How to Grow Vegetables in Pots

Want to grow your own food but don’t have a yard or garden? No problem. Learn how to grow vegetables in pots and you’ll be able to grow your favorite veggies and enjoy them with your family.

In this article, you will learn all about vegetable container garden, its difference from growing crops on the ground and how you can make a fruitful harvest.

 

Container Gardening

Depending on where you live, how much space you have and the kind of soil that’s in your garden, you may not be able to grow on the ground.

The good news is, you can still start your own vegetable garden. But this time with containers.

Containers (and pots) work just as well as your garden. In fact, for some people it’s actually a better option.

One benefit of growing in containers is that they warm up faster than the ground does. As such, your gardening season is longer.

Similarly, if you have space indoors, you can bring in containers when the weather outside gets too cold for your crops. That way, you can keep them protected from frost (and keep on gardening).

But, like all things, it also has its drawbacks.

For example, the smaller space of containers means you need to water more frequently. Otherwise, your vegetables can dry out.

Similarly, not all plants and vegetables are suited for container gardening.

So, the following section will help you learn everything you need to know about growing vegetables in containers.

 

Choosing a Container

When it comes to pots and containers, there are lots to choose from. They come in different sizes, shapes, colors and designs.

But, what makes a good vegetable container?

Here are the most important things to consider when choosing one.

  • Size. Container space refers to 2 things: width and depth. Both are equally important. That said, if you have space, choose a container that’s larger than what your plant needs. While this may mean more potting soil and harder to move, it makes things so much easier from a gardening perspective. The larger the container, the more soil you have. This allows the plant’s roots to extend more. Similarly, it also means less frequent watering compared to smaller containers.

Here’s a chart of the different pot sizes, their volume equivalent in gallons, liter and how many cubic feet of soil do you need to fill the pot.

plant/flower pot conversion chart of different pot sizes in inches, gallons, liters and how much soil to use
plant/flower pot conversion chart of different pot sizes in inches, gallons, liters and how much soil to use
  • Material. Today’s pots and containers are made of lots of different materials, including plastic, metal, terra cotta, and wood. That said, the material affects their weight, how well they retain water and how long the container will last. Pots made from wood and plastic are not porous. So, you don’t need to water your plants as frequently. With wood, you want to choose those that don’t rot. Similarly, avoid using any wood that may have been treated by toxic chemicals. For bigger, heavier containers, do consider getting something with wheels to make it easy to transport them. A cart or dolly some options that will make life so much easier.
  • Location. The size, material, shape and weight of your container will affect how well you’ll be able to move it. Basically, the bigger they are, the harder it is to position them just anywhere. When it comes to weight, the soil, crop, and water make it heavier. Since most vegetables like a lot of sunlight, you’ll want to find a spot that gives them that, not somewhere with shade. Similarly, wind provides air circulation. So, you don’t want to put it somewhere where they’re no airflow at all.
  • Drainage. Make sure that there are drainage holes at the bottom of your container. This allows excess moisture to escape so as not to waterlog your crops. In addition to the drainage holes, raising the containers a couple of inches allows the water to get out. You can likewise use plastic saucers or dish-shaped objects to “catch” the excess moisture that comes out of the drainage holes.
  • Weight. The weight of a container is dependent on its size and the material it’s made of. Plastic containers are the lightest. Meanwhile, terra-cotta is heavy. Plus, the bigger the container, the more content it will hold. Thus, making it heavier. As much as a heavy container is hard to move, something too light or too small can be easily toppled over by the wind or when hit by something. So, if you find that the container with the plant in it isn’t quite stable, consider adding something weighted at the bottom to help stabilize it.

This chart shows how to grow vegetables in pots, including sunlight requirements, days from seed to harvest, container size and plant spacing in pots.

chart on how to grow vegetables in pots containers - pot size and vegetable spacing
chart on how to grow vegetables in pots containers – pot size and vegetable spacing

In addition to traditional containers, don’t forget to take advantage of vertical space. For vining crops like tomatoes, chayote and pumpkins, you can set up trellises and other support structures.

Similarly you can create racks with multiple levels so you can stack containers above one another.

Finally, you can also hang some in baskets.

