How To Start A Container Vegetable Garden (With Videos)


I’ve always wanted to grow my own organic vegetables but did not have a garden. Then I found that I can do this with container gardening. This post contains all my research on how to start a container vegetable garden even if you’re a beginner.

Which vegetables should you pick for your container garden?

I was excited about being able to grow vegetables on my balcony using containers. But the question was which vegetables should I choose to grow.

There are a ton of choices when growing container vegetables. You can grow almost any vegetable in them.

After thinking about this for a while, I decided to grow four different types of vegetables. These would be a herb, a leafy vegetable, a fruit vegetable, and a root vegetable.

Growing these vegetables would give me a different learning experience that I could later use to grow even more types.

And this would also give the feeling of growing a mini vegetable garden even if it will just contain four vegetables.

I picked cilantro as the herb, spinach as the leafy vegetable, tomato as the fruit vegetable, and radish as the root vegetable.

These vegetables are easy to grow for a beginner and will give you a boost in confidence when you successfully harvest them.

Cilantro

Cilantro is a herb that belongs to the parsley family. It has a unique fragrance and flavor that makes it great as a garnish.

It’s widely used in Mexican, Middle Eastern, Indian, and Asian cuisine. You can even use the dried seeds of the cilantro plant as a spice known as coriander.

Cilantro can be an easy plant to grow as a beginner but you need to grow it in cool weather as it’s a cool-season plant.

I would recommend you get the Calypso variety of cilantro that grows 12-18 inches in height and can tolerate a little bit of heat.

Spinach

Spinach is a leafy vegetable that belongs to the amaranth family. It has dark, green leaves that are rich in nutrients. They are a common addition to Middle-Eastern, Mediterranean, and South-East-Asian cuisine.

Spinach can be eaten raw as a salad or cooked in pasta, soups, sauces, sandwiches, and omelets. It tastes different when raw than cooked.

Most varieties of spinach are a cool-season plant which means you can grow them in spring or fall.

I would recommend you grow the Indian Summer spinach variety because it grows just 12 inches tall and fully matures in just 35-40 days.

Tomato

Tomatoes are a fruit vegetable that comes in different shapes, sizes, and colors. You can get determinate or indeterminate varieties of tomatoes. The determinate varieties grow to a fixed size and give fruit. The indeterminate keeps on growing and providing fruit.

Tomatoes are a warm-season crop that would prefer to grow in the summer. They are a fruit vegetable which means they need a lot of water to grow well.

I would recommend growing a determinate variety in the pot because that’s easy to do for a beginner. The Bushsteak is a good variety that grows up to 22 inches tall and takes just 64 days to produce fruit.

The tomatoes can be eaten raw as well as cooked. You can make a sauce out of them, add them to soups, pasta, meat dishes, sandwiches, and salads.

Radish

I like to grow radishes in pots because they are one of the fastest-growing vegetables. The radish is a root vegetable that has a pungent flavor.

It can grow from 1 to 24 inches in length and comes in a variety of different shapes, sizes, and colors. And many of them mature to full size in just 3-4 weeks time.

You can use it raw as part of a salad or cook it as it’s done in many cuisines around the world like Indian, Mexican, and European.

They are a cool-season crop so they would make a good companion to the spinach or cilantro plants you will grow.

As a beginner, I would recommend growing the Royal Purple radish variety that grows to just 2 inches in diameter and matures in just 33 days.

Where can you buy vegetable seeds and seedlings?

The best place to buy vegetable seeds and seedlings is your local garden center or nursery. If you don’t have them nearby, you can also buy them through an online store.

I’ve listed some details like the variety, temperature, height, and maturity of the four vegetables that we will grow in the container garden.

Seed varietyTemperatureHeightDays to maturity
Calypso Cilantro65-70 °F12-18 inches50-55 days
Indian Summer Spinach50-80 °F10-12 inches35-40 days
Bushsteak Tomato65-85 °F22 inches65 days
Royal Purple Radish65-75 °F12-14 inches33-35 days

When is the best time to plant vegetables?

The best time to plant the vegetables depends on whether they are a cool-season or warm-season crop.

