Vegetable Container Gardening
Learn the best plants and techniques for growing vegetables in pots
How to Plant
You can choose to start your vegetables from seed or buy transplants. For the most part, I start mine from seed as some veggies do not have a long growing season or they prefer not to be transplanted. Lettuce, spinach, radish, onions, peas, beats, carrots and beans are all very easy to start from seed. Most herbs are also very easy to start from seed.
Tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers have a little longer growing season and can be difficult to start from seed, so I like to buy transplants to add to my containers.
Consider companion planting with your vegetables and herbs to enhance flavor and to deter pests. Check out my article on companion planting for more information. You may also want to practice succession planting, meaning, plant one container and then plant another one of the same thing a week or two later so that they are not all ready to harvest all at the same time.
I prefer to pre-moisten my potting soil before adding it to my containers, especially if the mix is heavy in peat moss. Peat moss can be difficult to hydrate so it could take some time. One way is to add warm water to the potting mix as the peat moss absorbs warm water faster than cold water. Either way stirring the water into the potting mix will help it to absorb faster. Add water until the soil begins to stick together when you squeeze it in your hand.
Depending on your growing zone, you can plant cool season crops about 4-6 weeks before your last frost date and then plant your warm season crops when night-time temperatures are consistently in the mid 50s.
Put your potting soil in a wheel barrow or some other large flat container so it is easy to mix. Add water as directed above. Fill the containers approximately halfway with potting mix then add your plants if you are using transplants, then continue filling with soil. Keep the root ball of the plant at the same depth it was growing in the original container. Check the roots and see if they are root bound and wrapping around each other. If so, gently loosen the roots before planting. If sowing seeds, fill the containers all the way, leaving 1" or so of space at the top to allow for watering later, and plant your seeds according to the package instructions.
Most vegetables and herbs require full sun to grow and fruit well. Full sun is generally defined as six hours or more a day of direct sun. Most plants benefit from a few hours of shade during the hottest part of the day. But in general, give them as much sun as you can.
Watering and Fertilizing
Watering may need to be done everyday, especially when the heat of summer kicks in. I check my containers every morning and again in the later afternoon by either sticking my finger into the soil to see if it's dry or by simply lifting the pot to feel how heavy it is. A very lightweight container indicates that it needs watering. Always water the plant until water comes out of the bottom of the container. If the container has a saucer on the bottom, allow the water to drain into the saucer and then dump out the water. Never allow your plants to sit in water. If you are using self watering containers, fill the reservoir with water as needed. In extremely hot conditions, I have also had to water them from the top. You can do what's best for you and most come with instructions from the manufacturer.
If it has rained, don't assume that your plants don't need watering. It's still important to check the pots because for some reason, when it rains, the pots never seem to get watered as much as you think they will.
If you have used the proper amount of organic fertilizer in your mix and have included compost and manure you should not have to fertilize very often. Herbs prefer a leaner soil anyway and many plants won't form fruit and vegetables if there is too much nitrogen present, so I wouldn't fertilize too much during the growing season as it's just not necessary.
About halfway through the growing season, I will fertilize with compost tea about twice a month. If you have been getting a lot of rain, you may need to fertilize more often as the nutrients may be washed out of the soil more quickly.