by Matt Gibson
Once you’ve decided to try your hand in container gardening, there’s a lot to learn. Looking for the best vegetables to grow in pots to make it easier on yourself? You’ve probably done a bit of research to get an idea of what you’re getting yourself into. Maybe you’ve even gotten as far as picking out and purchasing pots, timing out the sun exposure in the areas where you plan to place your containers, or investing in some quality potting soil and fertilizer for the coming season. It’s time for the fun part—you are now ready to start picking out which plants you’ll cultivate in your container garden and start mapping out where you want everything to go.
If this sounds familiar, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’ll tell you which plants are most suited to containers. More specifically, we’ll review which vegetables are the best picks for container gardens. This article also includes the basic growing condition information you’ll need and care tips for most of our suggestions so that you’ll know what you’re getting into once the seeds are sown or seedlings have been transplanted into their new homes. In this guide to growing vegetables in container gardens, we’ve done our best to cover all the bases and teach you all the basics.
The Best Vegetables for Containers
There are tons of reasons that people pick up gardening as a hobby and even more reasons someone might choose to set up their garden in containers. Many people decide to try their hand at gardening for purely practical purposes. What’s more practical than saving money on your grocery bill by growing your own produce on your balcony, patio, or porch or in portable pots in your yard at home? If you want to put your green thumb to use and reap the benefits in the kitchen but only have a small space to devote to the endeavor, container gardening has you covered.
Great Combinations for Grouping Vegetables in Containers
Gardeners have spent centuries learning valuable lessons the hard way, and as a result, they’ve developed inventive techniques through the process of trial and error. The failures and successes of their attempts have been passed down through the generations in books and journals that are scattered across the world—and these are now being compiled all over the internet in websites and databases. One of the many parts of the gardening hobby that has been honed into an art is the practice of companion planting. Container gardeners have had a lot of success in grouping certain vegetables together, selecting those that have similar needs and growing condition preferences and planting them in clusters within the same container.
Not only do the vegetables seem to appreciate the diverse company of their companions, but pairing the right vegetables together can actually strengthen their flavor profiles. Not all the possible partnerships are ideal pairings, however, so don’t just throw a bunch of seeds in a pot and hope for the best. The farmers who’ve come before us have already made plant-pairing mistakes for you so that we modern gardeners don’t have to learn the hard way. Here are several tried-and-true veggie combos that make a perfect posse and will give gardeners using large containers the most bang for their buck.
- Beans, carrots, and squash
- Tomatoes, basil, and onions
- Lettuces with practically any combination of herbs
- Spinach, chard, and onions
- Eggplant and any type of pole or bush beans
If you want to keep plant types separated but still save on space or you need to keep your vegetable garden portable, here are our suggestions for the best plants you can choose to go solo in containers. This list should not be considered comprehensive. Of course, there are other veggies you can grow in containers aside from the eight recommendations listed below. However, if you are starting a new container garden and you want to focus on veggies, this is where you should begin.
We’re featuring these eight vegetables due to their high rate of success when grown in containers, their easy care instructions, and their practical usefulness in the kitchen. If you want to start reaping the rewards of a farm-to-table gardening setup, consider this article your introductory course. Once you’ve chosen from the list below, you’ll be all set to prepare your soil, sow your seeds, and start saving on produce this growing season.
Plant peas one inch into the soil and space them two inches apart. Keep soil moist but not drenched, watering up to three times per day in warm climates. Provide full sun exposure after germination. Once sprouted, fertilize peas twice during the growing season with low-nitrogen fertilizer. Your plants will require staking from the center of containers—bamboo stakes are suggested. Learn more about growing peas.
Plant when temperatures are between 55 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Fertilize with a balanced plant food that is light on nitrogen. Thin seedlings to one to four inches apart when they reach two inches tall. Most varieties are ready for harvest 65 to 75 days after planting. Choosing to grow carrots in containers allows you to move them as needed when temperatures rise or fall steeply. Learn more about growing carrots.
Plant one cabbage plant per five-gallon container as cabbages can grow very large—up to four feet high and wide. If crowded, the size will drop significantly. Cabbage grows best in spring or fall, when temperatures are around 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Start seeds indoors about four weeks before last frost in the spring or six to eight weeks before the last frost in the fall.
Cabbages require steady, frequent deep waterings no more than two to three times per week. Put fabric around young plants to prevent cabbage worms and maggots from infesting the soil in your containers with their eggs. Wrap the base of each plant’s stalk with cardboard or tinfoil to ward off cutworms. If soil still becomes contaminated, discard immediately—never reuse. Learn more about how to grow cabbage.
