Growing vegetables in container gardens is an efficient way to produce fresh food if you have a limited space. Or perhaps you might want to soften and beautify a hardscape such as a patio, porch, balcony, or even a driveway with edible vegetables.
The choice of container can have a big impact on how productive your plants are and if they will survive. The primary factor to keep in mind is to make sure your vegetable plant has enough room for a deep root system to develop. If you are growing large plants (like tomatoes), make sure that the pot will be large and heavy enough so it won't tip over in a stiff wind.
To grow vegetables in a container, the bigger the pot the better: a minimum of 18 inches in diameter and 18 inches deep or five gallons in volume is required for larger plants like cucumbers, eggplants, squash, or broccoli. Large pots hold more soil thus can provides plants with sufficient moisture and nutrients. A 10-inch diameter pot is too small to provide enough soil for root systems to develop, and the soil in smaller pots dries more quickly than in larger pots.
Some varieties of popular vegetables are better suited for growing in containers than others. Typically, varieties that are labeled as compact, miniature, or bush types are best suited for growing in containers.
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Try Your Hand at Earthboxes
If you had to pick one container for growing vegetables, it would be an Earthbox®. These large, self-watering boxes are extremely water-efficient, fertilizer-efficient, and easy to use. The manufacturer's claim is that the Earthbox can provide double the harvest compared to growing vegetables conventionally. Growing vegetables in Earthboxes increases the yield, but the size of the vegetables tends to be larger than those grown in other containers.
Earthboxes are somewhat pricey to buy, but they are very durable and are worth the cost. The manufacturer states that some of their Earthboxes are 25 years old and that they are still functioning like new.
The best news about the Earthbox is that if you keep the water reservoir filled with water, your plants receive the right amount of water they need to thrive and this is perhaps (along with the right amount of sun) the most important resource for vegetables—particularly tomatoes.
Other types of grow boxes are available from other manufacturers.
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Smart Pot Fabric Planters
Smart Pot® fabric planters are fantastic for growing all kinds of vegetables and herbs. Because they are made of breathable fabric, Smart Pots promote plant health by preventing roots from circling around the container and becoming root-bound. Smart Pots are lightweight, economical, and are particularly great for growing potatoes and tomatoes. They also work well for growing lettuce, herbs, blueberries, tomatillos, and eggplant. These fabric pots come in a wide variety of sizes, including a "Big Bag Bed," which is equivalent to a good-sized raised bed. Smart Pots are also great for urban gardeners and those homes that are storage space challenged—at the end of the season, you just wash them, fold them up, and store them.
You can also cut Xs into the sides of the fabric for side planting, which not only maximizes your growing space, it looks cool, too.
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Consider Reusable Grocery Bag Gardens
Herbs and vegetable plants seem to love growing in reusable grocery bags. Use the type of bags that are soft-sided and have smooth plastic outside and flannel or fabric on the inside. The all-fabric bags don't usually last for the whole summer and can quickly disintegrate. You can grow tomatoes in them; from giant indeterminate sprawlers to the more petite and well-behaved patio-sized plants. Try growing herbs, lettuce, peas, and potatoes as well as flowering plants.
One cautionary note: Some grocery bags are made of plastic that releases chemicals as it disintegrates.
04 of 06
Grow Great Vegetables in Straw Bale Gardens
One of the many advantages of growing a straw bale garden is that it allows you to grow a vegetable garden on any surface. Do you have a sunny driveway? Plant your garden right on top of it. Building a straw bale garden is also one of the easiest and least expensive ways to get a fairly big growing space without digging. At the end of the season, as the bales disintegrate, the garden looks more than a little casual.
You will need some time to get your straw bales prepped before you plant them. By adding fertilizer and water over about ten days, the bales start to compost internally and after the heat of this process has diminished, the bales are ready to plant.Continue to 5 of 6 below.
05 of 06
Plant Greens in Large Baskets
You can use large baskets for outdoor containers, particularly for growing herbs and salad greens. If you search second-hand stores and yard sales, you can purchase large baskets at a reasonable price. Most baskets weather well, even those that are painted—some becoming even more interesting as they age. There are several ways you can prepare baskets—either line them with moss to help retain water or with a lightweight landscape fabric—making large holes in the bottom for drainage.
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Use Hanging Baskets
Try planting hanging baskets with lettuce, salad greens, or herbs. It is unusual, fun, and tasty. The only downside is that once you harvesting the greens, the basket can look bare. One way around this is to reseed to replace what you've eaten.
Also, hanging baskets can dry out incredibly quickly—on a windy day, a warm breeze can suck the moisture right out of the soil. To combat this, line coir baskets with landscape fabric or moss and check them once a day, sometimes twice to see if they need watering. It's also a good idea to give a basket made of cocoa coir some mid-day shade if you are gardening in a hot climate.
Marsden, Christy. “Growing Vegetables in Containers.” Wisconsin Horticulture, https://hort.extension.wisc.edu/articles/growing-vegetables-containers/
Dampier, Jay. “Vegetable Varieties for Containers.” Wisconsin Horticulture, https://hort.extension.wisc.edu/articles/vegetable-varieties-for-containers/
“EarthBox Original Gardening System.” EarthBox®, https://earthbox.com/gardening-systems/earthbox-original?dfw_tracker=130636-80205&gclid=CjwKCAjwjZmTBhB4EiwAynRmD5u_TQsJkDpEiIp2N0XYWApJzT7liJuuw9azsHQ3Zaalk6opxTw9XBoCfWUQAvD_BwE
“Smart Pot® Fabric Planter.” Smart Pot®, 17 May 2021, https://smartpots.com/product/smart-pot-fabric-planter/
“Growing Vegetables In Containers [Fact Sheet].” Extension, 9 Jan. 2018, https://extension.unh.edu/resource/growing-vegetables-containers-fact-sheet