What are the best vegetables to grow in containers? What if I’m new to gardening – can I really grow my own potted garden? Yes, you can! Here are four simple, annual vegetables to grow in containers, including how to plant them and which containers to use.
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You don’t need to have access to acres of land to get started on your vegetable garden. Some reasons to grow vegetables in containers include:
- If you’re just getting started with vegetable gardening, growing in pots can be a simple way to experiment with what you’d like to grow and to learn what will grow with ease in your climate.
- If gardening doesn’t happen to be your favorite part of homesteading, growing in containers can give you the flexibility you need to suit your garden to your needs.
- Growing vegetables in containers close to the house – for example, on a porch – can enable you to keep close tabs on bad bugs, wilting leaves, and any other problem your plants might be having.
- Along those same lines, having your container garden close reminds you to harvest continually.
Before we get started with our four vegetables to grow in pots, let’s quickly discuss some commonly asked questions about container gardening.
What are the Best Containers for Growing Vegetables?
Honestly, ANY container that will last at least one year and has a few holes drilled in the bottom so excess water can drain through will work. In my gardening lifetime, I’ve used old yogurt containers, a garden glove and even an old colander for growing vegetables!
Be careful using metal since it can rust, which may adversely effect your vegetable plants. Also, be advised that any container made from already recycled plastics may be more brittle, or not as durable than other plastics. Otherwise, be creative with how you upcycle previously used containers and pots – you can never have too many containers for growing vegetables!
Having said that, however, each of the following vegetables has planting instructions that cover what kind of pot will work best for each plant.
What Are the Best Containers for Growing Herbs?
This is a great question because drainage becomes really important when you’re growing many herbs like rosemary and lavender. This is an article devoted to growing vegetables in containers, but we do have a short e-book called, The Potted Herb that might be helpful to you. Click on the ad below to get your copy.
What Are the Best Vegetables to Grow in Containers?
We’ll discuss four of my favorite vegetables to grow in containers but if you’re trying to make a wise decision about planting in pots, here are some things to think about.
- Growing food in pots requires constant access to water. If you don’t have easy access to water for your container garden, avoid planting water hogs like melons in pots.
- If you’re container garden is located on a small balcony, or anywhere space is an issue, avoid planting bush varieties of veggies. Vining beans, peas, and tomatoes can be grown vertically which save A LOT of pot space compare to their bush-growing cousins. You can also consider mini-varieties of things like pumpkins which produce smaller versions of larger field pumpkins if you have only limited amount of trellis.
- Having said that, however, you may decide that bush varieties are exactly what you need for a specific pot, or to even give as a gift. For example, the Tom Thumb variety of bush pea is a VERY small bushing pea plant that could be just right for you. There the cutest, little pea plants you’ve ever seen!
- Be aware of each crop’s root system and how large they can develop over a growing season. A radish has a microscopic root system compare to a tomato! Tomatoes are perennial plants in their native habitats – which is just a fancy way of saying that when they grow a root system, they mean for it to last forever. Radishes know they are annuals (plants that grow from seed, mature and die in one season), and only take up a small amount of space in a container.
- This may seem obvious, but only grow what you will use. The best vegetables to grow in containers are the ones that you will actually eat. It makes no sense to grow radishes – even if they grow SO well in pots – if you simply don’t eat radishes.
4 Annual Vegetables to Grow in Containers
Here are just a few annuals to consider for your potted kitchen garden. Remember that this list is not exhaustive, so don’t be afraid to experiment with any vegetable you’d like to grow in a container.
Radishes (Raphanus sativus) can be an acquired taste but home-grown varieties are so much tastier than anything you might buy in the store. And there are so many different kinds to grow!
The French breakfast radishes have been the most palatable at our house. However, taste is such a relative thing that I suggest you try whatever variety sounds good to you and your family.
Radishes are great crops for inter-sowing.
What is Inter-Sowing?
