Contain That Garden!

Growing vegetables in containers is becoming an increasingly popular hobby. It doesn’t require much space and, with a little care and attention, can generate enough produce to meet the vegetable needs of most small families. Follow this guide to vegetable container gardening and start enjoying the benefits of home-grown organic produce.

Getting started

Begin by choosing a suitable location to accommodate your container garden. Even though containers are easy to relocate, it’s important to start with a location that you know will provide your plants with sunlight and protection from climatic extremes.


  • Choose containers that are large enough to hold the plants you intend to grow. Be careful to ensure that the containers you select accommodate the root systems of your chosen plants.
  • Available space and crop selection will determine the size and number of containers you’ll need. While small 6-10in diameter pots are appropriate for growing some herbs and even miniature tomatoes, you’ll need larger 15-25in containers to grow vegetables
  • Almost any type of container can be used if it provides good drainage through holes on the sides or bottom. Plastic or clay pots, old pails, bushel baskets, plastic buckets, wash tubs, wooden planters, or hanging baskets will hold vegetable plants.
  • Hanging baskets (perfect for growing strawberries) are a good way of using vertical space. Their height also affords plants additional protection from insect pests.

Vegetable selection

  • Just about any vegetable that will grow in your backyard garden will fair well as a container-grown plant.
  • Vegetables best suited for containers include tomatoes, peppers, summer squash, eggplant, green onions, beans, lettuce, radishes, parsley, and herbs.
  • Choose vegetable varieties specifically developed for growing in small spaces, for example those with compact, bush, or dwarf growth habits.

Seeding and transplanting

  • You can purchase transplants from local nurseries or grow them at home from seed. Both options are easy and uncomplicated.
  • Seedlings can be germinated in a range of different trays and containers – cutoff milk cartons, disposable trays, or old baking pans can be used to grow seedlings in.
  • Make sure the tray or containers you choose are at least 3 inches deep to allow room for roots to grow and have small holes for drainage so roots won’t rot in soggy growing mix.
  • Fill containers with an organic soil starting mix and cover seeds with ½ inch of soil. Position germinating seeds in a warm area that receives good sunlight.
  • Transplant seedlings in around 6-8 weeks when they develop their first five or six leaves. Be careful not to damage young root systems’ of seedlings while transferring to containers.


  • Container gardens require good quality soil that drains well, yet does not dry out too fast. Plain garden soil is inappropriate. It drains poorly in containers and, without worms and other living creatures to aerate it, becomes compacted quickly.
  • Choose a soil that has a loose texture and contains good quantities of coarse sand and organic matter. There are many high quality commercially-prepared organic varieties that will do the job well.
  • Pots, hanging baskets, and planter boxes can be heavy to move or suspend and are much easier to handle if soil weight is kept to a minimum. Select a light-weight growing mix.
  • Growing mixes containing perlite, a lightweight volcanic material heated to high temperatures to make it expand, is an excellent lightweight substitute for sand that provides much better drainage.
  • In hot and dry locations where soil moisture retention look for soil mixes containing vermiculture (heat expanded mica). This is a good lightweight substance for increasing the moisture retention ability of container soils.


  • Inadequate drainage is one of the major reasons for vegetable container gardens failing. Most modern containers provide for adequate drainage but if not, you can always make some of your own holes.
  • If holes need to be made, drill four or more 1/4-inch holes evenly spaced around the bottom of the container.
  • To further help drainage, put about 1/2-inch of coarse gravel, small stones, or pieces of a broken clay pot in the bottom of each container. These items are not a substitute for drainage holes, however.


  • Vegetables grown in containers require routine watering. Aim to keep the soil moist but not waterlogged. One watering per day is generally sufficient.
  • Waterlogged soil starves plant roots of oxygen while dry soil causes plants to drop flowers and leaves. Monitor drainage and soil moisture retention.
  • Add mulch to the soil to minimize water loss if needed. Compost, straw, pine needles, grass clippings, and shredded bark are effective options.
  • Hanging baskets are extremely prone to drying out. Water twice daily in hot dry conditions. Treat window boxes in a similar way to hanging baskets.


  • Access to sunlight is important for producing quality vegetables. Most vegetables grow and produce best when grown in full sunlight.
  • Leafy vegetables (lettuce, cabbage, greens, spinach, and parsley) tolerate more shade than root crops (radishes, beets, and onions). Plants that bear fruit, such as cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, require the most sun.
  • Ensure your organic vegetable container garden has access at least 5 hours of sunlight each day. If the containers you’re using aren’t too large, take advantage of the mobility afforded by container gardening to access additional sunlight where necessary.


  • Supplying organic vegetable plants grown in containers with the nutrients they require is an important part of keeping them healthy and productive.
  • Vegetable plants grown in containers generally have shorter, more compact root systems than their yard-grown counterparts. This makes it more difficult for them to obtain adequate nutrition.
  • An organic liquid-based fertilizer can assist in overcoming this problem. A good quality liquid-based organic fertilizer will contain the important nutrients and micro-nutrients vegetable plants require.
  • Avoid the temptation to apply too much liquid fertilizer. Excessive amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium causes salt build up and other problems.


  • Harvest vegetables as soon as they’ve reached full maturity. This is the time that they’ll be brimming with flavour and just waiting to be served. Avoid harvesting vegetables too early.
  • At the end of the harvest season, discard the plant and soil from the pot. Avoid the temptation to reuse the same soil for a second season of production. Infected soil or mix will spread disease into the second season unless it is properly composted. Properly composted planting media can be reused.

Happy Gardening!

Tell us what you're thinking...

Please share your thoughts and ideas with the Who's Green community.