Growing vegetables at home has always been a popular hobby, but it has turned into a necessity in recent years. Container gardening is one of the easiest ways for beginners to learn how to grow vegetables. It’s also an ideal way to grow food when you don’t have the outdoor land space and must garden on a balcony, rooftop, or porch.
Whatever space you have, container gardening for beginners is simple. A few containers, good potting soil, a sunny location, and a few seeds or vegetable plants are all that’s needed to grow fresh vegetables.
Follow these tips for getting your beginners’ vegetable garden in containers off to a healthy start this spring.
Vegetable Planting Time
Vegetables are divided into two main categories: cool-season and warm-season. Cool-season vegetables grow best when the weather is cool in the spring and fall. Warm-season vegetables grow best during the summer when the weather is hot. If the planting time is not right, the vegetable plants will not grow.
Always check the seed packets or plant labels to determine if a plant is a cool or warm-season vegetable. Cabbage and lettuce are examples of cool-season vegetables and tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers are examples of warm-season vegetables.
The advantage of growing cool-season vegetables is that two crops a year can be grown and harvested. Cabbage, lettuce, broccoli, radishes, carrots, and many other vegetables can be planted in containers and grown in the spring and fall.
Planting time for cool-season vegetables will be in the early spring as soon as all danger of frost has passed, then again in the late summer. To determine the right time to plant in the late summer, check the seed packet or plant label to determine how many days the plant will need to reach maturity.
Look up the first predicted frost date in fall for your area, then count backward that many days for a good planting date. Radishes need 35 days to reach maturity, so most climates will need a mid-September or early October planting time to harvest before the first frost.
Warm-season vegetables will need to be planted when the weather warms up in spring. Don’t hurry to plant because seeds for warm-season vegetables will not germinate until the soil and air temperatures are above 70F.
Vegetable Container Location
Select a full sun location for your container garden. All food-producing plants need sunny growing conditions to be productive.
If you don’t have a full sun location, consider placing the containers on rollers so they can be moved throughout the day to follow the sun.
Be creative with vertical space for a container garden too. There are a wide variety of vertical garden ideas that allow your container vegetable garden to capture more sunlight each day.
Container Vegetable Gardening Choices
Any container that can hold soil at least 12 inches deep and wide, and has bottom drainage holes can grow vegetables.
The plant roots will need plenty of space to develop that is why a container should be at least 12 inches deep and wide. Larger containers can have more than one vegetable plant growing in them.
Window boxes are typically 2-3 feet long and 8 inches deep and wide are perfect for growing herbs, radishes, loose-leaf lettuce and a wide variety of microgreens. Ensure the window boxes are in a partial or full sun location and keep food plants growing in it three seasons a year.
Plastic 5-gallon buckets make great containers for growing root vegetables like potatoes and turnips. Plants that develop a deep root system, like tomato plants, also grow well in a 5-gallon bucket.
Avoid using black plastic containers because the black absorbs heat and can cause the soil to become hot and cook the plant roots. Black plastic containers are okay to use when growing cool-season vegetables in the early spring. The soil will warm up quicker and retain warmth, but the black plastic will make the soil too hot after spring. Select white plastic containers for your beginner vegetable garden.
Terracotta pots are not the best choice of containers unless you are growing a plant that needs soil to be a little of the dry side, like peppers. Terra cotta absorbs moisture and wicks it away from the plant roots and can cause the plant to dehydrate.
Prepare Gardening Containers
Make sure the containers have holes in the bottom to promote good water drainage. While the potting mix used to fill the containers must be able to retain moisture, the excess water needs drainage holes to drain through so the potting soil does not remain soggy and drown the plant.
Feel free to create 4-5 holes in the bottom of the containers with a large nail or knife. Place a coffee filter inside the container over the drainage holes to prevent the potting mix from leaching out as the excess water drains.
Buy a good quality potting mix containing compost or create a growing mix of 50% potting soil and 50% compost.
Compost is nutrient-rich decomposed organic matter that will keep: vegetable plants fed, prevent the soil from compacting, help the soil retain moisture, and make growing vegetables easier.
Some potting mixes contain slow-release fertilizer or you can mix in a 1/2 cup of your favorite slow-release fertilizer into the soil mix.
Place containers in the sunny location you have selected before filling them with potting soil because they may be heavy to move when full. Fill each container to within 2-inches of the top rim with potting mix.
Moisten the soil but don’t make it soggy. Save some of the potting mix to use on top of the vegetable seeds.
Plant Seeds or Seedlings
Check the seed packet or plant label to determine the correct planting depth. Most vegetable seeds should be planted 1/4 or 1/2 inches deep in the soil so the seeds won’t have to struggle to send the sprouts upwards to the sunlight.
A pencil is ideal to use to make small planting holes in the soil. Mark the correct depth on the end of the pencil and insert it into the soil. Place 1-2 seeds into each hole and lightly cover with potting soil. Mist the top of the soil with water, being careful not to disrupt the seeds.
Write plant names and dates planted on a popsicle stick and insert them into the soil, so you know what the plants are when they germinate. Most seeds will need 7-14 days to sprout. If they have not germinated within 20 days, it’s time to re-plant them.
Prepare a planting hole in the center of each 12-inch container (or 12 inches apart in larger containers). Remove soil to create a planting hole with the same width and depth as the container in which the seedling is. These small containers are usually 3×3 or 4×4 and that is how deep and wide the planting hole should be.
Place your hand over the soil with the seedling between your fingers and turn the small container upside down to remove the seedling. You may have to gently shake the container to remove the sit but don’t pull the seedling out. You might crush the stem.
Plant the seedling in the planting hole and keep the soil level of the seedling even with the soil level in the container. Gently, firm the potting soil around the roots and water gently.
Keep soil moist but not soggy at all times. When plants are 4-6 inches tall, apply a 2-inch layer of mulch on top of the soil to help retain moisture and keep the soil cool. Straw, hay, or shredded newspaper (black and white only) are good organic mulches for a container garden.
Easy To Grow Vegetable Plants
Look for dwarf or bush varieties of your favorite vegetables. These adapt better to life in containers and will develop into smaller plants but will produce the same size vegetables.
Tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, squash, beans, and onions are easy to grow summer vegetables. A wide variety of leafy greens can be grown in the spring and fall.
More than one plant can be grown in each container as long as the container is large enough to support the plant roots and the plants all have the same sun and water requirements.
Tomato plants thrive when planted with basil, and cucumbers make good companion plants for radishes. You can also tuck flowers into the containers of vegetables. Dwarf marigolds, moss rose, and other low-growing flowers add beauty and organic pest control to a container vegetable garden.
Get Started with Vegetable Gardening
Start small so you won’t get overwhelmed and be patient. Plant growth and vegetable production takes time and you will make mistakes. Gardening is a learning process and you will learn something new each season.
The biggest mistake a beginning gardening makes is overwatering. More plants die from drowning than from dehydration. Water when the top of the soil looks dry or when the leaves begin to droop. Apply water at the soil level and avoid getting the leaves wet.
Get started growing food with a container garden this spring, summer, or fall.