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Growing Vegetables in Containers

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Many vegetables will grow very well in containers. You may not be able to grow as much as you might in a vegetable garden, but container vegetable gardening can be quite productive. There are a few special considerations when growing vegetable plants in pots, but they are by no means deterrents.

Although any variety can be grown in a container, compact plants do best. Seed companies realize that homeowners have less and less space to devote to vegetable gardens and every year they come out with new vegetable plant varieties suitable for growing in small spaces. Be on the look out for key words like: bush, compact, and space saver. Here are some tips, including vegetable plant varieties, to get your vegetable container garden growing.

1. Beans (Snap Beans)

Photo: © Marie Iannotti
  • Growing Tips: Pole beans are a great choice for containers. They grow up, instead of out, and they continue producing beans for a couple of months. They will require some type of support, to climb on, since vines can reach 8+ feet tall. The support can be as functional or decorative as you like. You can even use pole beans as a privacy wall or curtain.

    Harvest frequently, so keep the beans coming. Even the pretty flowers are edible. You can start seeds in late spring and start a second batch in mid-summer to keep harvesting beans well into fall.

    Bush beans aren't as productive as pole beans, but they start producing earlier and you can succession plant throughout the summer. Either type will need regular water, perhaps daily in hot weather. They will drop their flowers if the soil remains dry.

  • Minimum Container Size: 8 inches deep. Any diameter is fine, but it will determine how many plants you can include.

  • Spacing: Bush - 3 - 6 inches. Pole - 5 - 6 inches.

  • Approximate Yield: Bush - 20 - 50. Pole - 50+

  • Recommended Varieties: Bush - 'Contender', 'Triumph de Farcy'. Pole - 'Blue Lake', 'Kentucky Wonder', 'Lazy Housewife'p>

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2. Carrots

Photo: © Marie Iannotti
  • Growing Tips: Long carrots require 2 months or longer to mature and tending to a container of carrots can be tedious. However two options can make it easier: 1) Seed a few carrots with potted flowers. The ferny foliage is attractive and you will be pulling the carrots before the roots of the flowers take over the pot. and 2) choose a fast growing round or baby carrot, like 'Babette' or 'Paris market'.

    Carrots grow best and sweetest in the cool temperatures of spring and fall. The seedlings will need to be thinned to 1 - 3 inches apart,once they are about 1 inch tall, but other than that, the only thing you'll need to do is make sure they get a regular weekly watering. The roots will toughen and crack if they are left to dry out.

  • Minimum Container Size: 8 - 12 inches deep

  • Spacing: 2 - 3 inches

  • Approximate Yield: Depends on diameter of container. 1 carrot per plant.

  • Recommended Varieties: 'Babette', 'Parisian Market', 'Thumbelina','Scarlet Nantes'

    With a deep enough pot, you can grow any type of carrot, but the shorter varieties will mature more quickly and can be succession planted sooner.

3. Cucumbers

Photo: © Marie Iannotti
  • Growing Tips: Cucumbers that grow in a clump, rather than a long, sprawling vine, are considered bush varieties. They can still spread out several feet, but they should not require trellising and grow well in large, wide containers or even hanging baskets. Bush cucumbers tend to start producing earlier than most vining varieties.

    Vining varieties do best when trellised. The pots can get very top heavy. To keep them from tipping over, a larger container is recommended for vining cucumbers.

    The leaves of all cucumbers can be very susceptible to fungus disease, so whichever type you choose, make sure the plants have good air circulation.

  • Minimum Container Size: 10 inches deep. Bush variety - 1 gallon. Vine variety - 3 gallons.

  • Spacing: 12 - 15 inches

  • Approximate Yield: Bush - 10 per plant. Vine - 12-15 per plant.

  • Recommended Varieties: Bush - 'Bush Pickle', 'Salad Bush Hybrid', 'Spacemaster'. Vine - 'Crystal Apple', 'Lemon', Kirby varieties

4. Eggplant

Photo: © Marie Iannotti
  • Growing Tips: Growing eggplant in containers offers several advantages. Eggplants require warm temperatures, even at night, and planting in a dark container will concentrate and hold heat. You can also move the container to wherever the sun is or place it on a hard surface that radiates heat. Another big plus is that growing them in containers helps to control some common pests, like wire worms.

    Once the plants start bearing fruits, they will get top heavy. Some staking may be required, to prevent the branches from drooping. They can also tip over, if the diameter of the container is not large enough to balance them.

    The slender varieties tend to produce more fruits and can be picked while young, short and tender. Some of the newer varieties, like 'Hanzel' and 'Little Fingers', are ready to harvest at 3 inches and they grow in cluster, so they produce more fruits.

  • Minimum Container Size: 4 - 5 gallons, at least 8 inches deep.

  • Spacing: 1 plant per container

  • Approximate Yield: Slender varieties - 10 - 12. Larger varieties - 4 - 8.b

  • Recommended Varieties: Slender - 'Bambino', 'Hanzel', 'Little Fingers', 'Ping Tung' . Classic - 'Black Beauty', 'Rosa Bianca'.

5. Green Onions

Photo: © Marie Iannotti
  • Growing Tips: Full sized onions not only take up space, they also require a long time in the ground. Green or bunching onions can be slipped into pots with other vegetables or grown on their own. Either way, you can snip what you need and leave the plants to grow more leaves.

