Vegetable Gardening in Containers for Beginners

If you are a beginner gardener or have limited space, this guide to container vegetable gardening for beginners is for you. When I started my first garden, I did a huge in-ground garden with so many different plants it quickly became overwhelming.

After that disaster, I scaled way back and planted in containers. This made it much more manageable, and easy to add a few more each year until I was ready for a bigger garden.

This is why I recommend anyone starting their first garden to plant in pots. It’s faster, easier, and can fit into even the smallest growing space!

Growing vegetables in containers is a simple way to grow your own food. You can grow many varieties of vegetables you might want to grow in containers, including tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, carrots, and cucumbers. 

And once you work up to a bigger garden bed, you may find yourself still using garden pots since they can be so flexible. When I wasn’t sure where to put my peppers this year, I just put them in some pots that I already had on hand.

Let’s take a look at what it takes for successful container gardening for beginners.

Choosing Containers to Grow Vegetables

Ultimately, the container you choose for your garden will depend on your specific needs and preferences, and what you’re planning to grow. Consider the type, size, and material of your container to ensure the success of your vegetable container garden.

Types of Garden Containers

There are several different types of garden containers, each with their own benefits. When selecting your containers, make sure the material is safe for growing food. Here are some of the most common types and their advantages:

  1. Terracotta: Terracotta pots are made from clay and are porous, allowing air and water to move through the walls. This promotes healthy root growth and helps prevent over watering. Terracotta pots are attractive and come in a variety of sizes and shapes.
  2. Ceramic: Ceramic pots are similar to terracotta pots in their porosity, but they come in a wider range of colors and designs. They are more durable than terracotta pots and can withstand extreme temperatures without cracking. Glazed ceramic pots come in even more colors, and are less porous, so they retain moisture better for plants that require consistent moisture.
  3. Plastic: Plastic containers are lightweight and inexpensive, making them a popular choice for beginners and those on a budget. They come in a variety of sizes and colors, and are easy to move around as needed.
  4. Metal: Metal containers, such as those made from galvanized steel or copper, are durable and can add a decorative touch to your garden. They are resistant to weather and pests.
  5. Concrete: Concrete containers are heavy and durable, making them a great choice for larger plants or for use in windy areas. They come in a variety of sizes and shapes.
  6. Wood: Wood containers, such as those made from cedar or redwood, are natural and attractive. However, they can be prone to rotting over time and may require regular maintenance.
  7. Fabric: Fabric grow bags come in a variety of sizes. They are easy to move around, and fold up for easy storage. They drain very well, so you won’t be in danger of over watering your plants.
  8. Self Watering: Self watering containers are a great option to help eliminate beginner’s worries about over or under watering. They come in a variety of styles and materials and are well-worth checking out.
  9. Vertical Planters: Vertical planters are great if you have limited space to put containers. They are water efficient and provide a greater harvest in a small amount of space.

The different types of containers each have their own benefits, from the porosity of terracotta to the durability of metal or concrete. Consider the needs of your plants, your budget, and your personal style when choosing a material for your garden pots.

Pick the Right Size

The size of your container is also an important factor to consider. Most vegetables need at least 12 inches of soil to grow well, but larger vegetables will require more space.

Choose the largest possible container to give your plants more access to soil, food, and water. Deep containers are ideal for root vegetables like carrots and beets.

Here are some general guidelines to follow:

  • Small pots (6-8 inches in diameter) are suitable for small herbs, such as basil, parsley, and cilantro.
  • Medium pots (10-12 inches in diameter) are suitable for small vegetables, such as lettuce, spinach, kale, and radishes.
  • Large pots (14-18 inches in diameter) are suitable for larger vegetables, such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.
  • Extra-large pots (20 inches or more in diameter) are suitable for root vegetables, such as carrots, beets, and turnips.

It’s important to note that some vegetables, such as squash and cucumbers, may require even larger pots or containers to accommodate their sprawling growth habits.

Additionally, make sure to choose pots with adequate drainage holes and use high-quality potting soil to ensure healthy plant growth.


Proper drainage is crucial for the health of plants in gardening pots. When watering plants, excess water should be able to drain out of the bottom of the pot to avoid waterlogged soil and root rot.

This can be achieved by using pots with drainage holes or by creating holes in the bottom of non-draining pots. 

Adding gravel or stones to the bottom of the pot is a waste of potential root space in your pots and should be avoided. Instead, use quality potting soil and avoid letting excess water stand in the pot.

Container Vegetable Gardening for Beginners

How to Fill Your Containers

Avoid using soil from your garden, as it may contain pests, diseases, or weed seeds that can harm your plants. Also, regular garden soil is too heavy for garden containers.

You’ll need a lighter growing medium specifically for growing in containers. This helps with drainage for your plants and helps keeps roots healthy.

Potting Mix

The first step in successful container gardening is to choose a high-quality potting mix. 

You want a potting mix that is specifically formulated for container gardening. These mixes are lighter and more porous than garden soil, which allows for better drainage and air flow.

When selecting a potting mix, look for one that contains peat moss or coconut coir, and perlite or vermiculite. These materials help to retain moisture and provide aeration for the roots. 

Additionally, some potting mixes contain added nutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which your plants need to thrive.

Best Vegetables for Container Gardening

Some vegetables are particularly well-suited for container gardening because they don’t require a lot of space and can thrive in a smaller environment. 

