Is growing vegetables in containers as easy as they say?

Container gardening is an easy way to get started with home gardening. Instead of planting in the ground, you use pots or containers to grow herbs and vegetables.

And it is no surprise that container gardening is popular among home gardeners. It is flexible, requires less space, and is relatively low maintenance. This is also why most gardeners at least include container gardening for some plants in their gardens.

  • But how easy is it to grow vegetables in containers?
  • Are all vegetables suitable for container gardening?
  • If not, what are the pros and cons of container gardening?

This article lists the advantages and limitations you will face as a container gardener. We will also share our top 10 vegetables to grow in containers.

Quick facts: 
Advantages: Container gardening is ideal for small spaces and offers control over soil and growing conditions, flexibility, and is relatively low maintenance. 

Challenges and limitations: Container gardening can limit the number of plants you can grow, hinder root growth, be hard to manage, and are more susceptible to dry-outs.

7 advantages of growing vegetables in containers

1. Great when you have limited space

Not all home gardeners have a garden. And even if you have a garden, there is often not enough space for everything we want to grow.

This is where container gardening shines; it is ideal for small spaces such as balconies, patios, and decks.

2. Container gardening is mobile

When you grow vegetables in containers, it is easy to move plants to different locations for optimal sunlight and temperature conditions.

3. Containing invasive growers

Some vegetables will happily take over your entire garden if you let them. These invasive vegetables, like horseradish, are ideally suited for container gardening.

Horseradish in an invasive plant and is best grown in pots or containers
Horseradish will take over your garden if you let it

4. Flexibility in what you grow:

Growing vegetables in containers, you no longer have to worry about companion planting or which vegetables grow well together.

Choose to grow each vegetable in its container or pair two vegetables that grow well together in the same container. Radishes and spinach are an example where the radishes help protect the spinach from pests like leafminers.

5. Soil control:

The soil you use is one of the essential factors if you want to succeed as a home gardener. But not all vegetables want or need the same soil conditions. Growing vegetables in containers allow you to give each plant what it needs.

6. Easy to maintain:

With a container, there is no need to crawl on the ground. Instead, your plants grow in a well-defined space you can place in an area with easy access.

Easy access to your plants makes container gardening a great alternative for people with mobility issues.

7. Pest control:

Container gardening is, by design, a great way to help keep pests from spreading among your plants or even into your garden. Move the infected container away from your other plants and decide whether to treat or dispose of the affected plant.

Aphids trying to climb back up a habanero pepper plant
Green-colored aphids trying to get back up on a pepper plant

5 challenges and limitations of growing vegetables in containers

1. Limited growing space:

Containers give you a limited and defined space. This, in turn, will limit the number of plants you can grow but can also hinder roots from growing and developing.

Choosing the right size container for your chosen vegetable is vital. Containers that are too small will yield smaller plants and a disappointing harvest.

Except when growing herbs and vegetables with shallow roots, like lettuce, I use containers with a minimum size of 20 liters or 5 gallons (50 centimeters / 20 inches deep.

2. Drainage problems:

Containers are often top-watered, leading to compact soil and poor drainage if not correctly managed.

To prevent problems with drainage, start with well-draining soil and add soil amendments like course sand, perlite and vermiculite as needed.

Repotting vegetables in containers is rarely a good alternative, so starting with the right soil type is essential.

If possible, bottom water your containers once every 3-4 weeks. Place them in a water bath and let them soak up as much water as they need. Do not use cold water; use water to match the room or soil temperature to avoid shocking the plant.
Perlite helps with drainage and soil aeration
Perlite can help with drainage and soil aeration

3. Pest and disease control:

Vegetables grown in containers can be more prone to pests and diseases if you place your pots and containers in a small and confined.

Make sure you allow space for good air circulation, and keep in mind that some vegetables grow large.

To avoid space issues, mix and match standard and smaller dwarf varieties in your container garden space.

4. Be prepared to water more often:

Vegetables growing in containers will dry out faster and require more frequent watering to keep the soil moist. And the smaller the container, the more often you will have to water your plants.

5. Containers can be hard to maneuver

Containers get heavy and can be hard to move and manage for almost anyone. The weight of the soil and the plant makes maneuvering the containers a real challenge.

Tip! Always move containers before you water, and choose containers made from light-weight materials.

Our top 10 vegetables to grow in containers (alphabetically)

You can, of course, grow any vegetable in a suitably sized container. But over the years, we have unconsciously developed a list of our favorites that we grow every year.

The list is alphabetical, but if you want my top three, they are tomatoes, hot chili peppers, and leafy greens. And garlic greens.

1. Arugula (or rocket)

A favorite green with a peppery and sometime mustardy taste. Arugula prefers cooler temperatures and grows best in spring and autumn.

This is, however, when container growing is at its best. During warmer periods, move containers to a location with partial shade and enjoy arugula all summer.

Arugula is a cold hardy vegetable
Arugula is cold-hardy though snow is a bit much

No need for deep containers; think wide to maximize your growing area. Still, remember that the more shallow the container, the more often you will need to water it.

2. Eggplant

The eggplant will send deep roots into the soil to support itself. And this is crucial as the plant tends to fall over when it is laden with fruit. But there are easy solutions to the problem, making eggplant an excellent and fun container gardening vegetable.

