How to Grow a Container Vegetable Garden
Do you adore fresh vegetables—but lack garden space? Do you dream of delicious bruschetta created from tasty, rich tomatoes and sweet basil? If you love homegrown vegetables, herbs, and fruit but lack a garden plot, grow your favorite treats on a balcony, patio, or porch in containers! With a little planning, the right tools, and a few helpful tips, you can even grow your favorite food inside. We’ll help you decide where to grow your container garden—outside or indoors, whether to grow seeds or transplants, when to plant your vegetables, and how to care for your container garden so you’ll harvest delicious food for fabulous garden-to-table meals!
First, Choose the Perfect Pot
To grow a great container vegetable garden, select the perfect pot. Crescent Gardens offers a terrific, diverse selection of stylish containers ideal for growing food. Look for a container with drainage holes—or choose one of our TruDrop self-watering systems for extra convenience. Our Nest planter with TruDrop works beautifully indoors or out, filling your balcony or basement with lush, lovely, edible plants!
When selecting a container, bigger is better, particularly if you’re growing tomatoes, as many varieties reach heights of six to seven feet! Look for larger containers, like Dylan or Ellis planters, that can support a trellis or stake for tall plants. For crops with shallow roots, like lettuce, our Delano Oval Bowls look lovely filled with pretty greens. If you adore carrots and beets, choose a deep container, like Mod, to give root crops ample room to develop. You can even grow strawberries in hanging baskets, like our Emma Bowls!
Containers come in all sorts of colors and sizes, letting you choose your favorite design. However, if you live in the south with extremely hot summers, avoid heat-absorbing black containers. Instead, opt for lighter colors to help reflect heat so your plants’ roots don’t bake in too-hot soil.
If you plan to move the container inside during the winter or want to change its location in your garden, consider placing the container on a plant caddy. Once you fill a large container with soil, it’s very heavy. A caddy gives you flexibility.
Next, Pick the Perfect Spot
Most fruits and vegetables need 6-8 hours of sun to produce well. If you plan to grow tomatoes, peppers, and strawberries, for instance, you’ll want a location with full sun. However, if your balcony or porch offers more shade, don’t worry—many greens and herbs, like kale, Swiss chard, or parsley, do well in partial sun.
Also, place the pot where you’ll have easy access to it, both for watering and harvesting. It’s terrific if you can quickly grab a few basil leaves when making Caprese salad or snack on a strawberry as you walk out the door.
Use Good Soil
Like any garden, container plants need good soil to produce great food. However, garden soil is too heavy for container growing. Plus, garden soil may harbor unwanted pests and diseases. Instead, choose a lightweight potting mix to fill your containers and give your plants the best start.
Make a List of What You Love to Eat.
Do you crave the sweet crunch of cucumbers? Are you part rabbit, eating salad with every meal? To get started with your container vegetable garden, it’s always best to grow what you love! Make a list of your favorite veggies, herbs, and fruit, then focus on those for your homegrown goodies. Or, for a fun activity, give each member of your family a container, and let them grow what they like to eat! (But remind the kids that M&Ms don’t grow from seed!)
Grow Vegetable Plants Year Round
While many new gardeners gravitate to warm-season vegetable plants, edible gardening can be a year-round activity. In fact, cool-season crops, like lettuce, radishes, kale, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, and spinach, grow beautifully in spring and fall, extending your harvest season. Some vegetables, like arugula and kale, taste even sweeter when kissed by frost. When to plant vegetables depends on what you plan to grow. For warm-season crops, like cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, and beans, for instance, wait until all danger of frost has passed. These plants will not tolerate cold. However, brassicas—the family that includes kale, cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli—grows beautifully in cool weather and can even tolerate frost. Plant veggies like brassicas, peas, and arugula two weeks before your last frost date. Brassicas dislike heat and will bolt—send up flowers—once daylight lengthens, so grow these in the spring and fall.
Select Seeds or Vegetable Plants
Some vegetables grow easily from seed sown straight in the container’s soil, while others require a bit more pampering—particularly if you live in a climate with a long cold season. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and some herbs need to be started from seed inside six to eight weeks before the last frost in your area. (You can find average first and last frost dates by entering your zip code here.) If you have space inside to set up a seed growing station with lights and a heat mat, terrific—otherwise, you may prefer to purchase plants from your favorite nursery or garden center. Make a list of plants to purchase and those to grow from seed.
