Tony O’Neill, gardener and author of the popular “Composting Masterclass” and “Your First Vegetable Garden,” combines lifelong passion and expert knowledge to simplify the art of gardening. His mission? Helping you cultivate a thriving garden. More on Tony O’Neill
Growing vegetables in containers is an excellent option for beginners who want to start gardening but have limited space or access to a yard.
Container garden vegetables grow better as gardeners are better able to control growing environments such as light and temperature levels. Container vegetable gardening also allows plants a root environment that meets their needs.
Container Garden Vegetable Options
Below is a list of 30 vegetables and herbs you can grow. If you’re a novice, I suggest the easier plants grow, like leafy greens and herbs.
There are plenty of videos on the Simplify Gardening YouTube channel that can help you grow more challenging vegetables like potatoes and the sweet potato.
Container Vegetable Gardening for Beginners
Growing vegetables in containers is a great way to start your garden, even if you don’t have much outdoor space. Container gardening includes hanging baskets.
When planning a container garden, there are a few factors to consider. The plants come first, and make sure all your plants have similar water and light needs if planting more than one in the same pot.
Here’s a beginner’s guide to help you get started:
1. Choose the Right Container for the Job
You can use any container, provided it provides good drainage. Terra cotta pots, plastic pots, wooden boxes, and even old buckets can work. Ensure the container is large enough for the vegetable you want to grow.
2. Making Soil for Container Gardens
Use a high-quality potting mix that contains coconut coir, compost, pumice, and perlite. Do not use garden soil or topsoil; they are too heavy and can suffocate the roots. Making your soil match the needs of the vegetable plants is best. Check out my post on the topic _________.
3. Choose Vegetables Suitable for Container Gardening
Many vegetables can be grown in containers. Most seed packets or garden centers where you buy your nursery pots will advise you of the plants best suited for your vegetable container garden.
4. Provide Proper Drainage
Ensure your container has drainage holes at the bottom to allow excess water to drain. Most moisture is lost through plant transpiration, but all pots and containers must offer drainage.
You can control water flow by adding inert material like pumice, expanded shale, or perlite and counteract that by increasing organic matter that improves water retention capacities.
5. Water Regularly
Containers dry out faster than garden beds, so water your vegetables regularly. Check the soil with your finger and water only when needed, according to the needs of the plant growing in the container.
Most containers need daily watering, another reason why adequate drainage is essential.
6. Position Growing Vegetables According to Their Sun Needs
Most vegetables need at least six hours of direct sunlight daily. Place your container in a location offering plenty of sun, or use grow lights if you don’t have access to natural sunlight.
7. Fertilize Appropriately
Container-grown vegetables may need regular fertilizing to thrive. Use a balanced fertilizer every two to three weeks or a slow-release fertilizer less frequently.
It’s essential not to overfertilize your container garden as it will cause a buildup of salts and burn your plants’ roots. Only fertilize your plants during the growing season; dormant plants need less water and fertilizer.
8. Harvest When Ready
Harvest your vegetables when ready to prevent over-ripening and encourage the plant to produce more.
Growing Vegetables in Containers – A Beginner’s Guide
Below is a list of ten plant families and their easy-to-grow vegetables ideal for container vegetable gardening.
Vegetable container gardening allows people with limited space to grow food without needing a traditional vegetable garden. In the list, I hope to make gardening for beginners more manageable, more accessible, and doable without stress.
The ten families detailed below are
- Asteraceae – lettuce
- Lamiaceae – herbs
- Fabaceae – beans and peas
- Brassicaceae – Cole family
- Chenopodiaceae – beets, Swiss chard, spinach
- Apiaceae – carrots, parsnip, parsley. Includes some spices like dill, cumin, fennel, and lovage.
- Liliaceae – onions and friends
- Cucurbiteae – cucumbers, pumpkins, squash.
- Solanaceae – tomatoes, peppers, eggplants – potatoes separately.
- Convolvulaceae – sweet potatoes.