Lettuce requires consistent shallow watering and ample drainage. Loose leaf lettuces are a better for growing in pots than more compact lettuce heads. Combat pests with blasts of water or insecticidal soap. Harvest the outer leaves first, then move on to using all leaves once the outer leaves grow back. Your lettuce plants will regrow and allow multiple harvests throughout the season. Learn more about growing lettuce in containers.
Bush varieties, such as hybrid, salad, and picklebush, work best in containers. All require staking. Container growing with an indoor start allows you to plant cucumbers much earlier than you could when cultivating them outdoors. Move your pots outside in early May. You’ll need to use a stake or trellis to support vines. Keep cucumber containers in sunny areas. They’re most comfortable in temperatures around 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
There’s a specific recipe for soil mix that’s highly recommended for cucumbers. Mix one part each of perlite, potting soil, compost, and peat moss. Fertilize this mix with low-nitrogen plant food. Once your cucumbers are thriving, keep an eye out for bugs, and blast any pests you find with water if necessary. Learn more about how to grow cucumbers.
Choose containers that are at least 12 inches wide as well as deep. Corn stalks will grow four per container at this size. Only grow one variety of corn at a time to avoid cross-pollination. Plant four seeds per container, spaced four to six inches apart. Place containers five to six inches away from each other.
Use garden soil formulated to retain moisture, and add fish emulsion or another all-purpose fertilizer before planting. Mulching around the plants will also help them hold in the water they’re given. Provide at least six hours of sun and warm soil, and place containers against a wall if possible to help with heat retention. Water your corn plants regularly in the mornings with a 10-10-10 fertilizer, and hydrate again in the evenings. Learn more about growing corn.
Choose one of the following varieties for containers: Bush Acorn, Black Magic Zucchini, Bushkin Pumpkin, or Bush Crookneck. The two most important factors to consider for growing squash in pots are container size (only one squash per 24-inch container) and soil type ( loose, well-drained soil loaded with organic matter or compost).
The best soil for squash is a mix of one part each perlite, peat moss, potting soil, sphagnum, and compost. These plants will need seven hours of full sunlight exposure and a trellis for support. Vertical growth is recommended. Intersperse your plants with a few marigolds and nasturtiums to drive pests away. Water them when soil is dry two inches below surface. Feed organic fertilizer every two weeks during the growing season. Learn more about squash.
Pick the proper size container for the variety of tomato that you want to grow. For smaller varieties, hanging baskets and window boxes will suffice, while larger varieties will require five-gallon buckets or even larger containers. The most important component to consider when selecting the appropriate planter for your tomatoes is whether the pot you have in mind is deep enough to house the plant’s root system. Twelve inches of depth is sufficient for most varieties of tomato plant.
There are two distinct types of tomato for gardeners to choose from — bush (determinate) or vine (indeterminate). For container gardening, the bush type is your best option. Bush tomato plants do not require staking because they do not grow as high and are easier to maintain in a controlled environment. Some of the best varieties of bush tomatoes to try out are Toy Boy, Patio, Pixie, Micro Tom, Floragold, Early Girl, Big Boy, Stakeless, and Tiny Tim. Learn more here.
Tomatoes require loose, well-draining potting soil with lots of organic material, such as manure or well-rotted shavings. Try out an equal mix of compost, potting soil, perlite, and peat moss. Weekly watering is usually sufficient, but the watering schedule should be increased during especially hot and dry periods. Full sunlight exposure is essential to get the best possible harvest out of your plants.
Start seeds indoors in early spring, or purchase seedlings from the nursery. Move your containers outdoors as soon as the last threat of frost has passed. Begin using a water-soluble fertilizer every other week during midsummer, and continue feeding tomato plants throughout the full growing season. Container tomatoes are relatively easy to grow and can yield just as much fruit as plants cultivated directly in the garden as long as they receive proper care and growing conditions.
Once you have tried your hand at growing these eight vegetables and had some success, you might consider growing peppers, chives, onions, garlic, and even more veggies to stock your crisper drawers. Future installments will tackle fruits, herbs, and flowering plants, each with a focus on which plants are the easiest to grow in pots.
More on growing tomatoes in containers here.
Want to learn more about growing in containers?
See these helpful resources:
Country Living covers Best Plants for Container Gardening
DIY & Crafts covers The 35 Easiest Container and Pot Friendly Fruits, Vegetables and Herbs
Fine Gardening covers 10 Plants for Year Round Containers
Gardener’s Supply Company covers How to Grow Edibles in Pots and Planters
Gardeners’ World covers 10 Plants for Containers
Gardening Know How covers Cabbage Container Care: Tips For Growing Cabbage In Pots
HGTV covers The Best Flowers for Container Gardens
Savvy Gardening covers The 7 Best Herbs for Container Gardening
The Spruce covers The 7 Best Flowering Container Garden Plants for Sunny Areas