Contain Your Veggies – Tips for Growing Vegetables in Pots

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In the summertime where I live, the weather can be hotter than the blazes. The shade trees that were planted many years ago are FINALLY mature enough to actually provide a bit of relief from the intense heat and sunshine. Hooray! But wait, what? While I’ve anticipated the cool protection from the trees for YEARS, they are shading out some of my plants that really need full sun. This is a problem for me, especially when it comes to my veggies. I can’t let the welcome shade put a damper on a future vegetable harvest! So, here’s my solution: containers.

I love containers, they are a really excellent solution for several gardening challenges. If you are limited to a small space for your gardening pleasure, try a container. If you have a problem like mine where you need to be able to move your now shaded sun-loving plants to find the full sun in your yard, consider a container. Containers are handy if you want to enjoy a touch of living beauty on your deck or patio. Maybe you would enjoy easy access to herbs right outside your kitchen door to make snipping and watering a cinch. The possibilities for container gardening are endless. You can move them anywhere, and there are a bajillion kinds of containers to choose from.

Sizing Your Containers

big veggie pot
My new veggie pots are large enough to plant a salad rather than just one vegetable.

I am super excited to use a few containers specifically for vegetable gardening this year. So, what kinds of containers are the best to use for vegetables? Here are some thoughts and ideas that should help get your vegetables sprouting up in no time.

First of all, size matters. Especially as you consider the size of your container for your veggies. Most large sized pots or containers will work well for vegetable gardening. Anything too small will cramp your veggie’s roots. That won’t end well. A good rule of thumb is to guesstimate the mature size of your veggie plant and make sure the pot you choose will allow the full sized plant some elbow room. If you have no idea what you are doing, err on the side of too big.

Container Material – Clay vs Plastic vs Wood

plastic vegetable pots
Plastic pots can be a great choice for vegetables – just make sure they have good drainage

Plastic pots and other non-porous pots are a good choice because your soil will stay wet longer than in a clay- type pot. Clay pots are fine too, just be aware that you will probably have to check for drying more often than you will with a plastic pot. A wooden container is an option too, but some wood is treated with preservatives that can seep into the soil and into your vegetables. I try to stick with non-edibles in my wooden containers, but I do have a lovely and ancient half whiskey barrel filled with strawberry plants. Ancient is the key with wood containers. The older the wood, the less chemicals remain in the wood. Plus, most wooden barrels originally used for food or beverages isn’t likely to be treated with chemical nasties that exists in some pressure treated wood.

Container Drainage Tips

drill here
A container with no drainage is a no-no. This one comes with directions to drill

While the container doesn’t need to be fancy, it does need to have a drainage hole in the bottom. I have a five gallon bucket in my garage right now that would make a perfect container for a tomato or a bean plant. Since it doesn’t have a drainage hole, I can drill one into the bottom of the bucket myself. No problem for a five gallon bucket, but you may find that some containers that would otherwise make a suitable vegetable plant container will not be able to handle the pressure of a drill. Whatever container you choose, just make sure you provide a drainage hole. Containers without proper drainage are killers.

drilled drainage holes
DIY drainage complete!

So, a 1-inch diameter hole will do, but don’t be afraid to make more than one hole. A five gallon bucket is cheap way to go, and I think being a frugal gardener is a good habit. However, in honor of my HOA and my neighbors, I am happy to have found some very nice looking large sized plastic pots at Costco for $18 apiece. Yay!

I like to put a piece of screen over the drainage hole (or holes) to minimize the loss of soil. A layer of rocks in the bottom of container is a good idea, too, but it isn’t a necessity. I have room to spare in my containers, so rocks it is for me. Please note that while some believe that a layer of rocks is is all that’s necessary for proper drainage in container planting, go with drainage holes too, unless you are striving for the Vegetable Killer of the Year Award.

Planting Soil

potting soil
Good dark, rich soil is a key component of happy veggies – compost is king!

Once you have chosen the perfect container, you will need to feed your veggie plants some tasty and delicious soil. While the soil does not have to be tasty to you, it should appear dark and rich. To create a treat for your veggies, mix a 50/50 portion of potting soil and compost together in a wheelbarrow, and fill your containers almost to the rim. You can buy a rich compost, or better yet, use your own. If you don’t have your own, you might find a friend who composts or who has farm-type animals that they have to clean up after. Ask them where they put their piles of, well, you know, and dig in! Go for the middle of an old pile. Find the darkest and richest part of the pile to use. Avoid the fresh and/or smelly areas of the pile. Fresh and smelly is not compost. Fresh and smelly is just fresh and smelly. And gross!

Locating Your Containers

Place your containers for vegetables in a full sun location. Mine are too heavy now to move easily, so I placed mine before I filled them all the way up with the soil. Plan ahead on that so you aren’t doing any unnecessary lugging. (Picture 4 )
Caption for picture 4: Your containers are now ready for the planting.

Growing Options

There are several veggies that grow well in containers, and others that aren’t quite appropriate. Large, vining, vegetable plants, like pumpkins, grow best in the ground where they have plenty of leg room to stretch out. On the other hand, with a little support from stakes or a trellis, other smaller vining veggies like cucumbers and zucchini are totally doable in containers. Tomatoes, carrots, onions, potatoes, peppers and chilies, green beans, peas, and lettuces and other leafy greens, are all excellent choices for your container vegetable garden.

For some inspiration, spend some time visualizing what the containers will look like when they are ripe and ready to harvest. I am hoping, as every gardener does at the beginning of every growing season, that I prepared well enough to give my veggies the best chance possible. Wishing you luck with yours, too!

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About Amy

Amy spent her early years roaming a neighbor's corn field, much to her parents' distress, and eating tomatoes like apples in her Midwest grandmother's garden. She learned to snap green beans like a machine by the tender age of four. Later, as a Colorado gal, she battled the elements and finally had success growing a celebratory rhubarb plant in a high altitude garden setting. At that point, there was no turning back. She gave in to her green thumb and, in order of priority, is currently growing vegetables, flowers, kids, and pets on the high plains south of Denver.

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