If you’re short on space or just want to start small, you may want to try container gardening! Check out our list of 10 easy vegetables to grow in pots.
I started gardening by growing in hanging baskets and pots on a west-facing apartment patio that got plenty of sun. And even there, I was able to get a bountiful harvest—and you can too! Container gardening can be a great choice if you don’t have a lot of space, live in a rental where you can’t set up a permanent garden, or just want to try your hand at gardening for the first time without a long-term commitment.
Container gardening basics
Container size is vital!
You’ll want to make sure that the plants have plenty of room to grow their roots, and that there is enough soil to hold moisture so you aren’t constantly watering. Generally, the depth of the pot is more important than the width. Deeper containers give the roots more room to spread, and the water won’t leave the soil as quickly.
Anything you can drill drainage holes in can be a plant pot! We’ve used old wheelbarrows, galvanized buckets, hanging baskets, whiskey barrels, and so much more.
Before you start filling any containers and pots, figure out where you going to put them. Most vegetables grow best in full sun, which means 6-8 hours of sunlight a day. However, there are a few on our list that can handle partial shade (looking at you, lettuce and kale). But usually, a sunnier spot is a better gardening spot.
Can I use soil from my garden instead of potting soil?
Sorry, but no. Soil right out of the ground is going to be too heavy and dense for growing in containers. Potting soil should be lighter and airier than what’s on the ground so that air and water can move through the soil and allow the roots to “breathe.”
Whatever potting mix you choose, we recommend mixing in some compost before planting to boost the nutrients for your plants.
Choose smaller varieties
There are lots of easy vegetables to grow in pots if you pick the right varieties! Pole beans may be a little unwieldy for a container, but bush beans will grow well. There are bush cucumber varieties that won’t have as much sprawl. There are miniature or dwarf varieties of so many vegetables that are easier to grow in containers than their larger traditional counterparts. Read the seed catalogs and check the seed packets to find what will work best in your space!
Watering your container vegetable garden
One of the main drawbacks of container gardening is that the soil dries out way more quickly than it does in in-ground or raised bed growing. You’ll need to water more often—on the hottest, sunniest days, you may even need to water multiple times a day. If you stick a finger in the soil and it feels dry, or if the plants look like they are starting to wilt, they need a good drink. In general, larger plants need more water, especially if they are putting out and developing fruit. We recommend watering either early in the morning or late in the evening.
If you don’t want to water that often, look into self-watering containers. They will provide your plants with a steady supply of water, and you’ll need to fill them up less often.
Just because vegetable plants need lots of water, doesn’t mean they want to be sitting in that water constantly! Make sure that any traditional containers (the non-self-watering kind) have good drainage holes to avoid root rot.
What are easy vegetables to grow in pots?
Ready to start some small space gardening? Excited to harvest your own salads straight from your balcony? Here are what we consider to be the ten best vegetables to grow in pots for beginners.
We are focusing solely on vegetables here, but don’t forget the herbs! Basil, cilantro, parsley, mint…pretty much any herb will do well in a pot!
Lettuce is the #1 vegetable we recommend for people new to growing vegetables. It is easy and quick to grow and can give you multiple harvests. All types of lettuce are suitable for container gardening, as long as you keep the soil consistently moist.
Radishes are the second easiest vegetables to grow, and supremely satisfying—some varieties can be harvested as quickly as three weeks after germination! Choose a container that is at least 6″ deep, and sow seeds every week or so for a continuous harvest.
Cherry or grape tomatoes will give you the most bang for your container garden buck, because they will have much higher yields than their slicer counterparts. Choose determinate varieties, which will stay more compact—many will also be labeled if they are good for container planting. Tomatoes need a 12″ deep container (or deeper) to thrive—and don’t forget the tomato cage or other support!
Direct sow spinach seeds early in the spring, and you’ll be harvesting spinach before half your vegetables can even get planted outside. If you want to grow baby spinach, the plants only need about three inches of space between them. Spinach enjoys full sunlight, but as summer heats up, the plants will appreciate some partial afternoon shade. The great thing about growing in containers is that if it turns out your spinach needs more shade, you can scoot the pot over and out of direct sunlight (providing your container isn’t giant and heavy).
Arugula can add a peppery flavor to your salads, and is just as easy to grow as lettuce. Give it some shade in the summer to slow bolting.
Green onions are easy to grow in pots because they really don’t need much space. They can be planted close together, and the container doesn’t have to be super deep—around 6″ will do. It is especially important to have plenty of drainage, as green onions will be unhappy with wet feet.
Kale is an easy vegetable to grow in pots at the far ends of the season—both in early spring, before the weather is warm enough for tomatoes and zucchini, and later in the fall when frost has killed off most of the vegetables. Like other leafy greens, kale doesn’t need a particularly deep container. It will also give you multiple harvests if you leave some baby leaves on the plant each time you harvest.
Compact or bush varieties of cucumbers can be grown in pots. You’ll want a container that is at least a foot deep to grow these veggies. A plastic or ceramic 5-gallon container is ideal because it will retain moisture well and give the roots plenty of space to grow. You will need a small trellis to support the vines—we like to use a tomato cage for this! Patio Snacker is one of our favorite cucumbers to grow in containers.
While you can technically grow both pole beans and bush beans in containers, bush beans are far easier because you won’t have to fuss with a trellis. Green beans have relatively shallow root systems, so as long as your pots are at least 6-7 inches deep, your bush beans should be just fine.
Look for compact bush varieties of zucchini or summer squash to grow in containers. Black Beauty, Eight Ball, and Lemon are all good choices. Even “compact” varieties of squash need plenty of space, so choose a pot that is at least a foot deep.