1. Container Gardening for Beginners – Growing Lettuce
The Asteraceae family includes a variety of vegetables, such as lettuce and endive (salad greens) and are a great introduction to container gardening for beginners. Growing salad greens and herbs in garden containers or indoors is easy.
Timing: This is a cool-season crop, and younger plants handle cold better than mature plants. Lettuce is one of the best vegetables to grow in pots. Follow the directions on the seed packet for planting dates and spacing.
Containers: About 6 to 8 inches deep and wide enough to accommodate the size of the plant. For lettuce, drainage is critical as you need to keep the plants moist but not wet.
Avoid ceramic pots that don’t have a drainage hole or plastic containers. Self-watering containers with a water reservoir work well with smaller plants.
Soil: Use a high-quality mix that is well-draining and enriched with organic matter. Add inert materials like perlite or pumice to improve drainage. Pumice drains faster than perlite.
Lettuce has shallow roots and dries out fast, so water regularly – even twice a day.
Light: Lettuce will survive partial shade but allow the plant at least four hours of morning and afternoon sun.
Nutrition: Use a diluted balanced fertilizer every three weeks to grow healthy plants. Avoid overfertilizing.
Beginner Gardener’s Tip: You will succeed better in spring in cooler weather than in fall planting when pests and disease risks are higher.
Planting a fresh crop of these tiny plants every two weeks can ensure a constant supply of leaf lettuce.
2. Container Gardening for Beginners – Herbs
The Lamiaceae family of herbs are perennials and includes many popular herbs such as mint, basil, sage, rosemary, and thyme.
Timing: These are primarily perennials but can be grown as annuals in cold weather. Start planting in early spring.
Containers: Sweet basil cultivars have showy purple foliage, are great as ornamentals, and are perfect for containers. Plant in window boxes to create striking contrasting colored foliage. Use a few containers with small crops for diversity.
While ceramic containers may display well, the lack of drainage can be problematic. Wooden containers look nice but are not always healthy for your soil biota.
Self-watering containers use wigs emersed in a water reservoir and osmosis to move water to the root zone. Herbs do well in these systems and small containers.
Soil: Lamiaceae plants prefer well-draining potting soil, rich in organic matter. Adding inert materials can improve drainage – consider pumice, perlite or chickpea. The family manages dry spells better than overwatering.
Light: This herbs and spice family prefer six or more hours of direct sunlight daily.
Nutrition: Use a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer every 4-6 weeks to provide plant nutrients.
Beginner Gardener’s Tips: Lamiaceae plants are relatively easy to grow in containers and are great for beginners. They are also hardy and can withstand some neglect, making them an excellent option for container gardening for beginners.
3. Growing Green Beans and Peas in Containers
The Fabaceae family (all the legumes) are great for container gardening, offering a way to enjoy fresh produce even with limited space or poor soil.
Variety: Look for dwarf or bush varieties of beans and peas that are well-suited for container gardening. Some good options include bush beans, dwarf snap peas, and sugar snap peas, and pole beans are less suited for container gardening.
Timing: A warm-season crop. Germination temperatures are when soil is around 77°F/25°C. Sow seeds directly into the container, following the package instructions. Beans and peas do not transplant well.
Container: Select a container that is at least 12 inches (30 cm) deep and has a diameter of at least 18 inches (45 cm) to allow for proper root growth. Adequate drainage is essential, so avoid glazed ceramic containers that don’t have a drainage hole. Use two to three-gallon pots.
Soil: Use high-quality potting soil that is loose, well-draining, and rich in organic matter that helps retain moisture. Legumes prefer consistently moist soil.
Light: Full sun for best yields.
Nutrition: The legume plant’s roots do not need nitrogen as they cooperate with bacteria to fix it from the air.
Beginner Gardener’s Tips: Support climbing varieties of beans and peas, such as a trellis or stakes, to keep the plants upright and prevent them from toppling.
