Container Gardening for Beginners
Planting a vegetable container garden is easy, fun, and requires minimal materials. No matter what size outdoor space you have, be it a big yard or a tiny balcony, you can start your own container garden. Before you know it, you'll have lettuces from your lanai or beets from your backyard right on your plate.
Growing vegetables requires seeds or starter plants, soil, and containers — and of course sunshine and water. The best part is you don't need fancy pots from a garden store to begin. Many containers* can be found at home, such as plastic bottles, milk cartons, yogurt cups, and even the plastic tubs of salad mixes. And egg cartons or plastic trays can be used to start seedlings.
There are many rewards for growing your own vegetables, from watching the first seeds emerge to harvesting. You'll also have the chance to experiment and taste new flavors by planting varieties that you may not be familiar with or can't be sourced from the grocery store.
Here, we explore eight vegetables and leafy greens that grow beautifully in container gardens. Pick and choose your favorites, or plant them all for a big harvest later. It's your garden. Grow what you want!
*When upcycling containers, you'll need to create small drainage holes at the bottom.This is so water can escape and will prevent the soil from becoming too soggy.
The Best Vegetables for Container Gardening
Beets come in many shapes, from round and globular to long and pointy, and in a myriad of colors including red, pink, dark purple, and yellow. For example, the Golden Beet is yellow on the inside and has fuchsia-colored skin, while the Chioggia has spirals of white and magenta on the inside. These will add color not only to your garden but to your plate, too.
How to Grow: Beets are a root vegetable so you'll want a tall container for optimal growth. They're easy to start from seed, or if you want to speed up the process, you can buy a starter plant. Beets are adaptable and do well in most climates.
How to Use: The vibrant leaves with hues of maroon are great in salads, scrambles, quiche, or in a stir-fry. Beets are great roasted or steamed and can be used to create veggie burgers or a scrumptious beet salad.
Make these Beet Recipes with your bounty.
Chard, also known as Swiss Chard, is a hardy green that produces tall, wide, and crinkly leaves that are wonderful in a plethora of dishes. Chard can spark more color and brightness to your garden, especially if you choose rainbow leaves where stalks can be pink, magenta, yellow, orange, or white. The leaves and stalks are both edible.
How to Grow: Easy to start from seeds, chard prefers well-drained, rich soil. Chard is a cool weather crop but does well in warmer climates. Seeds take around a week to sprout and about two months until it's mature and ready to harvest. If you prefer baby greens, you can plant closer together and harvest the leaves in a fraction of the time.
How to Use: Toss into a stir-fry, soups, frittatas, or use as a substitute to spinach. Baby leaves are a nice addition to a salad.
When you harvest your chard, make these Chard Recipes.
Kale is a leafy green that is part of the cabbage family. Kale thrives in cold weather yet does well in most geographical zones. One of the most well-known varieties is Lacinato or Nero Di Toscano, which is commonly referred to as Dinosaur Kale because of its bumpy, dark green leaves. With its nickname alone, it can be enough to entice kids to sample this fun vegetable.
How to Grow: Kale takes around a week to emerge. You can sow a lot of seeds in one container and then transplant them to a bigger one. Kale likes rich soil with plenty of organic matter, such as compost. Harvesting the leaves can be as soon as a month after planting to two months. If you don't want to wait or prefer a milder flavor, cut baby leaves sooner. Kale will continue to sprout new leaves, just harvest under or around 1/3 of the plant at a time to ensure healthy growth.
How to Use: Kale is versatile and can be used in soups, stir-fry, salads, quiche, omelettes, or sautéed with garlic. For an easy and healthy snack, make delicious kale chips. In some regions of Italy, kale is used in stews.
These Kale Recipes are a great way to use your homegrown greens.
Lettuce is a garden favorite and the basis of most salads. There are so many types to choose from that go beyond Romaine, Butter, or Iceburg, and each type has its own unique flavor, texture, and color. Plant varieties that produce heads of lettuce or opt for seed packets of salad mixes to spruce up your plate.