For plants that are easy to grow from direct sowing, try:
Cool Season Crops
Warm Season Crops
Plants you may want to purchase from a nursery include:
Cool Season Crops
- Swiss chard
- Brussels sprouts
Warm Season Crops
Remember, any seeds that you start inside will need to be hardened off—acclimated to outdoor conditions like sun, wind, and rain—before planting in your container garden. Don’t forget to grow a few edible flowers, like borage and nasturtium, too!
Also, when starting seeds or buying plants, look for “dwarf” or “container” varieties. You’ll be surprised at the number of choices, especially of dwarf tomato plants and even squash, available for container gardening! Plant breeders developed these smaller varieties to produce large harvests, while still looking great in containers or small gardens.
Design an Edible Container Garden with Ease
Container garden designers typically talk about “Thrillers, Fillers, and Spillers”—a tall, interesting plant as a “thriller,” medium-sized plants to surround the thriller and “fill” the container, and plants that drape prettily over the side of the container, or “spill.” Use the same design principles to create a beautiful, edible container garden! Tomatoes, peppers, or beans on a trellis might serve as the vertical “thriller”; basil, lettuce, or kale can be the “filler”; and strawberries, peas, or nasturtiums add interest by “spilling” over the side of the container garden. You’ll find endless, delicious design possibilities with a container vegetable garden.
How to Plant Your Container Vegetables
When you plant your container, first fill the pot ¾ full with soil. Place your plants in the arrangement you prefer, then remove them from their pots, loosen the roots, and cover the plants’ roots with more potting soil. Firm the soil around the plants to remove air pockets. Direct sow seeds with the plants if you like. Or if you’re growing entirely from seed, fill the container with potting soil to within an inch from the top of the container, and follow the directions on the seed packet to plant. Water well. The soil level should be about an inch below the edge of the container.
Feed and Water Your Plants
Just like us, plants get hungry and thirsty. Check your container frequently, especially in summer, to see if the plants need water. (If the top inch of soil is dry, it’s time to water.) Make sure your plants stay well–fed and productive throughout the growing season by giving them a boost of energy with water-soluble plant food. When growing crops in pots, nutrients can leech out of the soil due to frequent watering. Replace those nutrients to keep your plants happy and productive!
Check for Pests
Occasionally, a pest tries to snack on your plant before you can enjoy the harvest. Whiteflies, aphids, and tomato hornworms can make vegetables growing a challenge. Usually, a strong spray of water will take care of the critters—make sure to spray the undersides of leaves, too. If pests persist, use a food-safe pesticide. Some pests, like cabbage worms and tomato hornworms, can be picked off by hand. The best method of pest control, though, is prevention. Look at your plants frequently, flip over leaves, and remove any eggs you find.
Grow Vegetables Indoors
Indoor vegetable gardening may seem a little daunting, but it’s really pretty easy. Just like gardening outdoors, vegetables need basic care to grow well and produce a great harvest. Check your light. Windows may provide enough sunlight, depending on what you plan to grow, but because light varies throughout the year, you might need supplemental light—a plant grow light or a lamp with a full-spectrum bulb. Also, older windows may not be well-insulated, causing drafts that make your heat-loving veggies unhappy. And, if you garden indoors year-round, hot, direct summer sunlight can damage leaves or wilt cool-season crops, like lettuce. Evaluate your space, then choose which plants to grow. (Remember, plants that produce fruit, like tomatoes, or edible roots, like beets, need a high amount of light—about 8 hours a day. Most leafy greens and herbs tolerate lower light—about 4-6 hours per day.)
As you assess the growing space, check for vents. In winter, heat from vents may cause the plant’s soil to dry out quickly, making your watering tasks more challenging. Place your indoor vegetable container garden away from vents, fireplaces, and other heat sources.
Harvest Your Homegrown Goodies-and Enjoy!
It’s an exciting day when it’s time to harvest your vegetables! Follow the directions on your plant tag or seed packet to know the proper harvest time and enjoy your homegrown produce fresh or in your favorite recipes.
Truly, there’s nothing better than snacking on fresh peas in the garden or creating dinner from your homegrown tomatoes. Give yourself a pat on the back—you’ve created container garden-to-table deliciousness! Well done!