Here are some of the best vegetable to grow in containers with suggestions for varieties that are better suited for growing in pots.


Nothing says “summer” like a homegrown tomato! Plant them in a large pot, and give them a little support with a tomato cage and you’ll soon enjoy your own fresh tomatoes. Look for “Patio, “Early Girl Bush,” and “Cherry Cascade” varieties, or any variety that is marked as “determinate.”


Pepper plants grow well in containers, and the brightly colored fruit can be ornamental as well as edible. Depending on the size of your container (and the mature size of your pepper plants) you can fit one or two plants in a 10 inch pot, and up to three in a 14 inch pot.

Try “Orange Jalapeno,” “Sweet Banana,” or “Thai Hot” varieties to add some spice to your garden and plate.


Cucumbers will need a large container and a little support. A small tomato cage will do the trick nicely. 

Look for “bush” variety cucumbers like “Spacemaster,” “Bush Pickle,” and “Salad Bush.”


Everyone loves a good salad! Try your hand at growing your own “Romaine,” or look for “Buttercrunch,” “Black Seeded Simpson,” or even “Red Sails” for some added color to your home grown salads.

Plant a single plant in a small container (8-10 inch diameter) or 4-6 plants in a larger one (12-14 inch diameter), depending on the mature size of your chosen varieties.


Spinach is a great cool weather crop! All varieties should do well in pots. To extend your harvest, you might look for “Bloomsdale Long Standing,” “Tyee,” or “Space Hybrid” varieties since they are slow to bolt.

You can grow spinach in a container as small as 6 inches, but a larger container (12-14 inch diameter) will allow you to plant 4-6 plants.

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Another cool weather crop that grows well in containers is kale. It can be ornamental and delicious in smoothies or soups.

Plant each plant in a medium container with at least a 12 inch diameter. Dwarf or Baby varieties may be able to fit more than one plant, so check your seed packet or seedling label for spacing.

Look for “Dwarf Blue Curled,” “Red Russian,” or “Tuscan” varieties to add to your garden.

Green beans

Green beans are easy to grow, and are great cooked fresh or preserved for winter use by freezing or canning.

You can plant about 3-4 green bean plants in a medium 12 inch diameter container. Look for bush varieties such as “Blue Lake,” “Provider” “Contender.”


Radishes are great sliced in salads, or as refrigerator pickles. Plant them in a container at least 6 inches deep. You can plant them closer together and thin them according to your package directions.

Varieties to look for include “Cherry Belle,” “French Breakfast,” and “Easter Egg” for some colorful variety.


Carrots are delicious no matter how you cook them! I particularly like them roasted. Plant your seeds in a pot at least 12 inches deep so the roots have room to develop and thin to the spacing on your seed packet.

Look for “Little Finger,” “Paris Market,” or “Short ‘n Sweet” varieties, as they are shorter and will do better in containers.


We have had success growing potatoes in fabric grow bags. Choose a grow bag that is at least 10 gallons.

Potatoes Planted In Grow Bags

Fill with about 4 inches of soil, place your seed potatoes about 6 inches apart and cover with another 4 inches of soil.

Continue to add soil as the plants grow to “hill” them until you reach the top of the bag. At the end of the season you can just dump the contents out to harvest your potatoes.

Try growing “Yukon Gold,” “Red Pontiac,” or ” Kennebec” potatoes.

Planting in a Container: Seeds vs Seedlings

Once you’ve chosen your container, potting mix, and plants, it’s time to start growing! Fill your container with potting soil and follow the instructions on the seed packet or seedling label for the correct planting depth. Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged, and place your container in a warm, sunny location. 

If you prefer to start with transplants, select healthy plants that are free from pests and diseases. Gently remove the plant from its original container and loosen any tangled roots before planting in your container. Make sure the soil level of the transplant is the same as the soil level in your container.

If planting seeds, once your seedlings have sprouted, thin them out to give each plant enough space to grow.

Many plants do well from seeds or seedlings, so it’s a personal choice which you use. Seeds are cheaper, but seedling will give you a head start on the growing season.

I do recommend seedling specifically for tomatoes and peppers due to how long they take to mature. And avoid buying seedling for beans and carrots, as they don’t transplant well.

Watering and Fertilizing

Proper watering is essential for healthy plants. Check the soil moisture level by sticking your finger about an inch into the soil. If it feels dry, it’s time to water. Water your container garden regularly, making sure the soil is moist but not waterlogged. 

To keep your plants healthy and productive, use a balanced fertilizer according to the instructions on the package. Be careful not to over-fertilize, as this can damage your plants.


What are you waiting for? It’s time to start your own container vegetable garden! (Unless it’s winter. Then maybe plant some herbs in a windowsill until spring.)

Container vegetable gardening is a fun and rewarding way to grow your own fresh produce. You’ll gain some skill and confidence growing your own food, and have the satisfaction of knowing exactly where your food came from.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with different types of vegetables and containers. You may find that some plants thrive better in certain containers or locations. 

Keep track of your successes and failures, and learn from them to improve your gardening skills. Don’t get discouraged if your plants don’t grow as quickly or as abundantly as you hoped. 

The key to any successful vegetable garden is patience and persistence. With time and effort, you’ll be able to enjoy a bountiful harvest of fresh, delicious vegetables.

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