 

Potting Soil

When it comes to containers, you don’t want to use garden soil. This is true for your houseplants and your vegetables and herbs.

Why?

It’s heavy.

More importantly, it contains unpleasant stuff that you don’t want your potted plants and veggies to get mixed up with. These include bugs, weed seeds, bacteria and a few other things.

All of which can hamper your crop’s ability to live and grow.

This is why container plants use potting soil instead.

 

What is Potting Soil?

Potting soil, which is also called potting mix, is a medium that’s used for growing plants in pots and containers.

One of the most important things to understand about potting soil is that it is not soil at all. Instead, it contains a combination of different materials including peat, perlite and sand to name a few.

This is why you’ll see some labels saying “soil-less mix”.

But, depending on the brand you get, the ingredients can vary. And, their proportions will be different as well. As such, like more items you buy, it’s a good idea to test different brands and formulations to see which ones work best for your garden.

The reason for this is to provide your plants with the best growing medium possible without all the problems and issues that regular garden soil can bring with it.

In general, a good potting mix has the following features.

  • Well aerated. Its fluffy texture allows air (and water) to easily get through. This allows them to penetrate the soil so that your plants’ roots can get to them.
  • Since you’re likely to move the pots and containers at one point or another, the potting soil is designed to reduce the overall weight.
  • This ensures that there are no pests, insects or disease in your potting mix, something you can’t guarantee with garden soil.
  • Hold moisture. Coir and peat moss just some of the ingredients you’ll see in many potting soil formulations. They’re there because they retain moisture well. This allows the soil to hold water for your plants to absorb.
  • Well-draining. Similarly, other ingredients like sand and perlite are included for their water draining capabilities. This, together with the hole/s at the bottom of your pot allow excess moisture to escape so as not to waterlog your plants.
  • Some fertilizer. One disadvantage of potting soil is that it doesn’t contain any nutrients. As such, you need to provide all the nutrients via fertilizer. But, many come with an “initial dose” of fertilizer which lasts anywhere from a few waterings to about a month. After that, you’ll need to make sure you give your container plants all the nutrients they need.

Here’s a chart of the different kinds of soils and their ability to absorb and hold water. 

CHART - Types of soil by Water Holding Capacity & Infiltration
CHART – Types of soil by Water Holding Capacity & Infiltration

 

Related

 

What Vegetables Grow Well in Pots?

In general, you can grow any vegetable in a pot. But, some are more troublesome than others. As such, doing so means a lot more work and care on your part just to make things work.

One example is those that get big in size.

Watermelon and squash are a couple of examples of veggies that can get hard to grow in containers because of the pots’ limited size.

The good news is, tons of vegetables grow well in these conditions.

As you would expect, the smaller varieties are easier to grow. As such, those that are labeled dwarf, tiny, baby, compact, bush or midget are all good options.

Additionally, many vegetables that don’t get too big work just as well too.

Here’s a list of some of the most popular vegetables that grow well in pots and containers.

  • Herbs
  • Beets
  • Beans
  • Carrots
  • Cabbage, Cauliflower and Broccoli
  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Eggplants
  • Lettuce
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Peppers
  • Peas
  • Potatoes
  • Radishes
  • Squash
  • onions

One thing that may help you decide on which vegetables to grow is the chart below.

The chart shows you the different ways you can store each of the common vegetables. This is useful since you likely won’t be able to finish the entire harvest in one meal.

Therefore, it a good idea to see what options you have for long term storage.

how to store each kind of vegetable chart checklist. Ways to store different kinds of vegetables after harvesting.
how to store each kind of vegetable chart checklist

 

How to Plant Vegetables in Pots & Containers

Just like your garden, you have a choice of:

  1. Starting seeds indoors then moving them to the container
  2. Directly growing the seeds in the container
  3. Buying transplants from the nursery

As always, each of the options has their pros and cons. Starting your own vegetables from seeds is much cheaper than buying seedlings from the garden center.

But, they take time and effort to do so. That said, the more experience you have under your belt, the less time and work you’ll need to put in because you already know the process.

 

How to Plant Vegetables in Containers Step By Step

To start your own vegetable garden, just follow these steps.

 

Step 1: Fill the container with potting soil

Put the potting mix into the container and fill it until it reaches almost the top.

