The Best Vegetable Container Gardening Guide For Beginners

Few things taste better than fresh veggies, salad greens, and herbs that you grew yourself. You can be healthy and feel great about where your food comes from, and save yourself the grocery store trip! Unfortunately, many of us lack the space needed to grow vegetables in a traditional garden. Luckily, even if you lack a good patch of dirt, you can still start vegetable container gardening indoors.

Container vegetable gardening requires a large container and proper soil, light, and temperature. They also tend to need extra nutrients and water. The ones that are particularly good for growing in containers grow compactly and have more shallow root systems.

Pots are no longer just for flowers! With a bit of know-how, you can grow delicious and organic plants. This article will teach you everything you need to know to start growing vegetables in containers.

Best Containers for Vegetable Gardening

When it comes to the exact type of container, vegetables and herbs are not picky plants. The most crucial requirement is size. If you want your plants to produce large and abundant fruit, you will need to make sure that the container’s size does not stifle their root growth.

After assuring that your container is the proper size, you can consider a few other things when choosing the best fit for your needs. Here are some things that you may want to keep in mind when picking a pot.

  • Clay (terra cotta) pots absorb water. You will need to water more frequently when using these types of pots. You can get around this probably by using a plastic lining in your clay pots.
  • Dark-colored pots will absorb more heat. Plants in these pots may need to be watered more often, especially during hot summer months. Dark-colored pots may be a poor choice for plants that like cooler weather.
  • Large containers are best if you are new to the concept of vegetable container gardening. You can be sure your plants will have plenty of room, and you will not have to water as often as the added soil in a large container can hold more water.

Pick lightweight containers if you intend to move your plants around at all. The large ones will become very heavy when you fill them up.

How Deep Should a Container Be For your Indoor Garden?

Unfortunately, the answer to this question depends almost entirely on the vegetable varieties you are planting. The needed depth comes from how deep the roots naturally travel. Potatoes will need lots of root room and thus an extra deep container. Pole beans need 8 to 9 inches to grow. On the other hand, green beans and peas will not need as deep a container and can grow in a pot.

In general, getting containers in the gallon size is recommended to give most plants adequate root room. 5-gallon ones are a good average for many plants.

Are Any Containers Not Safe for Growing Vegetables and Herbs In?

You will be eating what you grow, so it is vital to make sure that the containers you use do not contain hazardous materials. Here are some tips for keeping things safe.

  • If you are using recycled materials, make sure to wash them thoroughly before use
  • Do not use treated wood to build containers. It contains chemicals that may get into the soil.
  • If you want to paint or decorate your containers, ensure you always use non-toxic materials. It is also a good idea not to paint the inside where the soil may become contaminated.

Creating Optimal Drainage

No matter what type of container or pot you use, you must ensure there is adequate drainage. Those that do drain excess water will become waterlogged and cause root rot and mold.

If you are using a recycled or homemade one, the first step should be to drill holes in the bottom to allow water to escape. You also need to choose loose soil and allow water to run through it rather than become packed. Adding some loose gravel to the bottom of your containers will also improve drainage.

container drainage

Raised Beds: A Cheaper Option?

raised bed for indoor vegetable gardening

If you are interested in growing vegetables in containers, you may also be considering creating a raised bed. A raised bed will still require some ground space, so it is not a solution for those who want to become gardeners in a location with little to no land.

Raised beds may seem like a cheaper option, but they tend to be more expensive to start than a container garden, primarily because of their size. Raised beds still need to be filled with loose soil to allow for adequate drainage, and it usually takes far more bags to fill a raised bed.

However, if your containers’ volume will require the same amount of soil as a raised bed, then the raised bed will be cheaper since you do not have to buy multiple containers. There is much more to the debate between containers versus raised beds, but containers are usually the more affordable option unless you need a lot of room.

More to Gardening: What Else Do Your Container Veggies Need?

Getting a suitable container is only half the battle to become a successful gardener. Now that you have the right home picked out, you will need to create the proper environment. This requires attention to factors such as light, temperature, and soil conditions.

The Right Light

Plants need light to grow, but exactly how much light does that entail? Most plants will need around 6 to 12 hours of direct sunlight a day. The easiest way to achieve this is by putting your plants outside. An unshaded balcony or patio is an excellent spot for allowing them to soak up the rays.

Be careful about placing your vegetable garden directly next to the house, as the shade may prevent them from getting adequate light. You may put your plants in a place that gets filtered light if they are receiving light for 12 or more hours a day.

If there is nowhere to put your plants where they will receive adequate sunlight, consider moving things inside and using a grow light instead. This will be more expensive, but it does offer greater control over your plant’s light source.

Make sure always to check the information of whatever specific vegetable plants you choose to plant. All plants need light, but some will thrive better with less or more light.

Ideal Temperature

Putting your plants outside is the best way to ensure they get light, but the outdoors’ uncontrollable temperature can present a significant problem.

The first thing you should always do is check the growing season in your area for the specific vegetable you wish to grow. This will give you an idea of what temperatures they prefer and what times of the year those temperatures occur in your location.

We often think of vegetables as liking sun, and while planting anything while there is a danger of frost is a bad idea, some plants prefer colder weather. The summer heat will scorch and kill certain plants. Some also like significantly warmer temperatures and will die if planted outdoors in lower temperatures even if there is no frost danger.

The rule then is to familiarize yourself with the needs of your specific plans. Planting in containers also gives you the option to start or keep things permanently inside if you want to extend the growing season but are restricted by your area’s climate.