We are growing three cool-season plants that are cilantro, spinach, and radish. And we are growing one warm-season plant that is tomato.

The cool-season crops will grow between 50 to 80 °F. And the warm-season crops will grow between 65-85 °F.

You want to grow the plants in the above temperature range because if the temperature is too low the seeds won’t germinate. And if the temperature is too high, the plants will either die or produce seeds and lose flavor.

The best time to plant cool-season plants like cilantro, spinach, and radish is in spring or fall. And the best time to plant warm-season plants like tomatoes is during summer.

The benefit of growing herbs like cilantro and leafy greens like spinach is you can harvest the leaves before the plant fully matures. So you get a lot of leaves to harvest during the growing season.

How to choose the pots for the container vegetable garden?

We are growing four different vegetables in our container garden so we will need four pots. The type of pot for each vegetable will vary depending on how large the plant is and how many we will grow in each pot.

You can get the pot made from different materials like plastic, ceramic, terracotta, metal, and concrete. You can even use a grow bag for growing the container garden.

I would suggest either use the plastic pot or a grow bag for the four vegetables we want to grow. These materials are lightweight, inexpensive, and durable.

If you already have a pot lying around or got some recycled ones, that’s good to use as well.

Whether the pot is new or reused, make sure to soak it in a mixture of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water for one hour. This kills the pests and diseases that may be present in the pot and could harm the plants.

After an hour, rinse the pot well with water to clean the mixture from it and let it out to dry. Once it’s finished drying, you can start planting in it.

The pots that you use for the vegetables should have drainage holes at the bottom. All four vegetables need water but they don’t like damp soil. That can cause problems like root rot, damping, and blossom-end rot.

If there are no drainage holes in the pot, you will need to drill some yourself before using them.

The best pot to choose for cilantro is one that is 10-12 inches deep and 18-24 inches wide. This size helps the cilantro tap roots spread wide and get a good amount of nutrients and moisture. And the width will help you grow several cilantro plants in the same pot to get a good harvest.

The spinach plant has shallow roots so a pot that is 6-8 inches deep would be sufficient. You want to grow and harvest many plants in one pot so the pot width of 18-24 inches is good.

The radishes we will grow are small in size so a pot that is 6-8 inches deep will work for them. The width should be at least 12 inches so we can grow several radish plants together in the same pot.

The tomato plant can grow deep and spread wide as well. That’s why it needs a larger pot than the other vegetables. If you picked a tomato plant that can grow 3-4 feet tall, you will need a 5-10 gallon container. And if the tomato plant can grow taller, you’ll need a 10-20 gallon container.

I’ve researched some plastic pots and grow bags you can use for growing the four vegetables in your container garden.

PlantNameWidthHeight
CilantroNovelty Round Pot10.25 inches9.8 inches
SpinachCountryside Planter18 inches6.5 inches
RadishBloem Planter19 inches7.5 inches
TomatoJERIA 7-Gallon Grow Bag11 inches15 inches

Which potting soil should you use?

The most important factor that will determine if the vegetables in your container garden succeed is the potting soil.

Don’t make the mistake of using garden soil in the pots. That can have a bad texture that either drains out the water fast due to too much sand or retains excess water because of too much clay.

The garden soil may also contain harmful pests, diseases, and chemicals that you don’t want into your vegetables.

Pick a good quality potting soil and don’t worry about the price because it will be worth it. Neutral potting soil is the best choice to go with for the container vegetables.

Add the potting soil to the four pots that you picked for the cilantro, spinach, radish, and tomato plants. Leave just 1-2 inches from the top of the pot so water and soil do not spill out when watering.

If you can manage to get compost, add that to your potting soil during this step. The compost will add rich, organic nutrients beneficial for the vegetables.

If you don’t have compost, you can add a slow-release organic fertilizer to the potting soil when preparing the pot. This fertilizer will release into the soil slowly after each watering you give. The fertilizer can be a balanced one with N-P-K values of 5-5-5 or 10-10-10.

Here’s a list of potting soil that would be suitable for growing your vegetable plants in containers.

