Poor soil? Low sun exposure? No garden? You can still grow vegetables! Almost any vegetable can be grown in a container, but varieties that work the best are “compact” or “bush” plants: plants that have a confined growth habit. Here are steps to grow four popular vegetables in containers.
A few general tips: If the container ultimately will be too heavy to move, consider placing a wheeled platform underneath for maneuverability. Potting soil mix should be used, not regular garden soil. Finally, you will likely need to water your container plant every day, maybe twice on particularly hot days. An inch of mulch can be placed on top of the soil to help retain moisture.
The container size you will need depends on the tomato type. Standard tomato plants should be planted in a 24”-deep container, while dwarfs should be planted in 12”-deep containers. Fill a 24” container with 7 gallons of potting soil mix or a 12” container with 3.5 gallons of potting soil. Bury either a tomato transplant or seed about 40% deeper than you would plant in a garden, making sure to cover the stem with soil. Incorporate a tomato cage for support.
Fertilizing your tomato plant is essential. Use both a timed-release and water soluble fertilizer. Include the time-released fertilizer when planting, mixing it right into the potting soil. Measure ½ tablespoon to each gallon of soil mix. Add water soluable fertilizer once the plant begins to produce to enrich the potting soil. Slightly reduce the fertilizer’s labeled strength and add every 1-2 weeks.
Any variety of pepper can successfully grow in a container 16” deep. Fill with 5.5 gallons of potting soil and mix in 3 tablespoons of a time-based fertilizer such as Osmocote 14-14-14. Plant peppers the same depth as you would in a garden. Add a trellis to support peppers as they grow.
Peppers will also need to be fertilized once they begin to produce. Use a water soluable fertilizer such as Miracle Gro 15-30-15 every week or two. If you want a large harvest, you could try your luck with a 10-50-10 fertilizer that has a high phosphorous content. Add conservatively and give the plants a few hours of shade to retain moisture.
Popular Fordhook lima beans grow nicely in a 12” wide, 8-10”-deep container. Fill this container with 2.5 gallons of potting soil, adding 2.5 tablespoons of a balanced, slow-release fertilizer. When lima beans appear, add a water soluable fertilizer such as Peters 20-20-20. Use stakes to form a supportive tepee in the container, which can also be used as protection from the sun by draping fabric over the top.
All container plants, including lima beans, need extra watering attention since potting soil doesn’t retain moisture as well as garden soil. Therefore, water every day—more if you use a porous clay container. Drip irrigation works well. Check often for signs of disease and pest infestation.
All varieties of spinach are compact plants, so choose your favorite type. The ideal size container for spinach plants is 4-6” deep; fill with 1-2 pints of potting soil mix and ¼ tablespoon of a balanced fertilizer. Water daily and move the plant to a shady spot for several hours so the soil can absorb moisture.
Once the plant begins to produce, add a water soluable fertilizer every 1-2 weeks. Container plants actually require a bit more care than in-ground plants, but don’t let that scare you. Simply keep hydrated, support as necessary, check often for distress, and fertilize throughout the growing season.
Once you harvest, discard the container’s contents, as they are no longer useful: the nutrients are gone and you don’t want to encourage the potential spread of disease.
For more information on container gardening, check out this Fact Sheet from Ohio State University.
aaron matteson says
My cilantro does great in the northern facing window in the living room. Rising sunlight would probably work with spinch and lima beans. Do you think there is enough light indoors.. with just 1 northfacing window? No south facing windows here.
Paula Barclay says
I love to plant in containers it is so easy I have done this for years. Tomatoes cucumbers peppers lettuce.
Last year I planted colored Swiss Chard with my potted flowers, the results were striking! I used only fish fertilizer and compost tea when watering. The chard was was an explosion of jewel colored stalks and huge shine deep green leaves. Not only did it add dimension and color to my display pots, it was a supply of delicious greens all season.
bakul kr says
I did this in a planter when our house was on the market. Using compost from my chicken coop caused an explosion of growth. The Swiss chard was by far the most beautiful. I hated to harvest any because of its aesthetic value in the landscape.
I want to start container gardening this year and find this site very helpful, thank you
Claire S. says
i planted Blue Morning Glory. They are splendid and grow easily in pots on my full sun & summer heat balcony in Montréal. Also: Jack in the beans: Haricots à rames in french or i think they are called Pole Beans. The Scarlett Pole beans are very beautiful. All on balcony, in pots and any given kind of jars.
Jurgens Bosch says
Thank you for a wonderful website and all the members that share your experiences and knowledge.
I am a beginner in container gardening in Cape Town,South Africa
I grow chiltepins, jalapenoes & ordonoes in containers in hot S. AZ & never water more than twice a week at most & grow the hottest ones you’d ever eat!
I enjoy these tips
Hi Im new in this gardening thing, and can you just please specify the fertilizer to use the brand name and where to get it. Also i will prefer if its organic kind. Thanks
How can I grow carrots? No luck every year.
Carrots tend to like a sandy type of soil I’ve found otherwise the shape is just weird and they don’t grow well ☺️
how early we can plant this vegetables in pot? tomatoes, peppers, lima beans and spinach
I love vegs,ho best can i grow carrots,spinach,beetroot throughout the year? Please help.
Although the end of the season, my tomatoes and beans that dropped have already self sown so a chance of another crop. Is it better to try and put these in pots and would you recommend some form of hot house protection to try and get a crop. I guess the beauty of pots is that you can move them around to protected areas. Bye the way, I noticed the little tomato had a worm hole. Can you also recommend the best product or way of dealing with the pesky caterpillars, etc.
Jo- Ann says
I live in Northwest Ohio. I would like to container plant veggies, green & red bell pepper’s, Green beens ect…
I don’t have much $$ to spend, our soil here is clay. I can’t bend over to pull weeds that’s why container gardening has me curious. That palet didn’t look like it needs too much work…. HELp 1st time gardener lol
Margaret Coates says
The carrots I had in containers were the best I’ve ever grown – they were actually starting to curl at the bottom ~ at 11″ long – and were sweet and solid all the way through. Peas, for sure. Beans, yes. Not squash of any kind. Chard and lettuce, of course. But those carrots – they were the best!
I’ve seen a number of youtube videos where people have grown potatoes in containers or grow bags. Sweet potatoes are another good option. Going to give this a try next season.
Joy hodge says
I have had no luck with container potatoes. Even going by on line directions. Beautiful green plant nothing on the bottom. What’s wrong. Now tomatoes want a lot of room but do very well for me in CT