4. Beets, Swiss Chard, and Spinach in Your Container Garden
Timing: Easy-to-grow cool-season container plants. Start seeds a month before the last frost. Germination temperatures from the mid-sixties but faster as we head to the 77°F/25°C mark. Warm temperatures cause bolting (plant going to seed and foliage bitter)
Containers: At least 12 inches deep and wide enough to accommodate the plant’s root system. Use colorful fabric pots, but place a tray below them to prevent surface staining.
Soil: Prefer well-draining soil rich in organic matter that helps moisten the soil. Swiss chard plant roots are shallow and dry fast, so water twice daily.
Light: Prefers at least 6 hours of direct sunlight daily., but will tolerate some shade.
Nutrition: Do not overfertilize; apply organic fertilizer only if the leaves are dull.
Beginner Gardener’s Tip: Regular harvesting, even of young leaves, encourages new growth.
5. Container Gardening with the Brassica Family
The Brassicaceae family includes many popular vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, and Brussels sprouts.
Timing: Not the easiest crops to grow; needing good timing, a cool season, protection from pests, and nutritious fresh soil. Many varieties of the whole cole family do best in USDA zones 6 to 9 and germinate between 45 – 77°F (7 – 25°C).
Temperatures above 80°F/27°C will cause bolting.
Containers: Novice gardeners should try to grow broccoli in their garden containers before moving to the bigger Cole family plants. Smaller varieties will do well in smaller containers (12 inches deep).
Soil: Needs moist, rich, well-drained potting mix that offers consistent moisture. Mulch will help protect the shallow roots.
Light: Brassica plants do best in full sun, and Cabbages are best grown in a garden plot.
Nutrition: Add compost or fertilizer around the plant when it is about 4 inches (10 cm) tall. Use a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer once every 4-6 weeks.
Beginner Gardener’s Tips: Turnips will taste better if you harvest them after the first frost. In warmer climes, broccoli can overwinter.
6. Container Gardens for Carrots, Parsley, and Parsnip
The cool-season Apiaceae family includes many popular herbs, such as parsley, cilantro, dill, fennel, chives, and two root crops, carrots and parsnip.
Timing: Both carrots and parsnips are cool-season crops and should be planted two to three weeks before the last frost in spring.
Containers: Containers must be about 12 or more inches deep with drainage holes or three. Most carrots are about 8 inches (23 cm) long, but the AAS winner, Purple Haze, can reach 12 inches (30 cm).
Soil: Quality roots need plentiful moisture and loose, deep soil high in organic matter. As with all plants, the soil must drain well. Ensure the soil stays moist as the root grows.
Light: Apiaceae plants require full to partial sunlight (4 to 6 hours of direct sunlight)
Nutrition: The occasional application of 1 spoon of Epsom salt (Magnesium sulfate) per gallon of water will boost carrot growth.
Beginner Gardener’s Tips: Because carrot seeds are so slow to germinate (7 – 21 days), use radishes to help you track where carrot seeds are planted.
Mulching helps keep the soil cool and protects the carrot shoulders from turning green.
7. Container Vegetable Gardening with Chives, Onions, Garlic, and Leeks
The Liliaceae family includes the plants listed above (and more)
Timing: Onions tolerate frost, so plant seeds about a month before the frost-free date. Small plants (spring onions) can be harvested earlier.
Containers: Can handle small pots at least 6-8 inches deep. Avoid glazed pots that don’t have a drainage hole.
Soil: Use a high-quality growing mix that contains compost, pumice, or perlite to ensure good drainage. Keep the soil consistently moist but not soggy.
Light: Requires full sun.
Plant Nutrition: Avoid adding nitrogen but up the phosphorous and potash levels.
8. Growing the Cucurbit Family in Container Gardens
Many cucurbit plants can be grown in containers, including
Cucumber: Cucumbers are easy to grow in containers and produce delicious fruits that are great for salads, sandwiches, and pickling.
Squash: Summer squash, such as zucchini and yellow squash, can be grown in containers with plenty of space for their spreading vines.