How to plant vegetable seeds in the pots

I like to plant all four vegetable plant seeds directly in the pot to avoid the hassle of starting the seeds indoors. The only reason I would do this is if the growing season is short and I need to get a head start on the plant growth.

If you’re lazy like me, I would suggest growing all vegetables from seeds in the individual pots itself. The worst thing that may happen is some seeds won’t germinate. But that’s OK because we will plant plenty of them and increase our chances.

Water the soil to make it moist before planting the seeds. You want it to be a little moist but not damp or soaking wet.

Plant the seeds in the potting soil at a slight distance from each other. You can plant 2-3 seeds in one planting hole because we will thin them later.

The four plants of cilantro, spinach, radish, and tomato have the same requirements on how deep to plant the seeds. You need to cover these seeds with 1/4th inch of potting soil.

Use a spraying-can to gently spray water on the soil to keep it moist. You need to do this every day because the seeds need to remain in moist soil for germination. The seeds will germinate after 5-14 days depending on the variety and type of seeds.

How to transplant vegetable seedlings to the pots

You may need to transplant the vegetable seedlings if you bought them from the garden center. Or if you started seeds indoors and want to transplant the seedlings outdoors.

Add the potting soil to the pot till it’s full. But keep 1-2 inches from the rim of the pot so the water and soil do not spill out when watering.

Remove the seedling from the container it’s growing in. You can gently roll your hands on the outside of the container to loosen the soil so the root ball comes out. You may need to cut open the container if the root ball is stuck.

Now take out the potting soil from the center of the pot. The hole should be of the same size as the root ball of the seedling.

Put the root ball inside the hole and add some potting mix to cover it so the roots are inside the potting mix. Gently press the potting mix near the base of the plant so it is stable.

Water the potting mix so that it has good moisture for the roots to adjust to the transplant.

When you transplant the seedlings, you need to harden them for a few days. That means keeping them outdoors for a little while every day and bringing them back indoors. Start with an hour and then increase the amount of time you keep the seedlings outdoors every day.

The hardening process helps the seedlings adapt to the outdoor environment including the sunlight and wind. Otherwise, the transplant may cause a shock to them and they won’t grow well or even die.

After a few days, you can move the pot outdoors when the seedlings have adjusted to the outdoor conditions.

Where to place the pots?

The location where you place the pots with the vegetable plants outdoors will depend on the type of plant.

Herbs like cilantro prefer full sun for at least 6-8 hours every day. Spinach and radish also require the same amount of sunlight every day. You could get away with less sunlight but the plants will grow slower.

Tomatoes need a lot more sunlight than the other plants. You need to give them at least 8-10 hours of direct sunlight every day.

Just make sure the heat does not get too much for these vegetable plants. If it’s too hot in the afternoon, you will need to move the pots to a shaded location.

How to water the vegetable plants

The disadvantage of growing vegetables in pots is that the roots cannot spread further than the pot itself. So the plant has to rely on you to provide it with sufficient water.

All the four vegetable plants we want to grow need the soil to be moist. This helps their roots absorb the moisture and nutrients from the soil.

The plants might be able to tolerate a little dry condition but it will harm their growth if this happens for too long.

So it’s best to water the vegetable plants on a regular basis to ensure the soil is moist and suitable for them.

If you’re starting seeds, the best way to keep the soil moist is with a gentle spray of water from a spraying-can. This helps keep the moisture in the soil without displacing the seeds.

Once the seeds have germinated into seedlings, you can start watering them with a watering can. But too much water in the soil will drown the roots.

There’s an easy method you can use to figure out if you need to water the pot. Stick your finger 1-2 inches into the soil. If the tip of your finger does not feel moisture, it’s time to water the soil.

You should water the soil deeply and slowly till the water runs out from the drainage holes of the pot. This ensures the water is reaching all parts of the soil so the roots can get the moisture.

Rainwater is the best water you can use for your container vegetable plants. But you do need to collect and store it when it rains. The next best option is to use distilled water if you can afford a distiller at home.

I only have access to tap water at home so I leave it in a container for 1 day before using it. This helps remove the chemicals like chlorine and fluoride that are present in tap water and can harm the plants.

