There are many reasons to grow food in containers; no space for an in-ground garden, condo or apartment living, or you’re new to gardening and wish to start small. For me, I have a large raised bed vegetable garden, but I still love to fill my back deck with food plants. They’re nearby when I need a bunch of basil or a handful of cherry tomatoes, and they look great when paired with annual flowers like petunias, geraniums, salvia, and dianthus. Whatever your reasons for planting in pots, there are easy ways to increase your success with vegetable container gardening.
5 ways to success with vegetable container gardening:
1) Let the sun shine. Most vegetables and herbs grow best with at least 8 hours of sunshine. Trying to grow sun-loving vegetables in low light will result in disappointing yields and unhealthy plants. Instead, find a site that offers plenty of direct sun for your potted crops. Got less light? Try growing shade-tolerant veggies.
2) Pick the right pot. This may sound rather obvious, but container selection can make a huge difference in the success of your container veggie gardens. Certain materials, like clay, look great, but are porous and dry out the soil medium quickly. If you don’t wish to water several times a day, stick to containers made from plastic, wood, or fabrics. I’ve been growing potatoes, tomatoes, and kale in fabric bags for several years with great success. You can even grow vining vegetables, like peas and pole beans in containers when you add a simple trellis like this one. It looks great and is sturdy enough to hold the weight of climbing edibles.
3) Size matters. When it comes to pot size, larger pots and planters are typically less work to maintain. They have a higher volume of soil, which holds water for a longer period of time – less watering! You’ll also want to match the plant size to the pot size. Compact crops, like strawberries, salad greens, and many herbs, can be planted in small containers, stackable pots, or vertical wall systems to let you cram more food into a small balcony or deck. Larger vegetables, like tomatoes, zucchini, or potatoes should be planted in pots that are at least 15-inches across.
4) Use high-quality potting soil. I know many gardeners find satisfaction in blending their own homemade potting soil, but I prefer to just buy bags of a high-quality potting mix like Pro-Mix Premium Organic Vegetable & Herb Mix. It has Mycoactive technology to encourage healthy growth and is OMRI-listed for use in organic gardens. Don’t use garden soil in containers. Most garden soils are very dense and don’t allow proper water drainage or good aeration, affecting the health of your crops.
5) Feed often. Potting soils offer a lightweight medium for container crops, but they don’t offer much in the way of nutrition. In order to keep plants healthy and encourage a good harvest, you’ll need to feed your plants. Add a slow-release fertilizer like this one to containers at planting time, or give pots a weekly dose of a diluted liquid organic food. Just be sure to follow package instructions.
For more information on growing in containers or small spaces, check out these posts:
- The best container vegetable varieties
- Container gardening tip list
- The 7 best herbs for container gardening
- Growing berries in containers
- 5 mini melons for small gardens and containers
Do you have any tips to help our readers boost their success with vegetable container gardening?
Augustine Rhodes says
Thank you for your recommendations. I have one question though. What mulch do you recommend for container gardens? I remember listening to you on a recent podcast (Livinghomegrown?) and you mentioned that you use bark for your mulch. Can you mention what type of mulch and can it be used with container gardens?
Niki Jabbour says
Hi Augustine, I do use bark, but that’s for my pathways.. in the actual beds, I use straw or shredded leaves. I put a 3 inch layer around my tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, etc. Keeps weed down, helps hold moisture and looks great! Hope that helps! Niki
Would growing in all compost be a bad idea? I need a lot of soil, so I’m ordering a cubic yard, and my options are garden soil or 70% compost screened with 30% sand/soil mix.