Container Gardening

A quick guide to growing vegetables in containers

Space shouldn’t be a problem for anyone who wants to grow vegetables.  This Quick Guide to Vegetable Container Gardening should help anyone be able to grow at least a few herbs and veggies on a patio, next to a sunny back door and in pots that can be relocated easily to follow the sun

Plant Selection

Quick Guide to Vegetable Container Gardening - wagon as container garden

Almost any vegetable can be grown in containers, provided the container meets the needs of the plant.  Root crops (potatoes, carrots, etc.) need a deeper container.  Plants that grow larger above ground need adequate space for root development underground.  Vining crops need space around the container to grow and spread.

See our current year plant selection guide for varieties

Growing Media

The media in your container needs to be slightly different than what you have in your soil garden or your raised beds.  The critical factor in containers is drainage.  The media must allow water to infiltrate to the root ball without compacting, which prevents proper water distribution through the container.  We suggest that you build your container media using our recipe.

Our Recipe

Three parts compost

Quick Guide to Vegetable Container Gardening - compost

Use your compost if available.  If you must purchase compost try to source it locally.  Make sure it is from a reputable supplier.  You can also use humate, coconut coir, etc.  DO NOT USE PEAT MOSS.  Peat moss is anti-microbial and will inhibit the growth of the organisms in your mix.

Two parts rock minerals

Lava sand, green sand, decomposed granite, diatomaceous earth, zeolite, etc.  DO NOT USE WASHED CONCRETE SAND.

1 part sugar

Whole corn gluten meal, dried molasses, wheat meal (whole gluten)

1 part worm castings

If you are vermicomposting, use your castings.  If not, almost any purchased castings will work.  Worm castings tend to be much the same no matter where you get them.  Worms don’t vary much. 


Quick Guide to Vegetable Container Gardening - boots as container gardens

Get creative, be imaginative, and have fun.  Almost anything can be used as a container in which to grow vegetables.  Most important, make sure that the container has adequate drainage at the bottom.  The biggest mistake I see with peoples containers is the drainage is poor, which causes water to accumulate in the container which puts the plants under stress.  I always try to err on the side of excessive drainage.   Most containers you buy do not have enough drainage.  Add some more.   Then add some more.  If there is any question, add more.


Whether you prefer to plant seeds or purchase seedlings from the garden center, both work equally well in a container.  Follow the package directions.  We do have one recommendation on planting transplants.   Before you transplant, make sure that the root balls of the transplants are soaking wet.   If you can manage it, pull the transplants from the nursery pots and put them in a tray of water and let them soak.  

“Feed Me, Seymour!”

Quick Guide to Container Vegetable Gardening - Brewing Compost Tea

Ok, I’m showing my age with that reference, but it holds.  Your media will never be able to produce all the nutrients your plants will need over the growing season.  You must provide the nutrients that the soil needs.  Our choice is homemade compost tea.  It’s easy to make, economical and is safe to use on all your container plants or anywhere in the landscape for that matter.  Any of the commercially available organic fertilizers will work.  Use them according to the label directions.  One great thing about using organic fertilizers is that it is almost impossible to overfeed.  We have a list of commercial products that we believe are safe to use.   It is available on our website.

Let there be LIGHT!

Vegetables need 6 to 9 hours of direct sunlight a day.  What is direct sunlight?  If you could sunbathe in it, it is adequate.  If you are sunlight challenged, put your containers on casters or make them mobile so you can follow the sun.

Enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Harvest when your vegetables are at the peak of maturity.  Tomatoes are best when they are fully red yet still firm.  Green beans and peas when they are beginning to fill out the shell and are still tender. 

In the End

Quick Guide to Vegetable Container Gardening - Basil growing in a barrel garden

At the end of the season, everything goes in the compost pile, even the soil in the pot.  Yes, it is best to start each season off with fresh media if you are container gardening.  Starting with fresh soil each season avoids any insects that may decide to winter over in your pot and any plant diseases that may have crept in. Add the used media to your compost pile.  It is still full of life and will add to the rich compost you are generating.  Oh.  It is also a good idea to scrub out your pots before you plant again next year.

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