I like to water the plants early in the morning so the roots can absorb the required moisture before it evaporates. But avoid splashing water on the leaves as it creates a moist environment that can attract fungal diseases.

Here’s a list of watering cans you will find useful for watering your container vegetable plants.

How to thin the vegetable seedlings

I’m lazy so I prefer to plant my vegetables directly in pots as much as possible. But to increase the chances that some seeds will germinate, I plant more than one seed per hole.

It often will happen that more than one seed germinates from the same hole. If you allow them to grow, the plants will compete for nutrients in the soil. That’s why we need to thin them.

Thinning is the process where you cut off some of the seedlings that may have germinated leaving just one. You also need to cut out the seedlings that may be too close to another one leaving a few inches of space between the seedlings.

Thinning helps avoid crowding of plants where they compete with each other for nutrients. It also helps separate the vegetable plants from each other which gives good air circulation, and sunlight and protects them from fungal diseases.

You should thin each of your cilantro, spinach, radish, and tomato plants as soon as they have grown 2-4 inches tall.

You should be able to see which are the healthy seedlings per hole. Let that seedling continue to grow and cut off the other seedlings growing from that hole. Hold the base of the seedling and cut it out with a pair of garden pruners.

You can use the cilantro, spinach, and radish seedlings you cut off as part of your salad. But don’t use the tomato seedlings as the leaves are toxic to humans.

How should you prune the vegetable plants?

Pruning your vegetable plants will keep them in good health and free from pests and diseases. It helps the plant focus its energy on growing new foliage.

The type of pruning you need to do or not do depends on the plant you are growing. You need to prune cilantro and spinach so they keep producing more leaves for your consumption.

You can prune tomato plants to reduce the foliage so the plant can focus on developing more fruit.

And there is no need to prune the radish plants unless you find some pests and diseases on the leaves.

For cilantro and spinach, you can prune the mature parts of the plant. For the tomato plant, you can prune the suckers that keep growing from the main stem.

The best way to prune is to place your thumb and forefinger on the leaves or stem and pinch it off. You don’t want to pull on the plant but just gently pick off the stalk you need.

I like to use a pair of gardening scissors to prune the leaves and suckers of the vegetable plants. This helps prevent creating a wound on the plant that takes a long time to heal and attract diseases.

Pruning is a taxing activity on the plant so I like to add a little bit of potting mix and compost to give the vegetable plants a boost.

Here are some hand pruners you can use for pruning your vegetable plants.

How to support your vegetable plants

Cilantro, spinach, and radish are small plants that don’t need support. But the determinate tomato plants will need support especially if the fruits are heavy.

You can either use staking or caging to support the tomato plant in the pot. The support helps the tomatoes stay away from the soil and avoid attacks from pests and diseases.

It also helps provide good air circulation among the leaves of the plant and prevent fungal diseases.

To use staking, you need a wooden stake that is either rooted inside the pot or in the ground outside the pot. You can also put the stake in another heavier pot.

To use caging, you use a tomato cage and grow the tomato plant inside the cage. As the tomato plant grows, it takes the support of the cage. You don’t need to tie the plant to the cage.

Do the vegetable plants need fertilizer?

It’s always good to give a little boost to your vegetable plants as they grow by adding some nutrients to the potting soil.

The best nutrients you can add is in organic compost. If you can get compost, add it to the potting soil when preparing the container.

The compost works well because it contains rich, organic nutrients beneficial to the vegetable plants. It also introduces microorganisms that further improve the soil texture.

You can add the compost every month as the vegetable plants are growing. If you don’t have compost, a slow-release organic fertilizer also can be added to the potting mix. This fertilizer will be slowly released into the soil as you water the plants.

It’s important to follow the instructions on the fertilizer bag because you don’t want to add too much or too little.

For the cilantro, spinach, radish, and tomato plants, adding the fertilizer just once during the growing season should be sufficient. You could also use organic liquid fertilizer instead. You need to add that every 2 weeks to the plant.

Spray the liquid fertilizer on the soil as well as the foliage to give the plants a boost of the nutrients they need.