 

Step 2: Add water

Wet the potting mix thoroughly using a hose. This will take a few passes to get everything fully soaked. Then, allow the water to drain.

After the water drains, you’ll notice that the potting soil will level off.

 

Step 3: Add more soil

Add soil to the pot to bring the level up until it reaches about 2-3 inches from the top rim of the container.

Even out the top of the soil.

 

Step 4: Start planting

What you do here will depend on whether you’re starting seeds or transplanting seedlings into the container.

  • If you’re sowing seeds: Plant the seeds in the soil at the right depth. Refer to the seed spacing & depth chart in the article to know how far apart you should be planting the seeds and how deep you should be doing so.
  • If you’re transplanting seedlings: Dig small holes in the soil for your transplants. Each seedling will go into one hole. Then, insert the root ball into the hole and position it so that the top of the root ball is just under or near the top of the soil. Finally, use your fingers to press down the soil.

As a reference in case you buy your seeds early. This chart shows you how many years each vegetable’s seed is viable for.

CHART - vegetable seed viability
CHART – vegetable seed viability in years

While you have more flexibility on when you start planting vegetables in pots because you can somewhat control their environment, it is still a good idea to be aware which crops are hardy or tender.

Here’s a chart showing different vegetables based on whether they are very hardy, hardy, tender or very tender.

And when is the ideal time to plant them.

chart on when to plant vegetables in spring hardy tender before and after date of last frost
chart on when to plant vegetables in spring hardy tender before and after date of last frost

 

Step 5: Water the container

With a hose or watering can, thoroughly water the soil until it becomes moist.

 

How Do You Care For Container Vegetables

While planting vegetables in containers isn’t much different from doing so in your garden, caring and maintenance are quite different.

The change in environment from an open plot of land to one that’s limited to a pot changes how you look after your crops.

 

Water Thoroughly Regularly

When it comes to watering, container plants need a lot of attention than they do in your garden. In fact, watering will be one of the most important things to monitor when it comes to container gardening.

Just as importantly, you don’t want to let your veggies dry out because doing so, even just once, can ruin your harvest.

That said, just like garden soil, you’ll want to thoroughly water your plants. You’re better off deep watering your plants (which encourages deeper root growth) as opposed to just giving them a little water at a time.

It’s also worth noting that potting soil will dry out faster than garden soil. This means that you’ll need to water more frequently.

Plus, do take note of the kind of container you’re using. Porous materials like terra cotta allow water to seep through. As such, this also increases the rate of moisture loss.

One way to prevent this from happening is to line the inside of the pot with a thin plastic sheet. This will serve as a non-porous barrier between the soil and the container. Thus, preventing water to get through.

Another thing to consider is heat. Warm weather, windy conditions, artificial lighting and sunlight all increase the rate of evaporation. As such, do consider how much of these are present.

Adding mulch is a great way to reduce the moisture loss in these instances.

Finally, with containers, you can’t rely on rainfall as much as you would with your garden. That’s because of the limited size of the pot. Additionally, where the pot is positioned can reduce or prevent it from receiving any rain at all.

 

Critical Watering Times for Vegetables

For vegetables, watering is very important if you want your crop to have good quality yield when you harvest.

Most vegetables do best with regular moisture of about one inch of water a week.

But there are specific times when water demand is high. These are the critical watering times.

For vegetables, these usually fall during:

  • The first few weeks after germination
  • When the vegetable is flowering or developing fruit
  • Right after you transplant it

But each vegetable can be very specific as to when watering is critical for it.

Here’s a chart that shows when to water your vegetables. These are the critical times each vegetable needs a good amount of water.

Making sure it gets sufficient water will let you yield high quality harvest.

chart shows you critical times to water each vegetable. when to water your vegetable garden (Critical Times to Water)
chart shows you critical times to water each vegetable. when to water your vegetable garden (Critical Times to Water Different vegetables)

 

How Can You Tell If Your Container Vegetables Need More Water?
  • Test it with your finger. Stick your index finger into the soil all the way down to the first joint. If the soil feels dry, then it’s time to add water.
  • Lift the container. Wet soil is much heavier than dry soil. So, you’ll feel the difference in weight. One way to get the feel of this is to lift the container after you’ve just watered it. This will give you an idea of how heavy it should be. After a while, you’ll be able to tell the difference easily.