The Best Soil for Container Growing Vegetables

Using garden soil from your yard or even an outdoor garden will not work with container gardens! If you put dirt from your yard in, it will become packed. This will stop the growth of the root system, prevent water draining, and massively reduce airflow. Basically, it will kill it quickly.

When gardening, you need soil that is made for containers. A potting mix or potting soil from your local garden or hardware store will do in most cases. The mix should be light and fluffy to provide both aeration and proper drainage. If you intend to move your pots around, picking a lightweight potting mix is extremely helpful.

Another thing to consider is nutrient content. Vegetables planted in containers will only have access to the nutrients you provide, and to both grow and produce fruit, they need a lot of nutrients.

You can give yourself a good head start by picking a mix with added fertilizers and plant food. You can even get mixes that are specifically designed for vegetables. You may also want to choose an organic mix to feel confident about what you will later be eating.

Caring for Your Container Vegetable Garden

Once you have everything planted and growing, your container vegetables will require maintenance to thrive. While weeds and pests may not be a significant problem with containers, providing adequate water and nutrients is essential for a good yield.

How Often Should You Water?

Again the first step should always be to check what your specific plant prefers. Some vegetables are more drought-hardy than others, and some are more prone to root rot from overwatering. Still, a good rule of thumb for most keeping most plants happily watered is to keep the soil damp but not moist. It should feel wet when you touch it, but it should not be dripping or welling. 

Because there is less soil to retain water, container gardens will need more frequent watering than a traditional garden. In the summer heat, you may have to water a couple of times a day to prevent your plants from becoming parched. Remember that some containers, such as clay or dark-colored ones, may require more frequent watering because of their features.

Watering in the morning is an excellent way to prevent overwatering as the sun and heat of the day will evaporate the excess while still allowing a plant a cool time at the beginning of the day to soak up the water it needs.

How Should You Feed Your Plants?

Between both growing bigger and making edible delights, vegetables have a lot of work to do, and they need plenty of sustenance to do it. In a container, your plant will only have access to the nutrients you give it, so it is essential to fertilize.

You should provide the first dose of plant food when initially planting. This will help your seeds get started strong. Some potting mixes, especially seed starters, come with plant food already, so you may not have to add anything depending on what you buy.

It is typically a good idea to provide your plants with additional feeding every couple of weeks after starting. You can use an all-purpose plant food/fertilizer or find something that matches your vegetable’s specific need.

You should increase your feeding around the time when they begin to produce fruit. Creating vegetables takes a lot of the plant’s energy, and so providing extra nutrients during this time will help your plant make more and bigger fruit.

10 Vegetables Perfect for Container Gardening

Some vegetables are easier than others to grow in limited spaces. Especially the ones that have a more shallow root system and grow compactly. Vegetables that like to spread will overflow their growing space without careful pruning, and the ones with extensive root systems may outgrow their container’s capacity.

Here are some vegetables that are great for anyone wanting to start a container garden. You can also use mini or petite varieties of almost any vegetable as a more container-appropriate option.

1. Lettuce

Any type of lettuce makes an excellent choice for container gardeners. Lettuce has a relatively short growing season and can be planted in a shallow area. You can also grow different types of lettuce in the same container for a living salad bar!

2. Carrots

Carrots may be a root vegetable, but as long as the container is as deep as the carrots will be tall (about a foot or two at the most), they grow well in containers. The tops of carrots do not spread much, and since carrots love loose soil, they may even do better than when planted in the more compact outdoor garden soil. 

3. Tomatoes

Tomatoes, especially cherry tomatoes, do surprisingly well. Since tomatoes tend to grow tall, you may need to provide a stake or cage for the tomatoes to climb, but upward growth is much easier to manage in a pot than outward tomato growth.

4. Onions

Onions do not spread, and thanks to the bulb root, they do not penetrate incredibly deeply into the soil either. Onions also last for a long time after harvesting and are used as a staple in many meals. Green onions can be grown rather quickly as well.

5. Peppers

Both sweet peppers and the chili variety grow well in containers. With so many varieties and sizes, you can find a pepper plant that will fit whatever container and space you have in mind. Peppers love the sun, making them ideal for your porch or patio.

6. Radishes

This may not always be the first vegetable that pops into your head, but this hardy veggie is very easy to grow in any space! Sprinkle a few radish seeds in just about anything, and they will take root. This is an excellent choice for beginners!

7. Beans

Beans create an attractive green plant that both looks great and makes great food. You can choose a bush variety for a compact plant or a pole variety if you want to create a climbing one.

8. Potatoes

On the downside, potatoes need a lot of room, but having a large and deep container laying around this hearty vegetable is easy to grow. Potatoes like loose soil, so they do well in the container environment if they have enough room and water.

9. Cucumbers

Cucumbers grow quickly and love water! They do great in a space that holds water well, and since cucumbers love heat, they like how containers tend to heat in the sun. Again you can choose between bush and climbing types.

10. Eggplant

Some eggplants grow very dense, large, and heavy bushes that will tip over a container, but if you choose a variety that grows smaller and more compact, they work great! You will still need a large container for their deep roots, and choosing a heavier soil and container should prevent tipping.

Conclusion

Who says you need a farm to start farming? With a couple of large containers, you can start growing your very own edibles! Gather some info on the veggies you want to grow, and start your vegetable container garden!

About the author 

Daniel Buckner

I have been practicing indoor gardening for quite some time now, and I love writing. So why not combine those two passions into one place where I can share my experience with the world and help the other grow fresh and healthy fruits, vegetables, and herbs in their own apartment

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