Cilantro and spinach are leafy vegetables so you want to encourage leaf growth. Fertilizer rich in nitrogen will help you do that. So pick a fertilizer that has N-P-K of 10-5-5. Fish emulsion is a good fertilizer that is rich in nitrogen.

For tomato and radish plants, you don’t want to encourage leaf growth but want more fruit and root development. That’s why you should not use a fertilizer rich in nitrogen.

Instead, you want to use a fertilizer with N-P-K of 5-10-10 that is rich in phosphorus and potassium to encourage fruit and root growth.

Be careful not to overuse the fertilizer on your vegetable plants as it will damage the leaves and roots.

Here is a list of slow-release organic fertilizer you can use.

VegetableSlow-release organic fertilizer
CilantroDr. Earth Organic Fertilizer
SpinachBurpee Natural Organic Fertilizer
RadishEspoma Plant Tone Fertilizer
TomatoTomato-tone Organic Fertilizer

Here is a list of organic liquid fertilizer you can use.

VegetableLiquid organic fertilizer
CilantroNeptune’s Harvest Organic Fertilizer
SpinachFoxFarm Grow Big Liquid Fertilizer
RadishEspoma Organic Grow Fertilizer
TomatoGreat Big Tomatoes Fertilizer

How to protect vegetable plants from weeds

The benefit of growing vegetable plants in a pot is they are much more protected from weeds than growing them in the ground.

There will still be some weeds reaching the plants because birds, animals, and wind will carry some seeds into the pots.

The best way to avoid the problem of weeds is by using a layer of mulch in the pot. The mulch can be organic material like grass clippings, dried leaves, straw, or moss.

The best time to add the mulch is when the vegetable plants have germinated and grown a few inches tall.

The mulch will prevent sunlight from reaching the weed seeds and prevent them from germinating.

Another benefit of adding mulch to the container is it keeps the moisture in the soil to last longer. It slows down the evaporation of the moisture from the heat of the sun. And it regulates the temperature in the soil. So it remains cool and suitable for your vegetable plants.

I suggest using organic mulch because it breaks down over time and adds rich, organic material to the potting soil.

How to harvest vegetables from your container garden

The best part of growing vegetables in pots is when the time comes to harvest and enjoy them in your meals.

Cilantro and spinach

Cilantro and spinach will grow fast and you’ll be able to start harvesting the leaves in just 3-4 weeks time.

The plant should have reached at least 4-6 inches in height before you start harvesting the leaves. The more leaves you harvest, the more foliage the plant will grow.

Make sure to harvest just 1/3rd of the cilantro or spinach at one time and let the other leaves continue to grow. This gives the plant sufficient foliage to continue growing well. And you will be able to keep harvesting them every few days.

The best way to harvest is to pick the leaves that have matured. You can pinch them off with your thumb and fingers.

Or you can use a pair of gardening scissors to cut them off the plant. It’s important to not pull on the plant as you’re harvesting the leaves.

Radish

Radishes will also grow fast and depending on the variety you may be able to harvest them in 30-40 days time.

You will know the radishes are ready for harvest when the top becomes the size of a quarter. If you cannot see the radish top, move a little bit of dirt near the base of the plant to check.

To harvest the radish, hold the stalks at the base of the plant. You don’t want to pull on the leaves because they’re delicate and will break off.

Hold the stalk with your hand and gently pull it out of the soil. If it’s a little hard to pull, try giving it a little twist before pulling the radish out.

Tomatoes

The tomato plant, depending on the determinate variety, will take at least two months to grow and deliver tomatoes.

The tomatoes will be ready for harvest when they are firm to touch and bright in color. You can use your fingers to harvest the tomatoes from the plant or clip the stalk with a gardening pruner.

I would recommend harvesting the tomatoes from the plant only when you are going to eat them. This helps you get the most flavor and nutrients from the tomatoes.

If you want to store them after harvesting, then clip them along with the star-shaped top attached to the tomato. This will help keep them fresh in storage for a longer time.

Kevin

Kevin’s sick of eating mass-produced vegetables that contain harmful chemicals and lack nutrition and taste. He wants to grow his own food and help others do the same even with limited growing space.

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