Container gardening is very popular, not only for displaying shrubs, trees, and flowers but for growing vegetable plants too. If you’ve never thought about growing food in containers, you might be surprised to discover how easy it is to grow vegetables in pots. In these garden tips, we’re going to explore some of the most easy-to-grow options.
You might be surprised to discover that most vegetables can be grown in pots and other containers. Obvious vegetable varieties to avoid are those that sprawl, like melons and pumpkins. And although we haven’t included herbs in our selection of 12 vegetables that can grow in pots, most herbs thrive in containers.
Why Grow Vegetables in Pots?
The obvious reason to grow vegetables in pots is that you have only a small space available for vegetable gardening – maybe only a patio or deck. If you live in an apartment, you may have no space at all, except for a balcony.
Alternatively, the soil in your garden may not be suitable. It’s certainly a lot easier to use a good quality potting mix in containers than to dig out clay or sandy soil and replace it with the fertile soil most veggies thrive in.
A benefit of growing vegetables in pots is that it makes succession planting very easy. All this means is that you can stagger what you plant.
So, for instance, if you grow peas, which have a short growing season, you can replant the pot with later season veg once you have harvested all the peas. It’s much easier juggling pots than doing this in the garden.
Whatever your reason for wanting to grow vegetables in pots, you’ve got lots of choices. We have chosen 12 of the easiest vegetables to grow in pots. Why not give some of them a try?
There’s a caveat though.
Because pots and other containers provide much less space for growing vegetables than open ground, don’t try and show the contents of an entire seed packet at once. You might find it’s more convenient to buy seedlings instead.
It might also be a good idea to consider planting dwarf varieties. Examples include baby eggplants, dwarf carrots, dwarf French beans, dwarf lettuce, baby green onions, and, of course, small cherry tomatoes.
12 Vegetables that can Grow in Pots
Peas are perfect for container gardens because they grow fast and don’t need a lot of attention. All they need is full sun and moist soil.
The three types of peas many of us grow in our vegetable gardens and container gardens are:
- Garden peas, known as sweet peas
- Snow peas
- Snap peas
You can eat the pods of snow and snap peas, but not the pods of ordinary garden peas. Those peas you will need to shell.
If you plant a climbing variety, you’ll need a stake or trellis.
Lettuce is one of the best leafy greens to grow. So, it’s good news to find that they are ideal for any small space.
Most lettuce varieties grow in pots very easily. Their roots are shallow, but they will do best in containers that are quite wide. They usually thrive in planting boxes and raised beds.
Water thoroughly when you plant your lettuce, and then be sure to keep the soil moist. If your lettuces seem to wilt, sprinkle them with a little water.
Green beans are surprisingly easy to grow, even in a small space. They have shallow roots but depending on whether you grow bush beans or pole beans, you might need to stake them.
Bush beans are more compact, and won’t need staking. Poles beans climb as vines and can reach 10-15 feet (3-4.5 m). So, you will need to grow them supported by stakes or a trellis.
Keep your beans well watered and feed with manure or a liquid fertilizer after they have bloomed to get more pods.
Carrots can grow to several feet in length. The longest on record, according to Guinness World Records, measures 20 ft 5.86 inches (6.245 m).
The smaller the carrots the better the taste. But you will find that if they are between about 9-10 inches, they will be young and juicy. You will also find you have lots of options in terms of container depth.
Water regularly, and fertilize with a low-nitrogen, high-potassium, and high-phosphate product.
Kale is very hardy and one of the easiest vegetables to grow. A brassica, like brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cabbage, kale does just as well in containers and raised beds as it does in traditional veggie beds.
It prefers full sun, but will tolerate partial shade, and grows best in nitrogen-rich soil that contains lots of compost.
Like lettuce, spinach grows best in wide pots or troughs so it can spread its leaves. Similarly, it has shallow roots and it grows fast.
Spinach is a heavy feeder, so fertilize the soil well, and keep it well watered.
Tomatoes aren’t difficult to grow in pots, and once they are well established, you will have an ongoing harvest for your table. You will, though, need to stake or trellis most types or train them using a tomato cage.
The tomato variety you choose to grow will depend entirely on your personal taste.
Which types you plant, add lots of compost to your potting mix, and provide extra nutrients if the pH is in the 6.2-6.8 range. Mix a continuous-release fertilizer that contains calcium into the soil before you plant your seedlings. Water well and keep the soil moist.
Beets don’t take up much space, which makes them ideal for a container vegetable garden. A bonus is that they are a dual crop that you can grow for their roots and for their leafy green tops.
