Grow food in container gardens no matter where you live! Even if you can’t plant directly in the ground, you can grow vegetables, fruit, and herbs in pots. And while container gardens take careful attention to water, they have benefits, too:
- You can move containers to catch the right amount of sun.
- Containers let you create just the right soil mix for plants that require special conditions, like blueberries.
- Containers work fine with trellises and teepees, allowing you to grow vertically.
What Food Can You Grow in Containers?
The main criteria for a container plant is a well-behaved growth habit. You can grow just about anything in a container, but varieties that use words like “compact,” “little,” and “space-saver” are your best bet. When choosing your seeds and plants, look for:
- Plants that can be grown “cut and come again,” like these salad greens.
- Varieties specifically recommend for container growing, like this assortment.
- Small-scale berry bushes, like the line from Bushel and Berry.
Skip big, messy, sprawling plants like melons and pumpkins (except maybe tiny ones you can train up a trellis).
Choosing the Right Containers
Traditionally, the problem with container gardens is that they need a lot of water. If you grow food crops in traditional pots with drainage holes in them, you’ll need to check the water once a day at least, and often more in summer.
The easiest way to grow vegetables and fruits in containers is to use self-watering containers. These planters have a water reservoir in the bottom, a wicking system that pulls water into the soil, and a planting compartment up top. You can make your own self-watering container out of any container that will hold water and an insert kit.
If you plan to grow only a few vegetables in containers and you don’t mind watching the water level carefully, you’ll do fine with regular garden containers, as long as they have drainage holes. Mulch the top to help conserve moisture.
If you want to grow herbs, plant those in traditional pots with drainage holes. Most of them will rot in a self-watering container, and pampered herbs are often less flavorful than the ones that get by under more difficult conditions.
A great resource for learning more about growing vegetables in containers is The Vegetable Gardener’s Container Bible by Edward Smith. And check out Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service’s has this publication on growing in raised beds and containers.
Selecting Soil for Containers
To grow food in container gardens, you must have crumbly, fertile soil that does not become easily waterlogged. Use a mix of potting soil and compost. Do not use soil from your yard; even if it has a great texture, it’s likely to harbor microbes that won’t make your container plants happy.
We used to say to use sphagnum peat moss with some vermiculite or perlite to improve drainage. But because peat is a non-renewable resource, we now prefer mixes based on coconut coir. Happy Frog Potting Soil is a good one.
Mix organic potting soil with compost on a 1:1 ratio. You can use your own compost or buy some in bags at the garden center. The potting soil gives your plants the structure they need to anchor them, and the compost provides the nutrients.