Container vegetable gardening is similar in many ways to in-ground gardening, but there are some important differences you need to be aware of before you start planting lots of vegetables in containers. Some of these differences are advantages, and others are disadvantages.
Obviously, there’s a lot less space in containers than there is in the ground. This means that a container is not the ideal place for growing a full-sized apple tree or prizewinning pumpkin! Fortunately there are dwarf varieties of both pumpkins and many fruit trees that can be kept in large containers.
Containers need a potting mix that is quite different from the soil in your garden. If you use garden soil in your container it tends to get compacted and the plants won’t grow well. It is possible to make potting soil, but most people buy it. It’s easy to find at garden centers, and you may also be able to find potting soil at supermarkets and hardware stores, especially in the spring.
If you want to make potting mix yourself, one time-tested recipe consist of 2 parts coir, peat or leaf mold, 3 parts finished compost, and 2 parts perlite or vermiculite. If you don’t have easy access to a compost pile and decayed leaves, you will probably find yourself buying potting mix. If you do plan to mix your own for large containers, check your local farm & feed store for ingredients like vermiculite or perlite in large sacks – it’s much cheaper than buying the small bags at the garden center.
Containers tend to dry out more quickly than in-ground gardens. The smaller the container, the faster it dries out. This means you’ll have to water more often, and it is one of the biggest annoyances of container gardening. It also means that you’re probably better off with fewer larger containers than many tiny ones. You’ll have to water less often, and watering fewer large containers is also often less time-consuming each time you water, too.
There is a way to get round the need to water frequently. This is to use self-watering containers. These containers include a water reservoir in the bottom. Because of this, they take much longer to dry out then a regular container of the same size. You can buy self- watering containers, or you can make them yourself. Self-watering containers are more expensive to buy than a regular container the same size, but you may well find the convenience aspect to be worth the price. This is especially true if you want to be able to go away for a weekend during the summer without having to find someone to water your vegetables for you.
What to grow
Because it is easier and cheaper to find smaller containers than really large ones, smaller vegetable plants are the ones most commonly grown in containers. Dwarf or bush varieties of vining plants like peas, beans, tomatoes, or cucumbers are often created with containers specifically in mind.
Large vining plants like squash and melons are probably the most unsuitable vegetables for container gardening, although there are some small varieties that may be suitable for large containers. If you train the vines onto a trellis or other vertical structure, the plants will grow upwards rather than along the ground and take up less space. This may make growing these plants possible in spaces that are otherwise too small.
That said, if you have a large enough container you can grow almost anything in it. This includes dwarf fruit trees, squash and melons.