Container Gardening With Vegetables and Herbs

If you don’t have a good garden spot in your yard, why not grow some vegetables and herbs using container gardening?


  • Container Gardening
    Daytime temperatures will cause plant roots in containers to warm up by 15 degrees Fahrenheit or more (this never happens 4 inches below ground).
    Photo by Adobestock/vaivirga
  • Container Gardening
    These are among the best food crops for container gardening: artichoke, arugula, bok choy, celery, chard, cucumber, eggplant, garlic, lettuce, onion, pepper, snap bean, pea, tomato and most herbs. Look for compact varieties that will grow best in a confined space.
    ILLUSTRATION: ELAYNE SEARS
  • Plastic Storage Box
    A simple plastic storage box can be a durable container for growing veggies and herbs.
    ELAYNE SEARS
  • Vining Crops
    Vining crops grown in containers can double as a sunshade on your patio.
    ELAYNE SEARS

  • Container Gardening
  • Container Gardening
  • Plastic Storage Box
  • Vining Crops

The most personal way to forge a connection with delicious food crops — from arugula to tomatoes — is to grow them up close in containers. Special methods are needed to produce high-quality food crops in containers, because most vegetables and herbs grow best when planted in the ground. Stable soil temperatures and constant access to water, nutrients and microscopic soil allies give in-ground crops a clear advantage.

But if growing edibles in the ground is not an option due to a lack of backyard space, destructive pets or homeowner association rules, then growing some crops in containers on your porch, patio or fire escape may be the solution. Also, if you have problems with your site or soil that prevent in-ground gardening, then container gardening may allow you to avoid some of these problems:

  • Shade from buildings and trees can be minimized by moving container-grown vegetables to your sunniest spots, which change with the seasons.
  • Soil pH barriers can be overcome by using custom soil mixes to grow plants that need more or less acidic soil conditions than are common in your area. For example, containers are a good way to grow acid-loving strawberries or potatoes if your soil is naturally neutral or alkaline.
  • Protection from soilborne pests, from nematodes to voles, and greatly reduced weed problems are natural benefits of container gardening. Where soilborne diseases such as tomato Fusarium are common, containers are an easy way to grow lovely ‘Yellow Pear’ tomatoes and other susceptible varieties.
  • Contaminated soil from toxic lead in old paint, termite pesticides applied to your home’s foundation, chemicals that have leached from treated wood, and other hazards, should not be a problem as long as you use good quality soil mix. (These concerns are especially relevant on urban and reclaimed lots.)

Then there’s the convenience factor. Although my vegetable garden is right in my backyard, I want containers of sweet peppers, parsley, cherry tomatoes and basil within steps of my kitchen door. If you live in an apartment or condo with no yard, you can still have a summer’s worth of veggies right at your fingertips.

One big difference between in-ground and container-grown vegetables is root temperature. In summer, warm daytime temperatures will cause plant roots in containers to warm up by 15 degrees Fahrenheit or more (this never happens 4 inches below ground). And dark containers accumulate solar heat, which intensifies this effect. Warm roots can be your enemy or your friend, depending on the season and the crop. Eggplant, peppers, tomatoes and okra love warm roots, while onions and celery (a surprisingly successful container plant) need cooler feet. You can’t control the weather, but you can minimize soil temperature swings by using the largest containers possible and choosing light-colored containers when appropriate.



The plants discussed here are easy to grow in containers in most climates, but many other vegetables make challenging container crops. If you’re a new gardener, stick with the container-grown vegetables listed at the end of this article to build on your skills. Remember, plants grown in containers will be totally dependent on you for water, feeding and adequate accommodations for their roots. By midsummer, herbs and vegetables in containers may need water twice a day and liquid fertilizer twice a week. Think of container gardening as an intensive form of the food gardener’s art.

Double Buckets and Other Self-Watering Containers

Any pot or planter with a drainage hole in the bottom can be used to grow vegetables. Bigger is better, because large containers will hold more soil, roots and water, which will help the plants produce a larger and healthier crop. Your containers need not be fancy. Two of the most popular pots for vegetables are plastic buckets and storage bins, refashioned into self-watering containers. Note that though they’re commonly called “self-watering” containers, you still have to provide the water. However, thanks to a water reservoir area under the soil, these planters can hold a lot more water than regular planters. The plants’ roots grow down and tap the reservoir as needed.

Adria
5/31/2016 2:55:12 AM

I think it is possible to cool plant roots by placing the container in a shallow water. Of course, it is not always easy and will create humid atmosphere which is not always desirable.


MG
6/21/2014 2:58:01 PM

June, 2014. A neighbor and I are doing lots of experimenting with container gardening. This leads me to question the use of light-colored container. On the same day, she planted 2 tomato plants in a large black tote adjacent to a raised bed. She planted 2 of the same sort and size in the raised bed. A week later, the plants in the tote were twice the size of those in the bed.


Suzie Blodgett
5/2/2012 1:02:32 PM

Please consider sharing your excess garden harvest with hungry neighbors in need! Find a local food pantry at www.AmpleHarvest.org. If pantries in your community have not yet registered, please encourage them to do so by sharing www.AmpleHarvest.org/pantry.






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