    To grow green or bunching onions to full size, you will need to thin the plants to 2 - 3 inches apart, but you can eat all the plants you thin out. And even though they are not forming large bulbs, they still need plenty of water. The soil can be kept consistently moist, but not dripping wet. Start your first plants in early spring and keep succession planting into summer.

  • Minimum Container Size: 6 inches deep.

  • Spacing: 2 - 3 inches.

  • Approximate Yield: You can harvest green leaves and leave the whole plant or slice off the entire plant.

  • Recommended Varieties: 'Beltsville Bunching', 'Crysal Wax', 'Evergreen Bunching'.

6. Lettuce

Photo: © Marie Iannotti
  • Growing Tips: Lettuce loves containers. You can move it into sun or shade, as needed, lift it away from pests and animals and keep it handy for cutting. If you grow loose leaf varieties and cut only the outer leaves, the plants will continue to grow for months. However sooner or later they will tire out, so keep planting seed every 3--4 weeks for a succession of harvests.

    Lettuce does best in cool weather, but containers can be moved to a shady location and grown all summer or moved to a protected location and grown into late fall and winter. Water is essential to keep lettuce happy. Lack of water will cause lettuce plants to bolt.

  • Minimum Container Size: 6 inches deep and any width or diameter.

  • Spacing: Leaf lettuce seed can be seeded closely and thinned - and eaten - as you like. if you would like your plants to form heads, thin to 8 inches between plants.

  • Approximate Yield: 20+ leaves or 1 head.

  • Recommended Varieties: 'Buttercrunch', red or green 'Salad Bowl' and any variety bibb.

7. Peppers

Photo: © Marie Iannotti
  • Growing Tips: Peppers are actually tropical perennial plants and if you bring your potted pepper plants indoors for the winter, they will continue setting fruits. Of course you can simply enjoy them outdoors, during the summer months. Both sweet and hot peppers are good candidates for containers. Hot peppers tend to be smaller and more prolific, but both types will enjoy the extra heat a container can provide and both make nice ornamental plants, if you choose to keep them on a patio. Large peppers will require staking.
  • Minimum Container Size: 8 inches deep, 2 - 4 gallons per plant.

  • Spacing: 1 plant per pot.

  • Approximate Yield: Varies greatly by variety. Leaving the peppers on the plant until they reach their mature color will also result in a lower yield than if you picked them while green.

  • Recommended Varieties: Sweet Peppers - 'Cubanelle' 'Gypsy', 'Jimmy Nardello', 'Marconi', 'Sweet Banana'. Hot peppers - 'Cayenne', 'Fatalli' 'Hot Cherry', 'Jalapeno', 'Robustini'

More on Hot Chile Peppers

8. Radishes

Photo: © Marie Iannotti
  • Growing Tips: Radishes are best when they grow quickly and growing them in containers will provide the cool, damp conditions they love. You could even plant radishes and carrots together, the way it is often done in the garden. The radishes grow quickly and loosen the soil, so the carrots have room to expand, when the radishes are pulled. This is a nice way to introduce kids to gardening - the radishes are ready before their interest has wandered and the small sweet carrots are the ultimate treat.

    Radishes prefer cool weather and moist soil. Move your containers to a shady spot and keep it well watered, if you want to continue growing radishes throughout the summer.

  • Minimum Container Size: 4 - 6 inches deep

  • Spacing: 1 - 3 inches, depending on mature size of the radish variety.

  • Approximate Yield: 1 radish per plant.

  • Recommended Varieties: 'Cherry Belle', 'Cincinnati Market', 'Scarlet Globe', White Icicle'

Avoiding Radish Problems

9. Summer Squash

Photo: © Marie Iannotti
  • Growing Tips: As with cucumbers, squash plants can be either "bush" varieties or long vines. You can grow either in a container, but bush varieties make the better choice, remaining much more compact. there are many zucchini and crook neck squash varieties to choose from.

    One problem with growing squash in containers is that you need male and female flowers for pollination and 1 plant limits the number of flowers at any given time. But you'll still get a decent yield. Be sure to harvest while the squash are small and they'll keep producing.

  • Minimum Container Size: 10 inches deep. The larger the better.

  • Spacing: 1 plant per container

  • Approximate Yield: Varies greatly with variety, but at peak there can 4 or more squash per week.

  • Recommended Varieties: 'Gold Rush', 'Peter Pan', 'Ronde de Nice', 'Sundance'.

10. Tomatoes

Photo: © Marie Iannotti
  • Growing Tips: Growing a full size tomato plant in a container will require a large pot, a strong stake or cage and lots of water - but it can be done. If you have a favorite variety of tomato, go ahead and try it. Just don't skimp on the container. Crowding it will diminish the yield and can stress the plant, leading to disease problems. A whiskey barrel-sized container would work well for beefsteak tomatoes. You could even underplant it with lettuce, basil or a few flowers.

    If you just want a handy snack, the patio cherry tomatoes are perfect for you and there are dozens to choose from. They can be staked and grown upright or in hanging baskets.

  • Minimum Container Size: 12 inches deep for cherry tomatoes, 18 inches for full-sized plants.

  • Spacing: 1 plant per plant.

  • Approximate Yield: Varies greatly with variety.

  • Recommended Varieties: Patio Cherry - 'Small Fry', 'Tiny Tim', 'Tumbling Tom'

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