It can be incredibly satisfying to grow your own vegetables. For those who have small spaces or those who don’t want to tear up their yard, container gardening offers an easy, low-maintenance solution to create an optimal environment to grow plants. Create your own vegetable container garden with a few tips from our starter guide.
1. Evaluate Planter Placement
Take a look at where you’d like to place your containers. The types, quantity, and density of vegetables available for you to grow will change based on conditions and space. Is it an indoor or outdoor space? What type of sunlight is available? Is there a lot of shade around?
Most vegetables need full sun or at least six hours of sunlight per day for optimal results. The USDA publishes a hardiness zone map, which can help growers determine what vegetable species are most likely to thrive in an area.
Be sure to measure and get the dimensions of where you’d like to place your container garden. If you’re growing vegetables on a balcony as opposed to in a yard, you’ll likely have less space to grow as much as you’d prefer. You’ll also be able to establish some preliminary dimensions for the planters you’d like to use.
Together, these varied conditions may dictate the type of plants or vegetables that can be grown in your space.
2. Determine Plant Selections
Depending on your space and growing conditions, you can then determine the types of vegetables you’d like to grow and their ideal placement. Consider a few suggestions for some of the easiest vegetables to grow in a vegetable container garden.
- Spinach and lettuce
It’s usually much easier to grow these vegetables from seedlings, but it’s often cheaper to grow them from seeds. Your patience and budget may determine whether you want to start from seeds or seedlings.
Keep in mind that if you want to start from seeds, you’ll likely need to start them indoors before planting them in your vegetable container garden.
3. Consider Planter Material
Carefully consider the type of planter material you should get for your vegetable container garden. Though it may seem trivial, the planter material selected can do a lot to enhance the success of your container gardening efforts. Take a look at a few of some of the most frequently used planter materials.
One of the most inexpensive planter material options for container gardening is recyclable plastic. Plastic containers are lightweight and easy to move, and will easily withstand most weather conditions for a growing season. Some select styles also contain self-watering abilities for low-maintenance growing.
Fiberglass planters are some of the most durable planters available. UV-resistant paint paired with the durability of fiberglass ensures that fiberglass planters have the ability to last for multiple growing seasons with nearly zero maintenance. Available in a variety of shapes, dimensions, and colors, it’s simple to find planters to fit your container gardening space.
Terracotta planter pots are classic options for container gardens that add a rustic finish to your space. However, note that you’ll need to pay closer attention to your container garden when using this type of planter material. The porous nature of the clay allows more moisture to escape. For those that like the terracotta style without the terracotta maintenance, there are often other planters available in similar colors.
Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete
Though concrete planters can add a modern touch to a container garden, Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete (GFRC) planters were created to be a lightweight alternative, made to look and feel just like concrete, while more resistant to cracks and weathering. Though it’s a pricier option compared to other materials, a vegetable container garden is sure to stun with the modern look of these containers.
Typically, the planter material selected will depend mostly on your budget, preferred durability, and aesthetic. Most vegetable plants will be happy in nearly any container you choose, as long as there’s enough room for their roots.
4. Consider Planter Features
After evaluating your space, the type of vegetables you’d like to grow, and preferences on planter materials, you’ll need to consider the size and type of planter needed.
Most importantly, you’ll need plant containers that fit the dimensions of your space that are deep enough for the vegetables you’re planning on growing. Vegetables with deep root systems need room to burrow and spread. Plants can quickly become unhealthy if they don’t have enough space. Deep trough planters give plenty of space for healthy roots to form.
Beyond general dimensions, it’s important to consider other potential planter features that help make maintaining a container garden a bit easier.
If you’re planning on keeping your container garden outside, drainage holes are one of the most important features of your planter. In order to survive, most plants require proper drainage. Over-watering is one of the top ways beginners kill plants. With proper drainage, vegetables in your container garden will have a better chance to thrive.
Vining plants often need to be supported to ensure they grow properly. One of the easiest ways to make sure plants are able to climb a secure structure is to use a trellis. Select planters will come with an attachable trellis structure. Otherwise, separate trellis features can usually be added if a planter is large enough.