When growing cucurbits in containers, choosing a container at least 12 inches deep and wide enough to accommodate the plant’s root system is essential. Use well-draining soil rich in organic matter and provide plenty of sunlight and water.
Cucurbits are heavy feeders, so regular fertilization with a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer is also vital for healthy growth and fruit production.
Finally, control pests and diseases by monitoring the plants regularly and taking action if you notice any signs of damage or infestation.
9a. Growing the Nightshade Family in Your Container Garden
Growing the Solanaceae family tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants in containers can be a great way to enjoy fresh produce, even if you have limited space or no outdoor garden.
The potato is also in the Solanaceae family but is listed below as a root crop.
The warm-season crops of fruiting vegetables (Okra is the other one) are a favorite for most gardeners but require some care.
Timing: Requires soil temperatures above 60°F/15.5°C to grow. Like most plants, it germinates best at 77°F/25°C (in a week or two). Space plants 12 to 24 inches apart.
Containers: Use five-gallon buckets for determinate tomatoes (smaller, shorter season – like cherry tomatoes) and eggplants, and ten-gallon containers for indeterminate tomato plants. Bell and hot peppers do well in 2 – 3-gallon containers.
Drainage holes in containers help prevent root rot.
Soil: These plants require well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter. The organic matter is essential as it boosts water retention for your tomato plant, preventing cat-facing.
Light: Your tomato plant refers to full sun
Nutrition: These plants are heavy feeders and require regular fertilization to produce healthy fruits. Use a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer once every 2-3 weeks during the growing season.
The fruiting vegetables have high nutrition needs, and combined NPK and liquid seaweed have proven to be a winner.
Beginner Gardener’s Tips: Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants benefit from some support to keep them upright as they grow. You can use stakes, cages, or trellises to support the plants.
Regular harvesting will also encourage new growth and prolong the plant’s lifespan.
9b. Container Vegetable Gardening with Potatoes
Over the years, I have grown potatoes in all sorts of ways. I have grown potatoes in bags, and I have grown potatoes in buckets. And I have grown potatoes in the ground. But my preferred method of growing potatoes is in containers.
I use the 30 liters (8-gallon) buckets from Oaland Gardens for growing my champions.
10. Growing Sweet Potatoes in Containers
They require some care to ensure they grow properly and are less suitable for gardening for beginners.
Timing: This is a summer vining crop of the morning glory family.
Containers: They need a large container with a depth of at least 18 inches and a width of at least 24 inches. The container should have drainage holes to prevent waterlogging and root rot.
Soil: Plant the slips in the container, burying the bottom two-thirds of the stem in the soil.
Light: Requires at least six hours of full sunlight
Nutrition: They require regular fertilization to grow well. Use a balanced fertilizer every two to three weeks during the growing season.
FAQs on How to Grow Vegetables in Containers
What vegetables are best to grow in containers?
Many vegetables can be grown in containers, but some are better suited. Leafy greens like lettuce, spinach, and kale are great options, as well as herbs like basil, thyme, and rosemary. Other suitable container vegetables include tomatoes, peppers, beans, peas, beets, carrots, and even potatoes and sweet potatoes. It’s important to choose vegetables that fit the size of your container and have similar growing requirements.
How do you arrange a vegetable garden container?
When arranging a vegetable garden container, consider the size and number of plants you want to grow, and choose an appropriately sized container with good drainage. Fill the container with a high-quality potting mix and plant your vegetables, leaving enough space between them. Position the container in a location that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight daily, water regularly, and fertilize appropriately. Consider grouping vegetables with similar needs in the same container and companion planting for maximum yield and pest control.
How deep do containers need to be for vegetables?
The depth of containers for vegetables depends on the type of vegetable being grown. Generally, a depth of 6-12 inches is suitable for most leafy greens and herbs, while root vegetables like carrots and beets require at least 12 inches of depth. Larger plants like tomatoes and peppers need at least 18 inches of depth to accommodate their roots. Choosing a container with adequate depth is essential to provide ample room for the roots to grow and prevent overcrowding.