Vegetable Container Gardening

Vegetable Container Gardening

 Written by Rachel Cardinez, Extension Master Gardener in Guilford County

Container gardening can be a very fun and versatile way to grow a multitude of vegetative plants that would otherwise be impossible within your garden  due to varying soil conditions. There are several advantages to growing vegetables in pots. Containers allow you to customize your potting soils while regulating the water and light conditions for each plants optimum growth. Also plants in pots are less likely to be targeted by pests.


Many types of containers are suitable for growing plants. The main requirement is to insure that your pot has a drainage hole at the bottom. You can choose from plastic, terra-cotta, glazed, fiberglass, stone, wood, and metal. The appropriate size pot should be selected for the type of vegetable crop that will be grown. Most crops need a container that can hold at least 6”-8” of potting soil. Root crops like carrots, beets, and tomatoes, will require a deeper container. Please refer to the chart below on pot size and soil volume.

Pot Size

Soil Volume Held

4 inches

½ quart/ 2 cups

6 inches

1 ½ quart/ 6 cups

8 inches

6 quarts/ 1.5 gallons

10 inches

10 quarts/ 2.5 gallons

12 inches

14 quarts/ 3.5 gallons

14 inches

18 quarts/ 4.5 gallons

16 inches

22 quarts/ 5.5 gallons

20 inches

28 quarts/ 7 gallons

24 inches

36 quarts/ 9 gallons

30 inches

72 quarts/ 18 gallons

36 inches

96 quarts/ 24 gallons


Pot size in diameter

Plants per pot


Bean, Snap (Bush)

5-10 gal.



Beet (‘Detroit Dark Red, ‘Early Wonder’, Red Ace Hybrid’)

5 gal.



Broccoli (‘DeRapa’,

 ‘Green Comet F1 Hybrid’)

5 gal.



Bunching onions (‘Evergreen Bunching’)

5 gal.



Cabbage(‘Badger Market’, ‘Copenhangen Market ‘,’Golden Acre’)

10 gal.



Carrot(’Oxhear’t, ‘Short ‘n Sweet’, ‘Nante’s, Orbit’)

5-10 gal



Cauliflour (‘Early Snowball’,

 ‘Snow Crown’)

5 gal.



Celery (‘ Giant Pascal’,’Ventura’)

10 gal.



Chard, Swiss(‘Fordhook Giant’, ‘Rhubarb’, ‘Ruby’)

5-10 gal.



Cucumber (‘Burpee Hybrid II’, ‘Bush Champion’)

5-10 gal.



Eggplant (‘Jersey King’, ‘Dusky Hybrid’, ‘Asian Bride’)

10 gal.



Lettuce (‘Baby Bibb’,  ‘Red Sails’)

5-10 gal.



Okra (‘Blondy’, ‘Burgundy’)

5 gal.



Pea(BUSH:‘ Burpee Dwarf Blue Bantam’, ‘Dwarf Grey Sugar’)




Pepper Bell (‘Bell Boy,

’Purple Beauty’, )

3-5 gal.



Potato (‘Charlotte’, ‘Irish Cobbler’, ‘Kennebec’)

15-20 gal.



Radish(‘Cherry Bell’, ‘China Rose’)

2-10 gal.



Spinach (‘Amerca’, ‘Bloomsdale’, ‘Longstanding’)

10 gal.



Squash(‘Burpee Fordhook Zuchini’, ‘Sunburst Hybrid’)

10 gal.



Tomato(‘Early Girl’, ‘Beefsteak’, ‘Red Cherry’,’Tiny Tim’)

5-20 gal.



Potting Mixes

There are three main types of potting mixes (soil-based, soil-less and ericaceous mixes). Soil or loam-based mixes are great for long term plants such as fruit trees and bushes. These mixes hold moisture and nutrients at a greater rate. They are also heavier and tend to become dry and compacted. You will need to add some soil-less mix, perlite, or another material that will improve its drainage and compaction. Soil-less mixes are composed mainly of peat or peat substitutes. These types of mixes are suitable for fast growing plants like salad. Soil-less mixes hold nutrients and water well, less compacted, lightweight, sterile, and inexpensive. Ericaceous or lime free mixes are suitable for blueberries and cranberries that require acidic soils.

Plant Selection

Just about any vegetable that is grown in your backyard can be adapted to a container. When choosing plant varieties for containers select those that are designed as compact or dwarf (nana or compacta).This helps to insure that your plants will not quickly outgrow its container.


Vegetables in containers have a higher yield if the soil is kept evenly moist. When the weather is hot and dry you will need to water every day and some plants will require watering twice daily. Also plants that are in smaller containers tend to dry out quicker. Infrequent watering can stress plants and cause them to drop their fruits and leaves. Effective watering should be slow and thorough using a watering can. Water from all sides of the container to insure water reaches the roots and allow excess water to drain.  Water should be directed at the roots of the plants and not the foliage. Wet foliage encourages disease production. Using a drip emitter system and soaker hose can be effective for large plant collections.


Crops grown in containers will require more fertilizing than those grown in your garden. Most of your prepackaged potting mixes will provide plants with enough fertilizer for up to 3-4weeks. You will need to setup a regular fertilizing schedule. There are two types of fertilizers available, water soluble and time released. Slow or time released fertilizers are added at planting and should be well incorporated into the potting mix. Choose a fertilizer that is balanced in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, with a label number 10-10-10, 13-13-13, and 14-14-14. Plants can be treated with a water soluble fertilizer once a week in midseason when they start producing. You should look for a formula of 15-30-15 or 20-20-20.

Rachel Cardinez is an Extension Master Gardener Volunteer in the Guilford County program. She is an avid container gardener and loves to grow vegetables and ornamental plants.



Jauron, Richard. Container Vegetable Gardening

Dembowski Karen, Swanberg, Annette, Martin, Jane C.  Container Vegetable Gardening

Purnell, Bob. Crops in Pots. China:  Octopus Publishing Group Ltd., 2007. Print

Crandall Chuck, Crandall Barbara. Planters, Containers & Raised Beds A Gardeners Guide.New York: Sterling Publishing C., Inc.1996. Print

Written By

Karen NeillInterim County Extension Director & Ext. Agent, Agriculture - Urban Horticulture (336) 641-2400 Guilford County, North Carolina

Posted on Jun 4, 2013

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