If you need to add a little height to your planter for your vegetables to reach a bit more sun, or just to protect surfaces, consider a planter that comes with a pedestal.
In smaller spaces, you may want to frequently move your planter. Casters and wheels give you the extra maneuverability needed to help your vegetables get more sun during the day and extra space if you need to move your planters.
If you’re looking to make growing vegetables a bit more low maintenance, consider a planter with self-watering capabilities. Self-watering planters use a contained reservoir and wicking system to ensure plants get the moisture they need when they need it. Some systems allow you to go without watering for up to 12 weeks! Though you can purchase planters with a self-watering system included, there are ways to make your own for a cheaper option.
5. Starting Your Vegetable Container Garden
Once you have your planters in place, fill them with a “soilless” potting mix to plant your vegetable seeds or seedlings. Most soil or topsoil available in yards is too heavy, can easily become waterlogged, and can bring insects and disease. In order to have a better harvest, it’s essential to use a planting medium with proper pH balance, aeration, and drainage. Potting mixes contain peat and vermiculite, which can help plants grow.
Another important factor to consider is the temperature of the soil when you’re ready to plant. Most of the time, soil needs to be warm to sprout. If the dirt is too cold, seeds and seedlings might not sprout.
Whether you are planting from seeds or seedlings, consider spacing and depth requirements needed for optimal growth. Usually, that information is located on the back of the seed packet, included with the seedling, online, or otherwise available in gardening books.
If you’re planning on companion planting, consider leaving a bit of extra room between varieties and adding labels to help identify which vegetable is which.
Keeping your growing vegetable container garden moisturized is key to a bountiful harvest. However, this comes with a delicate balance. If the potting mix is too dry, it’ll be difficult for seedlings to sprout. If it’s too wet, the plant will be over-watered. The goal is to keep the soil moist, but not soaked.
If you need to determine whether your vegetable garden needs more water, stick your finger into the soil up to your first knuckle. Add water if it feels dry, or let it be for a few hours until you’re certain.
Inconsistent moisture can lead to a number of problems. Stunted root development, leaf drop, leaf curling, and rot can all result from improper watering.
Frequently check moisture levels in your container garden, especially if it’s outside. Hotter temperatures may require multiple waterings per day, as the extra heat can cause water to evaporate.
For those looking for a more low-maintenance container garden, self-watering planters are a good option to keep plants at optimal moisture levels without frequent checks.
While your vegetable garden is growing, it’s important to make sure plants have proper nutrients. Without fertilizer, plants have to compete with what few nutrients are currently available in the potting mix.
Replenishing nutrients into the soil makes it much easier for plants to grow, as each time your vegetables are watered, a portion of those nutrients are washed away.
There are several different types of fertilizers. Dry fertilizers, slow-release fertilizers, and water-soluble fertilizers are all potential options.
- Dry Fertilizers: Contains high fertilizer levels and are designed to dissolve quickly. They are very nutrient dense, so it can be easy to over-fertilize.
- Slow-Release Fertilizers: Consists of small plastic spheres that are designed to release little bits of fertilizer over time and typically need to be applied once or twice a growing season.
- Water-Soluble Fertilizers: Available as a powder or a liquid that can be added to your watering can, water-soluble fertilizer does need to be used a bit more often than other types because it wears away a bit faster.
No matter what type of fertilizer you select, be sure to follow all instructions on the label for proper use.
Keep an eye out for weeds and pests. Though they aren’t necessarily as common to see in container gardens, it’s crucial to periodically check for any unwanted visitors.
If you find your container garden is becoming too crowded, consider thinning out some plants to allow others to thrive.
The best time to harvest is usually when the vegetables meet their full maturity. Pick vegetables once they grow to a reasonable size. Harvesting often is key to having a productive plant. Letting vegetable plants “go to seed” will let your plants grow, without putting out any vegetables.
There’s nothing quite as satisfying as creating your own meal from what you’ve grown. After weeks of watering, fertilizing, sunlight, and care, you should have an array of fresh vegetables available for your table.