Container Vegetable Gardening

Many vegetable plants are well-suited to container vegetable gardening. If you don’t have any available land to grow fresh vegetables, container vegetable gardening is probably just right for you.

Almost any vegetable plant can be adapted to grow in a container or a pot. Many vegetable varieties actually take up very little space, and certain varieties bear fruit over a lengthy period. What you can grow using container vegetable gardening techniques is limited only by your imagination and the size and number of your containers.

One unique advantage of container vegetable gardening is that you can give yourself a much longer growing season. Since you can bring your containers indoors in the fall, you can continue to harvest vegetable crops when outdoor gardens have shut down for the season.

Purchasing Suitable Plants for Container Vegetable Gardening

Homeowners living in urban areas in particular have increasingly less space to devote to vegetable gardens. Seed companies realize this and every year they come out with new vegetable plant varieties that tolerate growing in very small spaces like containers. Descriptive phrases like compact, bush, or space saver are your clue that this type of seed is well-suited to growing and doing well in a small container. Some vegetable plant types that do well in containers include tomatoes (Patio, Saladette, Toy Boy, Spring Giant, Small Fry), radishes (Cherry belle, Scarlet Globe), peppers (Cubanelle, Sweet Banana, Robustini, Jalapeno), squash (Gold Rush), green onions (Crystal Wax, Evergreen Bunching), leaf lettuce (Buttercrunch, Bibb), eggplant (Slim Jim), green beans (Pole Beans, French Dwarf, Kentucky Wonder), and cucumbers (Spacemaster, Salad Bush Hybrid). This is by no means a complete list.

There are a number of things that you will need to consider in order to begin your container gardening. These include what types of containers and their physical size and characteristics, the soil and its fertilization, and watering. At some point, if you should decide to bring them indoors, lighting considerations become extremely important.

What Kind of Container Should You Use?

As far as containers are concerned, they can be almost anything: Old flowerpots or buckets, wicker baskets, bushel baskets, nursery flats, wooden boxes, window planters, strawberry bushels, plastic bags, thick paper bags, and recently available commercial synthetic bags are all fair game. Whatever container type you choose, it has to have adequate drainage so excess water doesn’t accumulate and accidentally drown your vegetables. Try not to use pots that are too dark because they can absorb a large amount of heat when outdoors in the sun. This can damage your vegetable plants. Try to use light-colored pots if you can.

As far as the size of the container is concerned, it should be proportionate to the requirements of the vegetable plant you are growing. Eggplants and tomato plants tend to get very big and need a larger pot to grow well because they need large root systems to produce a lot of tomatoes or eggplants. Something about 5 gallons in size for each plant would be advisable. While you can grow them in smaller containers, you will need to pay much more attention to them if you decide to do that. For most container vegetable gardening applications, try to use containers that are at least 18 inches in diameter. The more soil the container holds, the more moisture it will retain between waterings. Be careful about terra-cotta containers, as the clay is porous and tends to wick moisture out of the soil and into the surrounding air relatively quickly.

Obtaining the Best Soil for Your Container Vegetable Gardening

You should avoid using regular garden soil in your vegetable containers because it will compact and won’t drain water properly. You also stand a very good chance of bringing in weed seeds or fungus with that soil.

Mixed synthetic soils wind up working much better. Most are mixtures that are based on peat and vermiculite, and they work very well. They are biologically sterile and are pH adjusted. Because of their vermiculite content, they make it easy for your plants roots to get plenty of air and water.

If you want to improve the fertility, mix in one part compost to two parts planting mix. Mixing in a complete organic slow release fertilizer will also help keep your vegetables fed for the whole season. If your soil doesn’t have fertilizer already mixed into it you will definitely want to add some. You can use a granular organic fertilizer, along with fish or seaweed emulsion, along with something called “compost tea” that you can either make for yourself or buy. Since there is less overall soil to draw nutrients and water from, container vegetable gardening requires more attention to the soil within the container.

Watering Your Container Plants Correctly

Plants growing in containers need to be watered much more frequently than those same plants would if they were growing in the ground. As your plants grow over the season, their roots will become ever more numerous and will expand, requiring increasing amounts of water on a regular basis. Still, you don’t want to drown your plants. You’d like to keep your soil moist but not wet. An easy way to tell is to stick your finger into the soil about an inch or so. If it feels dry you can add water. If you’re not sure wait till later and check again.

Many beginning indoor container gardeners accidentally kill her plants with kindness by over watering them. Give your plants a chance use up the water in their containers before you add any more. If they’re out in the sun a lot, you will have to check them more frequently. If the air is dry or there is a lot of wind, they will tend to dry out more quickly as well. Make sure the container there in has several holes in the bottom to let out any excess water.

How Much Sunlight Is Enough?

Most vegetables need about six hours of direct sunlight each day. Make sure that the area you place them in actually gets that amount of sunlight each day. Check it with a watch or a sun calculator before you put them out there. It’s easy to overestimate the amount of sunlight you think an area is actually going to get.

If you decide to move your plants inside, you must be acutely aware of how much light they are actually getting. In the winter, especially in the northern latitudes, the amount of natural daylight is pretty slim. For that reason you can set up fluorescent plant lights that give off natural full spectrum light suitable for plant growth. You may need several depending upon how many container vegetable gardening plants you have and how much natural daylight they will receive.

Container vegetable gardening is fun and satisfying. You can grow just about any vegetable using the techniques of  container vegetable gardening while saving both space and some serious money.