1. Make sure you use a 25-liter / 7-gallon container (or larger) with a depth of about 60 cm / 2 feet. This size container will allow the plant to develop a robust root system to support the plant.

2. Even with a good-sized container, you must stake and support your eggplant. Start early with a guide and support the plant as it grows.

3. Grow the smaller dwarf eggplant varieties. There is no need to grow full-sized plants in containers. The dwarf or mini eggplant varieties pack just as much flavor as the full-sized varieties.

Also, eggplants thrive in warm climates. If you, like us, live in a four-season climate, use containers that retain heat, like glazed or black containers. And always place containers in a warm spot for best results.

Eggplant seedlings can get tall and leggy. No problem. Remove a few leaves, plant the stem deeper, and watch the plant develop new roots along the buried stem. 

3. Garlic greens

Garlic greens are easy to grow indoors and outdoors and deliver a mild garlicky flavor profile. You do not need an overly deep container, and feel free to place the bulbs close together.

We grow garlic greens in several smaller pots and containers and place them strategically around other plants to deter pests and harmful insects.

You can also grow garlic greens in water indoors to always have fresh and tasty greens at hand year-round.

White roots on garlic greens in water
White roots on garlic greens growing in water

4. Herbs

Fresh herbs transform an ordinary meal into something special. And there is no need to pay supermarket prices for something you can grow at home for a fraction of the price.

You do not need deep containers for herbs, but it is best to use separate containers for thirsty herbs like basil and Mediterranean herbs like, for example, rosemary.

Moving basil plants to a larger container
Moving two basil plants to a larger container

If you are new to growing herbs, start with the beginner herb gardener’s best friend, basil. There are many varieties, but sweet basil, Genovese basil, and Thai basil tick all the necessary boxes for me.

Other culinary must-haves include thyme, sage, rosemary, mint, dill, cilantro/coriander, and oregano.

5. Horseradish

Horseradish has a strong flavor profile, and a little goes a long way. The plant is also invasive to the degree that stopping it from coming back every year can be challenging.

And this is why horseradish is a perfect container vegetable. The plant will, however, need a large and deep container to grow and thrive. I use containers at least 60cm (2 feet) deep with a similar width across.

6. Lettuce

There are so many great varieties of lettuce you can grow in containers. And you do not need a deep container; think wide to maximize the growing areas. Or grow lettuce in a soil bag; it works just as well.

Lettuce is relatively simple to grow and care for, but you may need to cover the leaves to protect against harmful pests and insects eating your harvest.

Plant a row of lettuce with one-week intervals throughout the summer for an almost limitless supply of fresh lettuce all summer.

7. Peppers and Chillies

Peppers and chilies come in all tastes, colors, sizes, and shapes but also at very different levels of heat.

Container size depends on the chili or pepper chosen, but a 25-liter / 7-gallon container will work for many plants.

Habanero peppers on pepper plant
Ripening habanero peppers on pepper plant

We successfully grow hot peppers like habanero peppers, ghost peppers, and cayenne peppers and milder varieties like Jamaican bell peppers and jalapenos.

8. Radishes

Radishes are easy to grow and only take 25-30 days to grow from seed to ready-to-eat fruit.

Radishes come in different sizes, but a 25-centimeter / 10-inch deep container will work for most varieties. Radishes are a cool-season crop, but with container gardening, you can grow them all summer.

For best results, keep the soil moist and fertilize every two weeks with a low nitrogen formula.

9. Spinach

Spinach is a cool season crop ideal for container gardening. As the plant can develop a long central tap root, use containers at least 60cm (2 feet) deep and as wide as you want.

Spinach is easier to start in spring and autumn when the weather is cooler but can also be grown in summer – especially in containers where you can be flexible with the location.

You can start spinach indoors in seed trays or plant directly in containers.

10. Tomatoes

Growing tomatoes in containers, it is key to choose smaller, determinate, bushy varieties. Some of these varieties, such as cherry tomatoes, are ideal for growing in pots and containers.

Start tomato seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before the last expected frost, or plant them directly in containers.

Choose to transplant tomatoes to gradually larger pots or plant directly in the final container.

For medium-sized tomato plants, use containers at least 60cm (2 feet) deep with a similar width for best results. More petite plum and cherry tomato varieties will grow well in 25-liter/6-gallon containers.

Freshly harvested tomatoes and herbs
Freshly harvested tomatoes and herbs

Summary vegetable container gardening

Container gardening is an excellent way for home gardeners to grow vegetables in small spaces. Advantages include greater control over soil and growing conditions, increased flexibility, and easy maintenance.

However, there are limitations, as not all vegetables are suited for container growing. Challenges include more frequent watering, limited space for plants to grow, and the fact that containers get heavy and can be hard to maneuver.

Still, the fact that most gardeners use containers for at least some plants and vegetables speaks to the fact that growing vegetable in containers is a skill worth learning.

Meet the author: Mattias is an experienced gardener spending most of his free time on his knees among herbs, plants, and garden vegetables. For the past two years, he has been sharing gardening projects and how-to tutorials on the NordicLavender website and YouTube channel.