How to Grow: You can plant many seeds in a small pot or flat tray and then transplant to a larger space. Lettuce likes rich, well-drained soil and prefers milder climates. Lettuce is usually planted in spring, after the chance of frost has passed or in early fall. However, depending on your zone and location in the garden, it may be possible to have lettuce year-round.
How to Use: Prepare an array of salads, use as a wrap or bun, or make lettuce wraps, and more.
Start cooking with these Lettuce Recipes.
Peas are fun to plant and often invite pollinators, too, with their bright pink flowers. You can pop open the pods to eat the peas or eat the whole pod right off the vine.
How to Grow: Peas prefer mild climates but do need a decent amount of sun. You'll want to plant in spring or late fall. Most pea varieties take around two months from seed to harvest. Peas like to climb so you'll want to have a trellis or pole so the plant doesn't fall over when it reaches a decent size or select one that grows more like a bush.
How to Use: Great to eat as a snack, toss in salads, in stir-fry, or if you have an abundance, cook pea soup.
These Peas Recipes are a great source of inspiration.
Radishes, known for their small globe shape, pink skin, and white inside, are root vegetables. When you cultivate your own, you'll discover there are many hues and forms, and some are a lot bigger than the classic image of a radish or what you'll typically find at the grocery store. Some flavor profiles are more pungent while others are mild in taste.
How to Grow: Seedlings will sprout within a week of sowing the seeds and then transplant to a deep, tall receptacle so the root has plenty of space to grow. Radishes are ready to harvest within three to four weeks.
How to Use: Great to add bite and crunch to salads, roast them, pickle 'em, or even slice up and eat raw as a snack with lots of butter.
Cook up fresh sides with these Radish Recipes.
String or snap beans, also called green beans, are easy and fun to grow. Unbeknownst to many, there are purple and yellow varieties, too. There are two types of string bean plants — bush and pole — and you'll want to opt for bush style plants as they're easier to maintain in smaller spaces.
How to Grow: Sow seeds directly into the soil, or plant purchased seedlings. String beans prefer a lot of sunlight and take around 50 to 60 days from seed to harvest. Bush plants reach around two feet in height, and as the name implies, grow in the form of a small bush, which means you won't need poles or trellises. If you want to have beans for a period of time, it's recommended to stagger planting over several weeks. This means sowing seeds every few days or each week to extend your harvest.
How to Use: Sautéed green beans are a classic. You can steam or roast them or prepare a green bean salad.
Try new flavors with these Green Bean Recipes.
Tomatoes are such a delight to have in the garden with their various shapes, sizes, and colors. You can plant a rainbow of green, yellow, orange, pink, and dark purple orbs. Each type has its own flavor profile, and some are better for cooking, while others are better in salads or sandwiches, or eating right off the vine. Depending on your goals, doing a little research will be helpful, or if you prefer, choose based on color or size, and see what happens. Better yet, decide based on what tomato varieties are ideal for your region, weather-wise.
How to Grow: If you've never planted tomatoes before, you'll be surprised at how tall and big tomato plants become from such a tiny seed. Follow the guidelines on the seed packet, and once seedlings are around two inches, you'll want to transplant to another receptacle. Deep and wide pots are best, around six to twelve inches or more so the roots have space to secure themselves into the ground. Tomatoes love the sun so make sure to choose a spot where they'll get plenty of sunlight. Tomatoes do take up space and will need support, whether it's using stakes, a pole, or trellis. You can also plant tomatoes in a hanging basket.
How to Use: Tomatoes can be used in almost any dish. Cook sauces and soups, use in salads, pizza, or pasta, or try your hand at canning tomatoes or drying them.
Find even more wonderful Tomato Recipes.
Where to Buy Containers for a Vegetable Container Garden
Seeds and supplies can be purchased from your local garden center. Online seed and garden companies offer a bounty of choices to start your vegetable garden:
- Botanical Interests specializes in all things for the home gardener.
- Johnny's Seeds offers an abundance of seed packs and supplies for both gardeners and farmers.
- Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds focuses on heirloom seeds and intriguing and difficult-to-find varieties.
- Gardeners Supply Company has everything you need to start a vegetable garden.