Container Gardening for Vegetables - U of I Extension

News Release

Container Gardening for Vegetables

This article was originally published on April 14, 2010 and expired on July 31, 2010. It is provided here for archival purposes and may contain dated information.

The number of people who tried vegetable gardening for the first time increased dramatically last summer and is expected to increase again this summer, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

"Unfortunately, many people don't have room for a garden or they rent and can't change the landscape and some people only have an apartment balcony to work with," explained Jeff Rugg. "Fortunately, there is a solution for all of these people. They can plant a garden in containers.

"Container gardens are easy and productive. Instead of filling all your large flower pots with geraniums and other annuals, plant a few with a different kind of ornamental. The vegetables most people like are the ones that grow the easiest in pots."

Many varieties of tomatoes will grow in a patio container. Look for ones that say 'determinate' on the label as they maintain a shorter size. A tomato cage can be place in a large pot or around a smaller one to help hold the tomato up.

"Try red, purple or yellow bell peppers or one of the white or purple eggplants," he recommended. "Just as easy are hot peppers, onions, lettuce, bush beans or bush cucumber.

"Vines like some of the cucumbers, peas, squash or melons might need a support, can be used in a hanging basket, or they can just be left to sprawl on the patio."

Any wood, plastic, metal, clay, ceramic container or basket will work as a container, he noted.

"The larger the pot the better, but many of the dwarf or compact vegetables can grow in an 18 inch tall pot," he said. "Make sure the pot has a drainage hole, fill it with good soil, place it where it can get lots of sun and finally, keep it watered. It will reward you with fresh produce all summer long.

"The more sun the better and that might mean more watering."

To keep the pots light, look for a potting soil that is soil-less. It will be a light weight blend of peat moss, perlite, vermiculite, tree bark, compost and other ingredients. It might also have fertilizer and moisture holding granules. Soil-less mixes are almost sterile and have few weed seeds, insects or disease spores. Each year, you will need to replace one third to one half the mix with new soil to keep it fresh.

"When potting up the plants, install them so that the roots are at the same level in the new pot as the old pot," he said. "Except for tomatoes that can have the bottom pair or two of leaves removed and the stem buried.

"Plant seeds according to the package instructions. When filling the pot with soil, leave the top inch or two of pot exposed, so that the pot can be watered and not overflow. Never add gravel in the bottom of the pot. Just cover the drain hole with a small piece of paper or cloth."

A large pot might still be too heavy. Fill the bottom one third with empty milk jugs, packing peanuts or other filler. Cover the filler with a cloth and then add the soil. There should still be at least six inches of soil for the roots.

"A product that works as the barrier and eliminates the need for filler materials is an 'Ups A Daisy' planter insert," Rugg explained. "It comes in various diameters and drops right into the pot. It is reusable and I love the ones I have. They have small holes for drainage and large ones to stick your finger into to lift them out of the pot."

Another easy way to grow vegetables in a very small space is to grow them in an EarthBox®. Filling the reservoir allows the plants to self water until you fill it again, making watering much easier. Water is not wasted as it is in regular garden plots.

The EarthBox® can be moved into the sunny spots of the yard and a trellis can be installed, so tall plants and vines can grow. It uses a sterile soil mix for no weeds and the fertilizer is installed at the beginning of the season using either regular fertilizer or the new organic version.

"One box can handle two larger plants like tomatoes or four smaller plants like bush beans," he said. "You will get more out of this three square foot garden than any other method of gardening. Your local garden center probably has them in stock, but if not, check out"

Source: Jeff Rugg, Unit Educator, Horticulture/IPM,

Pull date: July 31, 2010