A Guide to Vegetable Container Gardening

June 11, 2021
A Guide to Vegetable Container Gardening

Story Highlights

Growing your own food can bring you both joy and bounty. There's a simple pleasure in biting into a tomato still warm from the sun—picked and eaten on the spot.

If your vegetable gardening is limited by insufficient space or an unsuitable area, consider raising fresh, nutritious, homegrown vegetables in containers. A patio, deck, balcony, and even a window sill can provide sufficient space for a productive container vegetable garden.

Additionally, for busy or novice gardeners, container vegetable gardening is easier and lower in maintenance than traditional vegetable gardening. Problems with poor soil conditions, soilborne diseases, and pest management are much easier to overcome when using containers. Additionally, container vegetable gardening is a great way to introduce children to the joys and rewards of growing your own food.

In this article, we provide a step-by-step guide to growing a successful vegetable container garden.

radishes, cherry tomatoes on the vine, a purple cabbage head and sugar snap peas are displayed with crackers and hummus on a drink tray

Step 1

Choosing the Right Vegetables

Almost any vegetable that will grow in a typical backyard garden will also do well as a container-grown plant. Vegetables with vining growth habit, like pole beans, cucumbers, and many squashes, will likely require trellises and a little more room to grow. If you're truly constrained on space, variety selection is extremely important. Most vegetables offer varieties in various sizes, so be mindful when making selections.

a cherry tomato plant growing in a large planter is cascading to the ground with a mixture of ripened tomatoes on it
Vegetables that grow well in Containers








Lettuce & Greens



Green Beans




upside down clay pots of all different sizes are stacked 4-high waiting to be used

Step 2

Selecting the Right Container

You can use almost anything for a garden planter as long as it's big enough, has good drainage, and is made of food-safe material. That said, when growing vegetables, bigger really is better. The more soil a container can hold, the more moisture it will retain, and the less you will have to water. In general, don’t bother with containers that are smaller than 12 inches across, unless using for herbs.

Below is a list of recommended container sizes for various vegetables:

three planters are filled with different vegetables and herbs and lining the backyard steps
Recommended Container Sizes:

Tomato: 5 gallons, 1 plant

Pepper: 5 gallons, 1-2 plants

Herbs: 1 gallon, 1-3 plants

Eggplant: 5 gallons, 1 plant

Potatoes: 5 gallons, 2 plants

Radishes:: 1 gallon, 3 plants

Carrots: 1 gallon, 2-3 plants. Use pots 2 inches deeper than carrot length

Lettuce & Greens: 1 gallon, 2 plants

Peas: 3-5 gallon, 3-5 plants

Cucumbers: 1 gallon, 1 plant

Green Beans: 2 gallons, space plants 3" apart

Squash: 5 gallons, 1 plant

Turnips: 2 gallons, 2 plants

Broccoli: 2 gallons, 1 plant

female hands re-potting soil from a small clay pot into a larger one with plants and another claypot nearby

Step 3

Use Quality Soil

High-quality potting soil is important for vegetables. Don't use soil from your garden, because it will compact in the containers and won't drain water properly. Also, using soil from the garden runs the risk of introducing weeds and soil-borne diseases into your containers.

backyard elevated deck leads down 4 steps onto a paver patio foyer

Step 4


One major advantage to gardening in containers is that you can place the vegetables in areas where they can receive the best possible growing conditions.

Nearly all vegetable plants will grow better in full sunlight than in shade. However, leafy crops such as lettuce, cabbage, greens, spinach, and parsley can tolerate more shade than root crops such as radishes, beets, turnips, and onions. Fruit-bearing plants, such as cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant need the most sun of all.

Step 5

Inspect Daily for Proper Care

A watched pot never boils. Watched vegetables, on the other hand, do far better than those that are unwatched and neglected. Though you don't always have to do anything, it is good practice to give your vegetables a quick inspection once a day.

gardener is using a tin watering container to water her cabbage plants in the garden

Correct Watering

Many vegetable plants, such as tomatoes, need lots of water. However, you don't want to drown your plants. The goal is to keep the soil evenly moist but not soaking wet.

To figure out whether your plants need water, stick your finger down into the soil about an inch. If the soil feels dry, add water; if you're not sure, wait and check later in the day. At the height of summer, you'll probably need to water at least once or sometimes twice a day. This is often the most high-maintenance and critical aspect of vegetable container gardening.

gardener adding fertilizer beads to the soil with a gloved hand and a blue gardening shovel


Plants need nutrition to thrive, and their food is fertilizer. If your soil doesn’t have fertilizer already mixed in, add some several times throughout the growing season, according to the directions on the label. Many gardeners mix organic, granular fertilizer into the containers before planting. Then, every couple of weeks, add diluted liquid fish emulsion or liquid seaweed to give the plants the nutrition they need.

a basket full of freshly harvested fruits and vegetables, gardening gloves and water container all laid on backyard deck steps

Step 6


Make sure to harvest your vegetables at the peak of maturity when their full flavor has developed. Vine-ripened tomatoes, tender green beans, and crisp lettuce will have the best flavor. Just like in the supermarket, vegetables have an expiration date and there is nothing more upsetting than seeing your hard work rotting on the vine.

glass-top coffee table holds a tray of veggies, hummus and wine. ready for an afternoon snack

Be sure to

Share the fruits of your labor!

If you can't keep up with your own success, don't be afraid to share and show off your hard work. Consider putting together a basket of your extras to share with family, friends, and neighbors. Or, if you like to entertain, consider organizing a vegetable-themed dinner party that highlights the fruits of your labor.

backyard stone paver patio with grill island kitchen and granite countertop has veggies ready to be grilled resting on it.

Keep things fresh & Different

Explore New Cooking Methods

If you have an abundance of produce, it will be important to try new cooking methods. An exploration into new ways of cooking vegetables will keep you interested and add another layer of enjoyment to your gardening. One of our favorite ways to cook vegetables is on the grill.

large garden shovel sits on a pile of soil with scissors nearby

Step 7

Remove Soil

At the end of the harvest season, discard the plant and soil from the pot. Do not reuse the same soil for a second season of production. If infected, the soil or mix will spread disease into the second season unless it is properly composted. Properly composted planting media can be reused.

Tips for Grilled and Smoked Chili

Tips for Grilled and Smoked Chili

Whether it's for a game day party, a chili cook off, or just a run of the mill Tuesday, we recommend kicking your chili up a notch by making it outdoors. In this article we provide all of the tips you need to prepare chili on your grill or smoker.


Landscape Plants That Create Stunning Bouquets

Landscape Plants That Create Stunning Bouquets

In this article, we suggest a wide variety of landscape plants that can be used to make wonderful and unique flower arrangements. We hope that this comprehensive list inspires you to start clipping the garden and bringing it inside!


What You Should Expect to Spend

What You Should Expect to Spend

Understand the potential investment required to bring your outdoor dream to life.

Test ToolTip