than regular potting mixes. It features a wide range of pH levels and blends that suits different crops.
Use a high-quality potting mix that comprised of peat moss, sphagnum moss, and perlite or vermiculite. This lightweight growing medium can hold moisture but still drains well.
A quality commercial potting mix is also free of weeds and pests and has lots of nutrients.
You can also use a good quality compost alone or combine with a soilless mix.
Make sure that the compost is not too heavy. If needed, add sand to improve drainage.
If you’re using homemade compost, then screen it thoroughly. Packed with natural fertilizer, it can help the veggie plants to thrive.
You can add some compost and vermiculite to lighten heavy soil mix.
Check out this potting mixture. It’s excellent for seed starting and containers.
Read more about the best soil mix for container vegetable garden.
Feeding Your Plants
Why is fertilizer essential when you’re planting vegetables in containers?
- The growing medium in the container has few, if any, nutrients. Your plants need fertilizer to thrive. So, they depend on you to provide the nutrients they need.
- Container-grown plants get watered a lot. Every time you water, you wash some nutrients from the soil.
- In a container garden, you grow various veggies in a small space. Can you imagine how are they going to produce high yield when feeding on a small container!
You won’t succeed if you don’t use some fertilizer.
When you plant your container garden, the commercial potting mix already has fertilizer. But it will not last very long.
If your soil doesn’t have fertilizer, add organic, granular fertilizer before planting your vegetable of choice.
Feed container plants at least twice a month with liquid fertilizer, following the instructions on the label.
You can also feed your edible crops with compost tea.
Pay close attention to the needs of your plant. Add fertilizer as frequently as needed to keep your greens healthy.
Where to Put Your Vegetable Container
Most vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, and beans need at least six hours of direct sunlight a day.
If you want your plants to thrive, place the containers where they will receive maximum sunlight.
To determine an ideal growing area, check the location every 30 minutes throughout the day. Note down the duration of the sun directly hits the potential placement spot.
Using a sun calculator can also give you an accurate assessment.
If you live in a hot zone, you may need to shade your plants in the middle of the day, so they do not overheat.
To keep your crops fresh during hot summer days, double-pot. Place a small pot inside a larger one. Fill the gap between them with sphagnum moss or crumpled newspaper.
When watering the plant, soak the filler between the pots.
Avoid using metal containers, dark-colored plastics, or ceramics. They can become very hot and cook your plant’s roots.
If your yard does not get enough sun, consider putting your plants on caddies or adding casters. As the angle of the sun changes, you can move them around quickly during the day or even later in the season.
On the other hand, many vegetables don’t like cold soil.
If you live in a cold climate, never put your vegetable containers outside the whole day until you know the temperatures are warm enough.
Most edible plants grow well when the soil is at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Use a meat thermometer to check the temperature of your soil.
It’s better to acclimate your plants to the outdoor conditions before putting them outside permanently.
You also need to factor in the wind.
Place your plants in a protected location using an existing shelter of your home.
Or construct a temporary windbreak with portable fencing or fabric.
Don’t let the wind batter and dry out their foliage.
Position the large plants in such a way that they can shield small plants from the wind.
Grouping potted plants together also increase humidity levels, keeping greens more fruitful.
Whatever the size or type, place your vegetable containers where it is the most convenient for you to care for them. Also, the growing area should allow them to thrive.
Water Your Container Garden Daily
If you’re starting a vegetable container garden for the first time, watering is the hardest part.
Vegetable plants need a consistent supply of water to flourish.
Container gardens can’t hold moisture as good as traditional gardens.
If your greens don’t get enough water, you’ll have to deal with leaf curling, rotting, stunted root growth, drop in blossom drop, and pests.
But make sure you don’t drown them.
All you have to do is to keep the soil moist but not soggy.
Every day check your vegetables.
Push your finger about an inch down into the soil.
Is the potting mix drying out?
If yes, add water.
Usually, watering once a day should be enough for most container gardens.
But, you may need to water twice a day at the peak of summer.
Every few days, fill the reservoir, and your vegetables will get its water as needed.
Or set up a drip-irrigation system for containers that are close together. It can water your vegetables on autopilot.
How easy can it get!
Keep Weeds And Pests Away
Watch out for weeds and other pests if you want your vegetable garden to be highly productive.
Although plants in containers usually aren’t as prone to disease as ground-grown edibles, you should be alert for any problems that occurred.
Remove or treat any plants that show signs of disease or insect damage.
Seeds Or Seedlings
You can grow vegetables either from seeds or seedlings.
It is cheaper to use seeds than seedlings.
You have the chance to grow hard-to-find varieties.
The problems with starting from seeds are that if you let them dry out, they are useless.
Also, too much water will kill them.
If you’re thinking of starting your veggies from seed, use a self-watering seed starter.
It needs proper ventilation and 12 to 16 hours of light.
What Vegetables Are Good For Container Gardening?
Most vegetables thrive in containers, especially those that can be easily transplanted.
If you are new to growing edibles in containers, go for bush or dwarf varieties.