 

Sunlight & Indoor Lighting

Just like your garden, it’s important to find a good location to set up your containers. Whether they’re grown in the soil or in pots, most vegetables enjoy a lot of light, preferably, sunlight.

It’s worth noting that fruiting vegetables like tomatoes need higher intensity light. This allows them to bear fruit. When there’s lack of it, they will still grow but won’t produce any or as much fruit.

This means it’s a good idea to position them where they’ll get the right amount of light they need to grow.

Lighting becomes more of an issue indoors. That’s because it’s rare to have a large enough window that receives bright, direct sunlight for hours a day.

As such, it’s a good idea to use grow lights if you plan on growing your container garden indoors.

Here is a chart showing the different kinds of artificial lighting options. It groups grow lights by the bulb type, their intensity and where to best use them.

Types of Artificial Grow Lights for Plants Chart. This table shows the different kinds of artificial lighting options grow lights for indoor plants and their pros and cons.
Types of Artificial Grow Lights for Plants Chart. This table shows the different kinds of artificial lighting options grow lights for indoor plants and their pros and cons.

 

Fertilizer & Nutrients

Like water, nutrients are also used up faster when plants grow in containers. One reason is that you’ll be watering more frequently.

Each time you water, some of the nutrients in the soil will leach out with it. As such, you’ll need to add fertilizer more frequently as well.

Besides leaching, the size of the container also means you need to feed the plants more frequently (every 2 weeks or less).

Additionally, potting soil does not contain any nutrients of its own besides the starter dose. So, after the first few weeks, you’ll need to supply your vegetables with all the nutrients they need in order to grow.

That said, liquid fertilizer is a good choice because it’s easy to use. All you need to do is mix it with mater. Plus, its water-soluble nature makes it easier for your plants’ roots to absorb.

Here’s a chart that will show you when to side dress different kinds of vegetables to make sure they get the nutrients they need to grow optimally.

When to side dress vegetables chart. This table shows you the different crops and when the best time to side dress them with fertilizer to increase growth.
When to side dress vegetables chart. This table shows you the different crops and when the best time to side dress them with fertilizer to increase growth.

One of the things you’ll need about to decide regarding fertilizer is whether you want to use an organic or inorganic fertilizer.

Both have their pros and cons.

Here’s a chart that compares organic or natural fertilizers with inorganic or synthetic fertilizer.

Difference between natural and chemical fertilizer. Organic vs synthetic fertilizer pros and cons
Difference between natural and chemical fertilizer. Organic vs synthetic fertilizer pros and cons

 

Worry Less About Pests & Diseases

Pests are less of a problem when it comes to container gardens.

But, you should still keep an eye out for them since they can easily ruin the hard work you put in.

If they should happen, make sure you act quickly by treating them or removing that specific plant. This way, the infestation will be limited to just one or a few of your crops.

Below is a chart of common vegetable growing problems including yellow leaves, seeds not germinating, wilting, poor yields, slow growth and leggy plants.

chart of common vegetable growing problems (seeds won't germinate, slow growth, yellow leaves, leggy plants, wilting, and poor yield)
chart of common vegetable growing problems (seeds won’t germinate, slow growth, yellow leaves, leggy plants, wilting, and poor yield)

 

How to Store Vegetables

When growing vegetables be it pots, your garden or in raised beds, it is aways a good idea to know how you’re going to keep them fresh after you’ve harvested them.

If you can consume them soon after harvesting, then great. But if not, it is a good idea to know how long can you keep your vegetables after harvesting.

Here’s a chart that shows the optimal storage conditions for each vegetable. It includes temperature, humidity and how long they’ll store for in these conditions.

chart shows optimal methods of how to store vegetables including storage conditions, temperature, humidity, and storage period
chart shows optimal methods of how to store vegetables including storage conditions, temperature, humidity, and storage period

 

Happy Gardening

Congrats! You’re now ready to start your own vegetable garden. Better yet, you’re well equipped with the knowledge needed to make the right decisions every step of the way from planning all the way to harvesting them.

 

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