Inter-sowing is the practice of planting quickly maturing plants alongside slower producing plants so that by the time the slower paced veggies are ready for more space, the quicker ones have already been harvested. This means you can tuck radishes into the spring garden containers at the same time you plant the beans. The radishes will be mature as early as 45 days, but more often around 60 days, while the beans will just be coming on.
Two crops in one space is a great deal – when you’re growing in pots, you want to be sure to use all the available space as best you can!
Some Things to Think About When Growing Radishes in Containers
- Because radishes are so small, they are particularly well suited to container growing if there’s space to develop the bulbous radish beneath the surface of the soil.
- Radishes don’t much care for high temperatures so plant them in the spring and fall, missing the intense heat of summer unless you’re growing them in the shade of another plant.
- Make sure your containers don’t over-heat or dry out because the radishes won’t thank you for that.
If you have crops that you discover you really don’t care for, feed them to the goats and chickens. Or give them as gifts to neighbors. Or try a new dish (like roasted radishes) to see if you like to eat them that way.
Some of my favorite types of radish from Seeds for Generations are the French Breakfast Radishes.
Pot Size: Really anything will work if it’s deep enough to accommodate the length of the variety you’re growing. Radishes can be inter- and under-planted with many veggies. You can plant them alongside slower growing veggies like beets and they’ll be ready to harvest before the beets get big enough to be annoyed by the closeness of the radishes.
Sun: 6-8 hours but can take partial shade.
Special Notes: Radishes are cool season vegetables that produce smaller, sweeter globes in the spring and larger, stronger flavored globes in the fall. There are early and late season varieties so feel free to try several. Since radishes develop so quickly, it’s important to har-vest them right when they’re ready to avoid them becoming pithy and losing flavor.
Pumpkins (Curcurbita pepo) – Oh, please grow a pumpkin or two! Pumpkins are simply magical vegetables to have in the garden.
They do take up space, although growing the smaller varieties up a trellis is very doable, if space is an issue in your container garden. (I think space is an issue in every garden, quite frankly—how much of our garden brain is tied up trying to figure out what’s best to do with the space?!) What you trade on space, you make up for in the usefulness of the plant.
Pumpkin vines are an impressive sight. The flowers are gorgeous (and edible!), and the fruit holds the promise of autumn recipes to come. I thrill at the sight of a pumpkin “patch” on a porch, whether it’s the first flowers of spring, full of fat bees taking pollen baths, or the glow of orange in the yard as the vines die back and the pumpkins shine as if already carved into jack-o-lanterns.
I usually start my pumpkin plants indoors, but you can direct sow them into your containers, too.
There are so many different varieties of pumpkin to grow—teeny, tiny ones and giant ones; culinary varieties and decorative varieties. And all different colors, too—orange, red, blue, white, green! My favorite pie pumpkins are usually any of the Cinderella’s-coach shaped varieties like the Long Island Cheese pumpkin. Also tasty are the pink banana squashes but they can get large, so keep that in mind if your vertical growing space is tight.
If you want smaller varieties try the mini or the smaller pie pumpkins. Seeds for Generations carries the following smaller varieties you might like to try:
Whatever you do, give each pumpkin plant a large enough pot. If you have the space, plant several so that your children’s friends can come for a pumpkin harvest and carving party at your house.
Cultural Requirements Growing Pumpkins in Containers
Pot Size: At least ten gallons as their roots are quite vigorous. Be sure that the pot is broad and deep. The pot must also provide good drainage because pumpkins don’t like wet feet.
Sun: 6-8 hours or full sun.
Special Notes: When you fertilize, be careful to not give pumpkins (and several other veggies like tomatoes) too much nitrogen or all they’ll grow is leaves. Also, be sure you have enough pollinators about to fertilize your flowers. If you aren’t sure, learning to hand pollinate pumpkins is not hard at all and it can be an interesting project to do with kids. It might be worth some extra credit at school!
