Growing Edibles in Containers

Nothing compares to the garden-fresh flavors of sun-ripened produce. But you don’t need a large yard to grow your own food crops. You can enjoy a healthy harvest from plants tucked into containers.

Arranged on a patio, deck or rooftop, pots of edible crops can furnish family meals with luscious flavors. Get started by understanding the basics of growing edible plants in containers.

Sun

Sunlight is crucial for a harvest. How much sun is enough?

  • For plants that produce fruit (pepper, tomato, bean): at least 6 hours of sunlight daily
  • For plants that yield leaves (cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli) and roots (potato, turnip): at least 4 hours of sunlight daily, but you’ll experience less harvest than if plants received more sun
  • For salad greens and seasonings (lettuce, spinach, parsley): at least 4 hours of sunlight daily or bright, indirect sunlight all day, like that found in open shade

Plants

Improve your success by choosing plants based on mature size. Plants with words like “patio,” “pixie” or “tiny” in their names typically have smaller statures and thrive in pots.

Bush types of vining crops, such as squash, cucumber or beans, grow to a smaller size suited for containers. Dwarf plants produce full-size fruit on small plants; midget selections yield small fruit on small plants.

Containers

Grow crops in any type of container, including wood, terra cotta, plastic and concrete. Unglazed terra cotta pots are porous, which makes it difficult to maintain soil moisture. Wooden containers eventually rot; concrete is heavy. Choose containers based on your budget and goals.

The size pot you need depends on the crops you’re growing.

Crop Pot Size
Tomatoes and deep-rooted crops 15-gallon capacity for full-size tomatoes; 5-gallon for patio or dwarf types
Broccoli, cucumbers, peas, peppers, pole beans, squash 15 to 18 inches deep
Patio tomatoes, small-fruited chili peppers, strawberries, herbs 10 to 15 inches deep
Bush beans 10 to 15 inches deep, and wide enough to allow 3-inch spacing between plants
Leaf lettuce, mesclun, green onion, radish, chives, dwarf cherry tomato 6 to 10 inches deep
Carrots Need soil at least 2 inches deeper than mature root length

Drainage

Every container needs drainage holes. If none are present, drill them yourself. Use a spade bit for wood or plastic, a masonry bit for concrete or clay, or a step bit for metal.

Soil

Use a quality bagged mix – not soil from your garden. These soilless mixes frequently contain a blend of peat moss, compost, sand, perlite or vermiculite, and coir (coconut) fiber. It’s OK to add a spade of finished homegrown compost to each container.

Water

Locate containers near a water source. As summer heats up and plants mature, you’ll be watering pots daily – sometimes twice daily. A drip irrigation system makes watering easy. Add water-holding crystals to soil to improve water-holding capacity.

Place containers where runoff from pots won’t cause problems. Use saucers to catch runoff, but don’t let pots sit in water overnight.

Fertilizer

All edible crops benefit from regular feeding throughout the growing season. Apply fertilizer according to label instructions.

Discover more about edible container gardening in our articles about growing peppers and tomatoes in pots and growing blueberries in containers.