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Container Vegetable Gardening Made Simple

'Patio Choice Yellow' is a trailing cherry tomato perfectly suited to a pot.

'Patio Choice' is a trailing cherry tomato perfectly suited to a pot.


Grow fresh ingredients for your favorite recipes in a sunny spot right outside your kitchen door. With container vegetable gardening, you’ll enjoy the convenience of planting, tending and harvesting fresh vegetables growing in pots on your patio, balcony or entryway.

What to Grow
You can grow any of your favorite vegetables in a container with drainage holes. Just make sure the container is large enough to accommodate the roots and won’t topple in the wind when growing vines, tomatoes and other tall plants. Fortunately, many plant breeders are making container vegetable gardening easy by offering a wide variety of compact vegetables that provide big results even in small spaces.

Bush tomato ‘Early Girl’ produces 4-inch tomatoes on a compact plant. The 2017 All-America Selections vegetable winner, tomato ‘Patio Choice’, will yield up to 100 yellow cherry tomatoes on one 18-inch-tall plant. Or fill a hanging basket with ‘Tumbling Tom Yellow’, ‘Lizzano’ or ‘Terenzo’ trailing cherry tomatoes. You’ll enjoy the colorful display and abundant fruit these plants provide.

Include a few sweet and hot peppers in your containers. Many, like ‘Cajun Belle’, produce colorful fruit on compact plants. These small peppers start out lime green then turn to orange and red. You’ll also enjoy the mildly spicy heat of this sweet pepper.

Up the ornamental appeal with colorful greens like ‘Mizuna Red Kingdom’ Japanese mustard, ‘Bright Lights’ swiss chard, ‘Tricolor’ sage and golden oregano. Add a bit of texture with curled parsley and savoy cabbage.

Train a few pole beans or sugar-snap peas up a trellis for screening a bad view and easy picking. Or grow the compact ‘Mascotte’ snap bush beans in a container or window box. Just reach outside the window and harvest a few tasty beans throughout the growing season.

Care Tips and Harvesting
Ensure container vegetable gardening success by growing your plants in a quality potting mix. Consider using a compost-based product like Hsu Organic Rice Hull or Professional Potting Soil. This sustainable compost-based potting mix holds more moisture naturally while providing drainage to promote root growth. And it’s easier to rewet if it’s ever allowed to dry out.

Include a low-nitrogen, slow-release fertilizer at planting to reduce your workload. These release small amounts of nutrients over a long period of time, eliminating the need to mix and fertilize weekly. Make a second application midseason if needed.

Check your containers daily and water whenever the top few inches are starting to dry. Water thoroughly, allowing the excess water to drain out the bottom and away from the pot.

Then keep your plants producing and looking their best with regular harvesting. Pick the outer leaves of lettuce at 4 to 6 inches tall, so it continues producing fresh new leaves. Harvest herbs as needed. Regular clipping stimulates more tender growth and that means more fresh herbs for you to pick and enjoy.

Remove just the head of the cabbage when it is firm and full size. Leave the lower leaves intact and watch as four or five additional small heads form. Do the same with broccoli. Harvest the main head and continue picking the smaller side shoots throughout the summer. Further increase your summer harvest by growing more heat-tolerant varieties like ‘Artwork Stir-fry’ broccoli.

Make this the year you start or expand your container vegetable gardening. You’ll be enjoying a season filled with fresh-from-the-garden flavor right at your back door.

Image courtesy of All-America Selections.

Melinda Myers has more than 30 years of horticulture experience and has written over 20 gardening books, including Small Space Gardening and the Midwest Gardener’s Handbook. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything: Food Gardening For Everyone” DVD set and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio segments. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and was commissioned by Hsu Growing Supply for her expertise to write this article. Myers’ website is