Peas (Pisum sativum) – Traditionally, spring peas are thought to be the best, but I prefer planting peas in the fall garden. In my climate, summer can start with a vengeance and often comes while my pea crop is delicate. Summer’s heat and dry winds can wreak havoc on the pea harvest and I usually end up disappointed in the amount of peas I’m able to grow in spring. Don’t get me wrong, I plant peas every spring but it’s mostly because the kids just love them and can’t garden without them.
Peas are super kid-friendly plants, right down to the seeds which are a medium size and can be seen and handled by children with relative ease. Hunting for pea pods becomes a morning ritual once the fruit is set. Many a time I’ve had to repeatedly call my kids in from the pea patch for the start of school because they’re so engrossed in their pea treasure hunt.
Again, lots of varieties to choose from but the big choice is:
- Do you want climbing vines that need to be staked?
- Or bush varieties that hit 2-3 feet and then stop growing?
All peas can be eaten when they’re quite young, just pods with itty bitty peas inside. Some varieties are meant to be harvested when the peas are a good size, shucked out of their shells and steamed to perfection with lots of butter.
Peas, and even the tender growing tips of the curling pea vine, are pleasing to the young and old alike; babies on solids can gum them and cool teenagers can eat them with ease.
Cultural Requirements Growing Peas in Containers
Pot Size: Almost anything will work as long as it has drainage holes and is at least 12” wide. I’ve planted peas in an old colander (a child’s garden project) and they produced well with a trellis. The bigger the container, the more plants you can grow and the bigger the harvest.
Sun: 6-8 hours or full sun.
Special Notes: They do like even dampness and this may require daily, repeated watering during the potted growing season so be sure to stay on top of your fertilizer. Also, peas dislike heat so much that they’ll stop producing once summer weather sets in, whereby you know it’s time to pull them up, compost them and plant something new in their pot. Be sure to plant peas again around August so that you can enjoy them in the fall garden.
Another bonus of pea plants (or any legume) is that they can pull nitrogen out of the air and work with bacteria to fix it in nodules on their roots in the soil. Nitrogen is such an asset in the garden. Perennial legumes like clover and alfalfa fix much more nitrogen than snow peas, but all legumes are useful this way.
Lettuce (Lactuca Sativa) is super easy to grow and reseeds readily in many climates. Loose-leaf lettuce is a winner in any container garden. I don’t mess with heading lettuce like Iceberg in the garden because loose-leaf varieties are so much tastier and easier to grow.
Reseeding means that you allow a certain number of your lettuce plants to go to seed and then you let the seed go where it will on purpose. You can also allow your lettuce to set seed and then clip it off to save and plant deliberately, if you don’t want lettuce popping up everywhere. Don’t worry about all that if you feel overwhelmed by the idea of saving seed this year.
You can direct sow lettuce or you can start it indoors.
Lettuce is beautiful, semi-frost hardy and tasty. I’ve gotten my kids to a point where I have them pull up a head, rinse it off, plunk it down on our table and rip off some leaves to augment their dinner. Some use dressing, some don’t. We grow loose leaf varieties like:
Plan to continuous sow lettuce so that you always have new batches coming up behind as you harvest older plants.
Eat all the lettuce you can before it flowers because once that happens it turns bitter. Adding a bit of shade will stave off the flowering process, but once you hit the warmer weather of summer it’s time to let the lettuce give way for other crops. Never fear, lettuce does well in the fall garden, too.
Cultural Requirements Growing Lettuce in Containers
Pot Size: Three to four loose leaf lettuces will fit nicely in a 14” pot but remember that lettuce can also be interplanted with other veggies in larger pots. If shallow-root lettuce is planted alone, find a container that is wider than it is tall.
Sun: 4-6 hours, but it can take partial shade.
Special Notes: Lettuce is over 90% water and so it’s imperative that you keep the soil in your pot evenly moist, but not soggy; a clay pot is often very effective at regulating moisture. Lettuce is a great plant to grow indoors, on a sunny counter.
More Resources for Growing Vegetables in Containers
If you’d like a little more information about vegetables to grow in containers, please see the links below. Let us a comment if you have any questions or suggestions for annual veggies that have grown well for you in pots!
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