Easy Container Vegetables And How to Grow Them

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Lettuce, Spinach and Other Leafy Greens

Use a wide, shallow container 6-8 inches deep or a 5-gallon window box. Plant in spring and fall (Feb/Mar and Aug/Sept). Replant every 2-3 weeks for continuous harvest. Start plants from seed or set out transplants and space at 4-6 inches to harvest as baby leafy greens. Harvest individual leaves (remove up to 1/3 of the leaves at a time, choosing the outermost leaves) or wait until the plants are 4-6 inches tall and cut down to 1 inch above the soil surface. Make sure you do not damage the growing point in the center of the crown. Plants will regrow and can be harvested this way several times. These plants will tolerate (and benefit from) more shade during the hot months. Remove plants when they start to bolt.

Any leaf lettuce variety including Salad Bowl and Ruby can be grown in this manner. Head lettuces can be treated the same way but harvested as leaf lettuce for best productivity. Look for bolt resistant varieties of spinach. Flat leaf varieties are easier to clean than savoy varieties. Kale and chard can be treated the same way but give slightly wider spacing.

Carrots and Radishes

Root vegetables like carrots and radishes grow well in containers. Containers should be 1.5 times deeper than the mature length of the root. For a carrot that will be 8 inches long at maturity, choose a container that is 12 inches deep. Look for dwarf varieties such as ‘Thumbelina’ or ‘Short ‘n Sweet’ carrots. They will mature more quickly and not require as deep a container. Direct seed plants in spring and fall (Feb/Mar and (Aug/Sept). Replant every 2-3 weeks for continuous harvest. Space plants at 2-4 inches depending on the variety. Plants grown too closely together will not develop wide roots. Harvest when roots start to swell and before plants start to bolt.

Beans and Peas

Direct seed beans and peas in long containers at least 6-8 inches deep. 5-gallon window boxes are a good option. Plant garden peas, sugar snap and snow peas in early spring and late fall (Feb/Mar and Aug/Sept). Sow beans after the last the frost (mid-April). Pick every 1-2 days to maintain productivity. Look for bush or dwarf varieties for planting. Plant snap beans at 4-6 inch spacing and garden peas at 2-4 inch spacing. Use a trellis for support if needed.

Cucumbers, Yellow Squash and Zucchini

Plant out after last frost, mid to late April. Direct seed or set out transplants in containers that are at least 3 gallons in size. You can plant 3 plants or a hill in 15 gallon containers or larger. Choose bush varieties rather than vining when possible. Provide a trellis for support of cucumber vines. Squash bugs and squash vine borers are a challenge. Control squash bugs by placing boards on surface of soil, capture and kill adults. Remove brassy eggs from leaves. Use row covers or preventive sprays to control squash vine borers from mid-May through June.

Tomatoes, Peppers, Eggplant

Tomatoes, peppers and eggplant grow well in containers. See chart below for container sizing and plant out dates. Set out as transplants. Providing consistent water is important for reducing blossom end rot on tomatoes and peppers.

Vegetable Container Varieties Timing Recommendations
Tomato 5-gallon minimum Look for varieties labeled dwarf, patio or determinant; cherry and smaller fruited varieties easier to grow than larger fruited varieties Plant out when night temperatures are above 50, mid-April Use a cage or stake to support
Pepper 3-gallon minimum Most varieties will grow well but long, thin peppers are easier to grow than large bell-type Plant out slightly after tomatoes, mid to late- April May benefit from caging or staking
Eggplant 3-gallon minimum Japanese varieties do particularly well including Ichiban, Hansel and Gretel Plant out in May May benefit from caging or staking; watch out for flea beetles – use floating row covers for small plants

Cabbage, Broccoli, Cauliflower

Plant in early spring or fall (Feb/Mar and Aug/Sept). Set out transplants for best success. Plant 1 plant in a 5-gallon pot or 3 plants in a 15-gallon tub. Caterpillars are a big challenge. Cover plants with floating row covers or spray Bt or spinosad to control small caterpillars.

Irish Potatoes

Grow well in large deep containers – 12 inches deep at a minimum but 18-24 inches deep is even better. Plant in February or March. Put 4-6 inches of potting mix in the bottom of the container and place seed potatoes on top, spacing 8-10 inches apart. The size of the container will determine how many seed potatoes fit. Cover seed potatoes with 6 inches of potting mix. As vegetation emerges, protect it from frost. When shoots are 6 inches long, add additional potting mix to cover the bottom half of the stems. Continue this process until the container is full. Potatoes are ready to harvest after the plants have flowered and the tops of the plants start to die back. Turn the containers out to harvest the tubers formed along the covered section of stem.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes can be grown in large containers such as 25-gallon containers or half wine casks. Sweet potatoes like it hot so plant them in mid-May to the beginning of June. Fill the containers with potting soil and space sweet potato slips 10-12 inches apart on all sides. 5-6 slips will fit in a 25-gallon container. Keep well watered until slips root well. Look for bunching varieties. Pinch the vines to encourage them to grow bushier rather than leggier. Harvest before the last frost and cure tubers by placing them in a warm dry location for at least 3 weeks prior to cooking.

Check out our In The Garden Now videos on our Facebook page, Gardening In Onslow County, for more tips and tricks on gardening!