Start off with herbs or lettuce if you’re interested in fast growing vegetables in pots.
Check if your zone has enough growing days for the required time to mature.
Find out the best container-based vegetables for those who want to be green thumbs. They’re all easy to grow in pots on your patio, driveway, next to your pool or wherever they fit.
How to Start An Organic Container Vegetable Gardening For Dummies: Step By Step
Following are the steps to planting an edible container garden organically
Step 1: Start Seeds
This initial step depends on the type of vegetable you want to plant. You can
- sow seeds directly in your containers,
- move transplants from starters seeds grown indoors to pots, or
- buy seedlings from a nursery.
For first time container vegetable gardening, I suggest you begin with seeds sown directly in the planter. It requires experience to do transplants.
Crops such as spinach, corn, carrots, beans, and radishes are a good start.
Not all seeds will germinate, so sow more than you need.
You can thin the excess seedlings later.
Step 2: Pick The Right Container
If you’ve read about the best container to grow your vegetables earlier, then you already know what type and size of the pot are best for your garden.
Step 3: Drainage
Whatever container you use, make sure that it has drainage holes at the bottom.
If you’re not sure about drainage, read the section on “Improve Drainage To Prevent Rotting Of The Root.”
Step 4: Fill It Up
Break up any crumbles in the dirt before filling the pot.
Soak the potting mix thoroughly. Then let it settle for a couple of hours to drain excess water.
Fill up your container 2 to 3 inches from the top or halfway/three-quarters full with a quality potting mix.
It allows you to have room to add water.
Regardless of whether you are planting seeds or transplants, water the container thoroughly before you plant.
Step 5: Add The Plant
Once you fill the container with dirt, it’s time to plant your vegetables.
Place the plant on top of the dirt.
You don’t have to make a hole or push the plant further into the soil.
Instead, place the plant in the pot.
If you plan to grow a few edibles in the same container, leave 3 to 4 inches of space in between each plant.
Follow the seed package directions for the spacing.
Step 6: Add More Soil
Add soil to cover the roots and finish filling up the pot.
Do not compress the dirt as it will reduce the drainage.
Bury plastic tags for identification of each plant.
Step 7: Fertilize
Sprinkle organic fertilizer in the soil, either before or after planting.
Too much fertilizer can accelerate the growth of your veggies, but they will be soft, and their flavor won’t be as intense.
Refer to the section on “Feeding Your Plants.”
Step 8: Mulch It
Mulching helps the soil in the containers to retain moisture and from drying out.
So, add a layer of mulch such as wood chips, straw, leaf mold, or grass clippings around the plant.
Step 9: Give Water
Water gently but thoroughly to settle the seeds or transplants.
The smaller the container, the faster they will dry out, but even large containers will need frequent watering.
Then, water every few days to keep your plants healthy.
For more details, read “Water Your Container Garden Daily” above.
Add A Trellis For Plant Support
A trellis is a must for veggies that like to sprawl out or have hefty fruits.
Beside trellises, you can support your climbing vegetables with stakes, netting, twine, or cages.
To avoid damaging the plants or their roots, erect the supports at planting time.
When your plants are supported this way, they will thrive and produce a high yield.
If you want to utilize the space entirely and maximize your harvest,
Plant root crops, low-growers or leafy greens, and tall climbers together in the same container.
The climbers will scramble up a trellis, while the small edibles scatter around their base.
You also enjoy weed-free vegetable gardening.
With all these plants growing, the weeds can barely gain a foothold.
During hot weather, the tall plants offer shade for the low-growers to grow well.
Combine quick-maturing plants, such as radishes and lettuce, with long-growing ones, like broccoli or tomatoes.
Group plants with similar needs for sun and water, such as
- radishes, pole beans, and lettuce,
- bush beans, beets, and cucumber,
- basil, onions, and tomatoes,
- peas and carrots.
The wind is a concern when using a trellis or some other type of support in your container.
Use heavy pots.
And secure the trellis to a railing or fixed upright structure.
Container Vegetable Gardening Tips For Beginners: Harvesting
If you have arrived at this stage, give yourself a pat.
Harvest is the most satisfying step for any beginner.
Follow these harvesting tips to get it right.
- Pick your crops the moment they reach a favorable size. If you harvest them early and often, they will produce more.
- Don’t allow the plants “go to seed.” It can cause a drop in fruiting.
- After the growing season ends, add the soil from the vegetable containers to your compost pile.
- Do not reuse the soil from year to year. You’ll encounter infections and insect infestations.
- If you’re reusing the pots, scrub them to remove all soil. Wash them with a solution of one part bleach to 10 parts water. Then rinse with clean water and let them dry.
Container vegetable gardening allows you to cultivate edibles in the smallest of spaces.
It is worth your time whether you’re growing vegetables on your balcony, patio, doorstep, rooftop, or open window.
Or adding extra growing space in your backyard.
Even if you’re a newbie, armed with the basics of vegetable container gardening in this post, you can have great success with it.
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