Container Vegetable Gardening

For homeowners who want to grow vegetables but have limited space, container gardening may be the answer. This year why not pot up some peppers and tomatoes? They are colorful, they can be placed on decks and patios where gardens could not normally exist and you can eat them or parts of them at least. Having a fresh source of vegetables at your backdoor also makes this idea promising.

There are of course a few guidelines to follow when you start vegetable container gardening. Selection of a container should be based on the weight, cost and how often you are willing to water. These are all related concerns since the bigger the container the more it will weigh and cost but the less you will have to water. Not all containers have to be expensive. Even a 5 gallon bucket with holes drilled in the bottom will be sufficient for a pepper plant and a 2 inch baking pan can be used for lettuce. Vegetables do require a minimum root zone to produce. The list of vegetables further down will describe how much is needed for certain plants.

Do remember that all containers need drainage holes.
Bags of potting mix or soilless mix is preferred over garden soil, since garden soil may contain a large percentage of clay which dries out quickly and hardens. Garden soil also contains more weed seeds than potting mixes. When filling your container, place a piece of landscape fabric over the holes to retain the soil but allow the water to drain. Mix a timed-release fertilizer into your soil mix as you add it to the container. Throughout the season you will need to fertilize with a soluble fertilizer to keep your vegetables performing at their maximum.

Water is the most important concern to container gardening. Containers placed on concrete slabs in full sun will dry out quickly. You may need to water every day. Using plant stands that allow for airflow between the container and concrete surface can reduce the drying heat. If a plant becomes too dry, small feeder roots are destroyed and plants will wilt. After watering, the plant has to spend more time making new feeder roots which means less time is put into vegetable production and fruits may be stunted. Using a light mulch of pine straw or shredded bark on the container surface can also reduce moisture problems.

It is important that you discard the entire contents of each pot at the end of the growing season. Do not reuse the soil mix or compost the soil, since vegetables will tend to develop diseases and problems that can be carried to new plants. Scrub each container with a 10 percent chlorine bleach solution to eliminate any remaining bacteria or fungi.

Many vegetables grown in gardens may also be grown in containers. The limiting factor is growing space. The list below is not a complete list but should give you some idea when pairing vegetables to container size.


Beans, Lima (Bush Baby, Bush Lima, Fordhook) – 12” wide by 8” deep

Beans, Snap (Tendercrop, Blue Lake, Stringless) – 8” wide by 8” deep

Cabbage (Baby Head, Dwarf Morden, Fast Ball) – 10” wide by 12” deep

Carrots (Gold Nugget, Thumbelina, Baby Spike) – 10” wide by 10” deep

Corn (Golden Bantam, Kandy Korn) – 21” wide by 8” deep (3 plants to container)

Cucumber (Pickalot, Burpee Hybrid II, Spacemaster) -20” wide by 16” deep

Lettuce (Salad Bowl, Tom Thumb, Little Gem) – 8” wide by 8” deep

Peas (Little Marvel, Sugar Mel, Sugar Rae) – 12” deep

Peppers (any variety) – 16” deep

Summer Squash (Crookneck, Peter Pan, Straightneck) – 24” deep

Tomatoes (Patio VF, Pixie, Yellow Pear, Rutgers, Tiny Tim, Red Cherry) – Dwarf 12” deep; Standard 24” deep


Kelly Jackson

University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service – Christian County

Extension Agent for Horticulture

ISA Certified Arborist