Growing Vegetables in Containers

Vegetable gardening in containers is a great solution for those who would like to grow fresh vegetables but don’t have space for a full vegetable patch.

Selecting Containers

Suitable containers for vegetables include growbags, tubs, ornamental pots, troughs, window boxes and even hanging baskets.

Growbags, which are available from most garden centres, offer an excellent way to grow tomatoes, lettuces, courgettes, and beans, indeed, any crop with fibrous shallow roots. Radishes and short-rooted carrots can also be grown in them.

Old growbags can be rejuvenated by freshening up with the addition of extra compost.

Tubs make an ideal home for beetroot and carrots with deep roots. Ensure that drainage holes been drilled into the barrel’s base. Line it with coarse drainage material then add clean potting compost.

Window boxes are ideal for herbs, as well as lettuces and radishes. They also work very well for cut-and-come-again crops. Boxes in direct sunlight suit most Mediterranean-type herbs, but will be too hot for vegetables. The limited amount of compost in window boxes and troughs means that they must be regularly watered, or the compost will dry out and may become overheated.

Window boxes near kitchen windows are an obvious home for culinary herbs. Clay pots look good and are suitable for vegetables such as tomatoes, which ultimately have a large amount of leafy growth. The weight of the pot has a stabilising effect, helping to keep the plant upright.

Large plastic pots can also be used, but are not as stable for a tall, top-heavy plant. However, it is possible to grow tall plants if supporting canes are used, perhaps attached to fixed horizontal wires. Troughs, either supported on four legs or placed directly on the ground, are good for low-growing vegetables, as well as herbs.

Which Vegetables Should You Choose?

Salad crops and herbs are ideal for containers, you can also plant certain vegetables that are grown for their tasty roots or tubers.


Aubergines grow 60-90 cm high. Three plants can keep a family of four in aubergines from midsummer to late autumn. For success, plants need a long, hot summer and a sunny position sheltered from cold winds. Put two or three plants in a growbag or one in a large pot.

Either buy plants in early summer or sow seeds 3 mm deep at 18°C in mid spring. Reduce the temperature after germination, prick out seedlings when they are large enough to handle, harden them off and plant in containers when the risk of frost has passed.

Support plants in pots with canes, or in grow bags with proprietary supports that do not pierce the bag. Keep the compost moist and nip outgrowing tips when plants are 25 cm high. Water and feed plants regularly and harvest fruits when 10 to 20 cm long. Varieties to choose include ‘Black Enorma’ (heavy cropping), ‘Black Prince’ (early and heavy fruiting) and ‘Bonica’ (early and dark, shiny purple).

French Beans and Runner Beans

Both of these plants are well-suited to grow bags as well as large pots. The key to success is plenty of water(but not waterlogging), sun and regular feeding.

In late spring or early summer, so up to 12 seeds in a grow bag, pushing them 4-5 cm into the compost. Bush and dwarf runner types do not need support, but when growing climbing forms of runner or French beans, supports are essential.

Varieties to choose include ‘Hammond Dwarf Scarlet’ (dwarf runner, compact, heavy cropping, non-climbing), ‘Gulliver’ (dwarf runner, high yielding, self stopping, stringless, nonclimbing), ‘Kenyan Bean’ (dwarf french bean, stringless pods) and finally, ‘Purple Teepee’ (dwarf french bean, purple pods that green when cooked).


Beetroot is always a cell a welcome addition to a salad. Grow bags are usually too shallow; barrels filled with light soil are best. Choose small globe varieties such as ‘Monopoly’ (does not need thinning; flat, round shape), ‘Monogram’ (does not need thinning; rich red roots) and ‘Spinel’ (round, mini-roots).

So seeds in situ from early spring to early summer. Space varieties that do not need thinning 7.5-10 cm apart. Keep the compost moist but not saturated, as too much water can encourage an over abundance of leafy growth.


Carrots are ideal for containers if short rooted varieties are used. Good choices include ‘Suko’ (sweet) and ‘Parmex’ (sweet, short-rooted and round). Both are ideal for window boxes, tubs and grow bags. ‘Adelaide’ (early carrot, crisp, sweet) is best in tubs.

Sow seeds 12 mm deep in succession, every two weeks from early spring to the end of summer. Harvest the roots as soon as they are large enough.


Courgettes are best harvested when 7.5 to 20 cm in length. Plants can become bushy and large, so choose compact varieties and plant to to a grow bag or one in a large tub.

By established plants during late spring or early summer. Alternatively, so seeds at 16-18°C in mid-spring, 12 mm deep. Put just to seeds in a 7.5 cm wide pot.

After germination, reduced the temperature slightly and remove the weakest seedlings. Harden off and plant out after all risk of frost has passed.

Water and feed regularly, especially after the fruits have started to form.

A good variety to choose is ‘Gold Rush’ (compact, fruits can be harvested when 7.5 cm long).


Lettuces are ideal for growbags. By using several growbags, and sowing and planting in succession, it is possible to have fresh lettuce to eat from early summer to late autumn.

By growing small varieties, such as ‘Tom Thumb’ and the cos type ‘Little Gem’ it is possible to have 12 lettuce in each growbag. Restrict larger types to no more than eight plants.

Alternatively, Oakleaf types are an ideal choice if you have little space – individual leaves can be gathered over a long period. For extra colour on the patio, choose a red leaf lettuce such as ‘Red Salad Bowl’.


Tomatoes are always popular. They are ideal for growbags and large pots, and can also be grown in window boxes and hanging baskets, but make sure you select the right varieties. Grow bags accommodate for plants, whereas pots of 20-25 cm will take one each. When planted in window boxes, set 25 cm apart.

Buy established plants or raise plants by sowing seeds eight weeks before planting. So them 3 mm deep at 18°C. After germination, reduce temperature, prick out individually into small pots when established, then plant in a container when all risk of frost has passed.

Support plants in growbags with proprietary frameworks, or in pots with bamboo canes tied to horizontal wires. In window boxes, use small bush types that do not require any support.

Water and feed plants regularly. Remove any side-shoots ( growths arising from leaf joints) and pinch outgrowing tips immediately above the set of leaves above the fourth truss. There is no need to stop bush types.

Varieties to choose include ‘Pixie’ (fast ripening bush type, ideal for window boxes and troughs), ‘Sungold’ (sweet and cherry-like , ideal for growing bags and pots). ‘Tumbler’ (small and cherry-like, bush-type), ideal for hanging baskets, and ‘Sub Arctic Plenty’ (dwarf and bushy).


Potatoes can be planted in potato bags or in tubs of potato barrels that allow more space for the development of tubers.

In large potato bags, tubs or potato barrels place for five tubers on a 10-13 cm layer of compost, and cover them with about the same thickness.

As shoots appear, place more compost in the container, but do not completely cover them. Continue to cover the shoots until compost reaches the container’s top, but leave a 2.5-5 cm gap for the compost to be watered.

Tips for Success

  • Select varieties recommended for growing in containers. Choose varieties that you and your family find most tasty – it’s a chance to eat what you like best, including varieties that may not be available at your local shop.
  • Choose a bright, sunny or lightly shaded position, with shelter from cold winds and away from early frosts.
  • Plant vegetables with fibrous, shallow roots in containers that are shallow. Use deeper containers for plants that penetrate further into the potting compost.
  • Never allow the compost to dry out. Unless regularly watered, the relatively small amount of compost is likely to get much to dry.
  • Feed your plants, especially if you are using old grow bags stop most plans underachieve because they are not fed or are given insufficient water.
  • Look out for attacks by slugs and snails, especially if the container is packed with plants. They love wandering among wet plants.

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