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How to Grow Vegetables in Containers

How to Grow Vegetables in Containers

By on April 11, 2013

The best part about knowing how to grow vegetables in containers is that you don’t need to have acres and acres of space; gardens may be grown in containers just as easily as in a traditional garden plot. Let’s take a look at what you need to know.

Key tips

One of the best things about growing in containers is the fact you will have almost as many options as you do with a garden plot. You still need soil, fertilizer (compost is a better option), water and light. Oh, and don’t forget the heat. The size of your container will be determined by the food you want to grow, but container gardening does lend itself to some very interesting combinations.

Depending on your location, it is possible to place the containers on a wheel base so they can be moved easily to take advantage of the sun. Making your container garden portable is also a good idea if your area is subject to heavy rains and wind; moving the containers indoors or into a more sheltered location will keep damage to a minimum.

Good drainage is key

When working out how to grow vegetables in containers, no matter your choice of container, is to have adequate drainage. If the container has holes for drainage, simply place it on a tray to prevent water damage to the floor or deck. If the container of choice does not have drainage holes, adding broken clay pots or gravel to the bottom before adding soil will keep water away from the roots. One of the best ways to ensure proper drainage with minimal mess is to line the bottom of your container with fiberglass screen, add the broken clay pots or coarse gravel, add more screen and then top with soil. By adding the screen you will prevent most of the soil from washing down and out of the pot. This method is most recommended for containers that will not be getting dumped out. It will be necessary to have a drip tray for any container with holes in the bottom if they are on a surface that should not get wet.

Grow up!

To increase the growing space in containers, add a trellis for items such as cucumbers, squash, pumpkins (use a heavy duty trellis for pumpkins if you plan on growing larger ones), peas, runner beans, etc. The beauty of container gardening is a variety of vegetables may be grown in one container. The different heights and space requirements may pose to be a bit of a problem, but by close planting you will all but eliminate the growth of weeds.

What should I plant…?

The key is to plant “like” plants together. What this means is the soil, water, heat and light requirements should be very similar otherwise you may not have a good container gardening experience. Herbs do well in a hotter, dryer environment, so don’t plant them with tomatoes which require more humidity. Some resources you should check out on how to grow vegetables in containers and what to grow can be found here, here and here

So many container options

Containers can be purchased at your local garden center, but why not look in your back yard or the recycling depot for some unusual containers. For those of you who are handy with wood and tools, you can build a container (preferably out of cedar) for your deck or balcony. Tires work well for planters, as do old tubs, toilets, trash cans, boots, five gallon buckets, steamer trunks, etc. Granted, some of these containers are more appropriate for flowers than food (namely the toilet), but let your imagination be your guide.

Half whiskey barrel

These are great for potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, sunflowers or even a small corn crop. Keep in mind you cannot plant all of these things in the same barrel, but it does provide a basic idea as to soil and container size requirements.

Try this: fill your half barrel with good quality potting soil. Place a trellis on one side of it, and plant Sugar Snap peas at the base. Add a row or two of carrot seeds mixed with radish seeds (this utilizes the space, as the radishes will grow much quicker than the carrots). Plant a few lettuce or mesclun (salad greens) seeds as well as a few multiplier onion sets. Within a few weeks you will have a one-stop salad bar. The radishes will mark the carrot rows and break up the soil. By using a half barrel you will give the carrots enough area to develop properly. If you can’t wait, or like smaller carrots, you may harvest them sooner. Adding a marigold or two to the planter will help ward off bugs (like mosquitoes), give your planter some colour and you can even make tea from the flowers and eat the leaves as greens.

Place the half barrel in full sun, with the trellis in the rear. This will ensure all of the plants get the full effect of the sun; when the peas start to grow they will shade the rest of the plants.

Five gallon buckets

Buckets work well for anything that requires a lot of space for a root system (such as tomatoes, cucumbers or potatoes).

Try this: place your bucket against a wall or fence that you can attach twine to. Fill your bucket three quarters full of potting soil, add one seed potato and continue to fill with soil. Tie twine to the bucket handle in three or four places, then attach to your wall or fence (four to six feet is a good length). Plant a few cucumber seeds (Long English for fresh eating) at one edge (preferably close to the twine) of the bucket. As the cucumber vines grow, train them to climb the twine. The potato tubers will grow downward and the cucumber upward, thus making the most of the space the bucket has to offer.

Window boxes

Don’t have ground space? – These are perfect for most herbs, strawberries, radishes, lettuce, and even bush beans.

Try this: fill your window box with soil and place on a deck railing or along a south facing wall. Plant a variety of herbs (starting with bedding plants is best, as seeds take much longer to grow) such as chives, garlic chives, basil (dwarf size), oregano, marjoram and mint. One hint on mint: keep it in its own pot in the window box as it will quickly take over if not contained. If you do notice it straying, quickly pinch back any growth that appears where it isn’t supposed to be. Be sure the rim of the mint pot is above the soil level in the rest of the window box.

Setting this window box right outside your kitchen door (remember it needs full sun though) will make it convenient to add the fresh herbs to meals. By pinching off leaves and stems, you will encourage bushier growth which in turn will give you more herbs. In the fall, the window box may be moved into a south window and you will have fresh herbs all winter long as well.

Hanging Gardens

Container gardens do not necessarily have to be on the floor or ground; large hanging baskets work as well. When people think of baskets they generally associate them with flowers, but food may also be grown in them. A good size to use for food is a basket at least fifteen inches in diameter, but in this case bigger is better. It is also very important to ensure the ceiling, frame or branch you are hanging the basket from will support the weight of the soil and full grown plants.

Try this: fill hanging baskets with potting soil that will retain moisture as they seem to dry out quicker than containers on the ground. Plant three strawberry plants in the soil, and also some climbing nasturtiums (yes, they are edible). The strawberry plants will produce runners which will hang over the edge of the basket, and the nasturtium will climb the basket support. This is one basket you may not be able to move for the duration of the summer, so be sure it is in an out-of-the-way place, yet still in full sun. All parts of the nasturtium may be eaten; both the leaves and flowers have a mild peppery flavour.

Summing up how to grow vegetables in containers

You can grow almost anything in a container that grows in a garden plot.

Remember compact gardening will produce a bumper crop if:

  • The soil is kept moist
  • There is adequate ventilation
  • The container is placed in a sunny location
  • The nutrients are replenished regularly (this can be as simple as top-dressing the soil with compost).

Individual needs will determine the best place to put the containers as well as what types of fruits and vegetables you wish to grow.

One of the biggest bonuses in terms of gardening in containers is the minimal weeding that needs to be done. The close proximity of the plants will not allow weeds to germinate as easily. Plus, the potting soil used should be relatively weed free to begin with. Airborne weed seeds to try to take hold, but if pulled quickly they will not take over your containers.

Let’s jump into it!

Gardening in containers is a great way to get your garden started (even if you do have a backyard!). There is plenty of information around the web on how to grow vegetables in containers, with some fantastic helpful facts to be found here, here and here

Enjoy your container garden and the health benefits of eating fresh produce.

Diane Ziomek has grown food in traditional garden plots, raised garden beds and containers successfully. Her personal experiences have contributed to her knowledge in terms of gardening and the benefits of eating fresh produce. http://www,dianeziomek.ca

About Diane Ziomek


  1. Jante Swe

    April 16, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    Just a little note to thank you for the info. You’ve filled my mind with loads of creative ideas. I’m off to play in my yarden. 🙂

  2. Angie

    April 17, 2013 at 6:41 am

    Haha – it’s exciting when you get a few ideas for your garden! Isn’t it!!

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