Growing your own vegetables is not only a fun and rewarding pastime, but it provides you with a crop of tasty, fresh, chemical-free produce for your kitchen. But if you don’t have a large garden or an allotment on hand, never fear. Most varieties can be grown in containers, so even if you only have a window box or a small patio area at your disposal, growing your own is still an option. Pots and containers are great because they allow flexibility, you have control over the soil type, and they can look great on a balcony, patio, or placed in a border on a plinth. So read our guide and find out how to grow vegetables in containers.
Choose your containers
Any garden centre should have a good variety of pots and planters to choose from. However, any container with some drainage and an opening can be used to grow plants. Barrels, recycled buckets, washing up bowls, dustbins, and even an old pair of boots can be used with success. Hanging baskets and window boxes can also be a great option for smaller vegetable plants and herbs.
The important thing is to make sure there will be enough space for the plant to grow. The size required will depend on the variety of vegetable, but most will need a pot with a depth and diameter of at least 45cm (18in), however smaller varieties such as spinach and lettuce can be grown in smaller containers.
You must also make sure your container has a drainage hole. If it does not already have one, drill a hole (or many) at least half an inch wide into the bottom. If your pots are kept inside or on a balcony, place a tray underneath to catch the drips.
A good, peat-free potting compost should be sufficient to grow your vegetables. However, you could also mix in leafmould, garden compost, and horticultural grit to ensure drainage. Do not use soil from previous crops as this can spread infections. Fill the containers up to one or two inches below the rim. You can also supplement with a weekly liquid feed, but do not make the mixture richer or add in too much at once. Broken pieces of pot, pebbles, or polystyrene chips can be added into the bottom or larger pots to prevent compost falling through the drainage holes.
Plant your vegetables
There are three methods of growing your own vegetables in containers. More hardy varieties such as beans, beetroot, carrots, and radishes can be sown directly into an outdoor container. Sow the seeds as directed on the packet, however not all the seeds will germinate, so you can plant more than you need, then thin once the seedlings have two pairs of leaves. Shop our vegetable seed collection for a variety of quality produce.
Half-hardy or tender vegetables such as cauliflower, lettuce, aubergine, peppers, and tomatoes need to be planted indoors. Try your kitchen windowsill, or your greenhouse if you have one. You can use a seed tray, small pots, or recycled yoghurt pots filled with compost to grow the seedings, then transport outside to larger containers in early summer. Sow according to the packet instructions, then thin once the seedings have two pairs of leaves.
You can also purchase vegetable plug plants from a garden centre. Dig out a space in the container soil, then set in in the plants at the same level as they were growing in the pot they came in, apart from tomato plants where you can remove the lower leaves and plant them deeper into the soil.
Once you have planted your seeds or plug plants, water gently but thoroughly, then water every few days to get your seedlings established. However, if you are using small pots indoors, take care not to overwater as the soil can turn mouldy.
After the seedlings are established, give them a good watering once a week. Watering thoroughly once a week is better than a light watering every day, as light watering does not penetrate the soil deeply which encourages roots to grow to the surface where they can dry out.
If you are often away, an irrigation system can be a great way to make sure your plants stay hydrated. These have individual lines going into each container from a ring hose, and drip water slowly around the roots of each plant to avoid evaporation or splashing.
Watch out for pests and disease
Plants grown in a container can be more vulnerable to pests and diseases. Take care not to overfeed, as this can produce a lush growth that is a magnet for aphids, slugs, and snails. Make sure to remove any weeds as they appear, and watch out for signs of insects or damage from disease, and remove or treat. Beer traps, copper tape or a pesticide can deter unwanted pests. Check out our guide to natural slug repellants.
Start harvesting your crops as soon as they reach a size where you can eat them. Most vegetable plants are most productive when you harvest early and often, and letting plants “go to seed” can cause a drop in yields.
Now for the fun part- enjoy the fruits of your labour! Cook up a feast in the kitchen, or perhaps gift produce to your friends or neighbours. Often, home-grown vegetables are tastier than their supermarket counterparts as the soil tends to have more nutrients and they are not genetically modified for a longer shelf life. So enjoy the bounty of your efforts and spread the word about the joy of home-growing!