They grow best in partial shade, in deep soil that is well-drained. Their roots can extend downwards for 3-4 feet (up to 1.2 m). This means that you need a large, deep container to grow them successfully.
Like most other root vegetables, they grow best in sandy soil. But it’s best to add organic matter to prevent the beetroots from becoming tough.
Peppers grow well in pots and they look attractive too. They need slightly acidic soil, with a pH of 6.0-7.0, and do best in a location that gets full sun.
Unlike many other vegetables, peppers don’t like the soil to be constantly moist. A good rule of thumb is to water well once a week and let the soil dry out in between. If the leaves get limp, you’ve left them too long.
Fertilize as for tomatoes.
Radishes are one of the easiest vegetables to grow even though they don’t seem to be an obvious choice to grow in pots. They do best in soil that contains lots of organic matter, but it must be loose so that the roots can grow and swell. Be sure to keep the soil moist.
Radish seeds reputedly have a long shelf life of up to five years. This is a plus when planting seeds progressively to grow plants in pots.
You can grow zucchini in pots, but you’re going to need a very big container.
Zucchini plants have deep roots and they need a good 2-3 feet between them in a garden bed. The smallest sized container you can use successfully will probably be about 16 inches (305 mm) deep and 12 inches (406 mm) wide.
A 5 gallon (or 20 liters) drum would work as long as it has a drainage hole at the bottom. But, while you could probably grow about six tomato plants in a container this size, it’s not a good idea to plant more than one zucchini plant.
Not the most obvious potted plants to grow, potatoes grow remarkably well in containers. They are also very easy to grow.
Plant your seed potatoes in good quality, fast-draining potting soil to which you add slow-release fertilizer. Place the prepared seed potato pieces on the soil with the eye buds facing upwards and cover with soil.
If your container is about 20 inches (508 mm) wide, you can plant four small seed potatoes – no more than that. As they grow you will need to keep adding soil around the plants, rather as we do when hilling potatoes in a conventional bed.
Carry on doing this until the soil is at the top of your container. The buried stems will produce more potatoes.
Water newly planted potatoes well and keep the soil moist (not wet) while they grow.
What You Need to Grow Vegetables in Pots
You don’t need much to grow vegetables in pots, troughs, and plant boxes of various kinds. You will need the right container, suitable soil, maybe stakes, or a simple trellis if it’s a climbing species and the usual garden tools.
Pots and other containers come in all shapes and sizes. They are most commonly terracotta (clay), ceramic, or plastic, all of which will do the job. Clay pots look more attractive than ubiquitous plastic pots, but plastic retains moisture better.
Wooden half barrels and all kinds of troughs are also ideal. You can also get creative and use an old bath, sink, or wheelbarrow as your vegetable container.
Your choice will depend on the vegetables you are growing as well as the look (if any) you want to achieve.
Sometimes people pair crops in single pots, choosing plants with a similar growth habit, for example, cucumbers, and beans, or tomatoes and peppers. But it’s important to ensure that the container suits the root systems of the vegetable or vegetables you are growing.
The same rule applies to root crops, like carrots, beets, radishes, and potatoes. They need a good depth of soil to develop fully.
Ultimately, a good rule of thumb is to choose the biggest containers you can accommodate.
Planting boxes are generally made of wood and they range in size depending on your needs. Unlike most other containers that you will buy off the shelf, planting boxes may be custom-made.
While planting boxes are often window box size, if you’ve got the space, you can build a raised bed that becomes a large planting box. You won’t be able to move it though.
Soil or Potting Mix
A good quality potting mix is always a good option for vegetable gardening. Depending on what you plan to grow, you might also want to add some compost to the mix.
When growing root vegetables like carrots and potatoes, avoid soil that is too rich. They will do better in loose, sandy soil.
Unless you are growing leafy greens like lettuce, spinach, or kale, it’s best to avoid fertilizers that are high in nitrogen which encourages foliage growth.
Fruiting and root vegetables need a phosphorus-rich fertilizer. Leafy greens do well on a balanced fertilizer (for example a 20-20-20 blend) or something rich in nitrogen.
Stakes & Trellis
Lots, but not all, vegetables need support. There are all kinds of options including bamboo stakes, wooden trellis, netting, twine, or wire cages.
Chances are you already have everything you need including garden gloves, a small trowel, and a small spade. Sharp scissors or secateurs are useful for harvesting pot-grown veggies.
However short you are in garden space, you can grow food successfully in containers. Our garden tips for 2023 tell you how to grow 12 popular types.