Container Vegetable Gardening

This how-to guide gives you the basics on starting your vegetable garden in a small spot ready for containers.

Getting Started

If you don’t have much land—or your only direct sunlight falls on a paved surface such as a driveway, porch, patio, or deck—plant in containers. Select large pots or a grouping of pots in different sizes so you can grow a variety of fruit, vegetables, and herbs. You’ll be surprised how productive they can be. What you lack in surface area you make up in soil depth. Roots grow deep in a pot, while they tend to grow horizontally in a garden. Follow these tips to get the most from your container garden:

  • Select a good potting soil for optimum plant growth. 
    For best results, don’t use soil from your garden. Purchase potting soils from recognizable brands or those recommended by your local garden center. Look for a potting mix, rather than a bagged product labeled “garden soil.” Avoid those that are dense and heavy when wet. If in doubt, try small bags of different kinds. You’ll find your favorite pretty quickly, based on plant growth.
  • Do not overfill your pots. 
    Leave about an inch of the rim above the soil so that water is forced to drain down through the potting mix, rather than spilling over the edge. The soil warms quickly in a container, so gardeners may find containers helpful in getting an early start for a few plants.
  • Ensure proper drainage. 
    Use pots with drainage holes or drill sizable ones.

Choosing the Right Container

Containers are available in a variety of materials to suit your space and aesthetic. Pot feet (or any piece of brick or stone) raise a container off the surface below so as not to block the drainage hole. This also preserves surfaces like wooden decks that may rot under constant moisture.

  • Terra-cotta pots are traditional and look great, but they dry quickly due to evaporation from the sides of the pot. Also, if you have freezing temperatures in your area during winter, the pots need to be stored in a dry place. The moisture that is absorbed into the terra-cotta will freeze and crack the pot.
  • Glazed ceramic pots come in a variety of colors, sizes, and shapes for design-conscious gardeners. They survive mild freezes, but where the soil freezes, it may crack the pot as it expands.
  • Resin or plastic pots have the advantage of being lightweight and durable. Nice ones can be costly, but they’ll last for years.
  • Wooden pots or whiskey barrels are favorites of gardeners everywhere because of their generous size and rustic appearance. You can grow mixed plantings in a container this size.
  • Concrete pots are an excellent choice, as long as you don’t like to rearrange your container garden very often. They can be extremely heavy, but they’re durable. It’s a good idea to place the empty pot where you want it permanently, fill it with potting mix, and then plant.
  • Fiberglass pots resemble stone, wood, terra-cotta, or any material the maker wants to replicate. They’re lightweight and durable, albeit costly.