Container Garden Tips for Great Fruit & Vegetables

Written by Kelsey W.

If you dream of growing your own fruit and vegetables but lack the space to plant a field of delicious tomatoes, all is not lost! A container garden might be the answer to your space woes. You can grow fruits and vegetables if you have a place available that gets at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight each day.

Even though the weather can reach scorching temperatures in the summer, container gardens thrive in the bright sun in Southern California. It’s just a matter of giving the plants enough water and fertilizer when needed and keeping an eye out for pests that may eat the leaves, flowers, or vegetables.

Let’s take a look at maximizing the health and beauty of your container garden plants.

What Plants Should You Choose for Your Container Garden?
You may want to select plants that produce fruit or vegetables that you enjoy eating. There aren’t many things more satisfying than growing your own food, harvesting it, and adding it to a meal. Simply plucking a tomato or pepper off a plant and eating it raw is fun, too.

With that in mind, how do you choose which plants to grow in your container garden? Some of the best fruits and vegetables to grow in your garden include tomatoes, broccoli, lettuce, and radishes. You can grow just about any salad green in a container, too. 

For Southern California, some of your best options will include bell peppers, sweet potatoes, cucumber, and eggplant. If you choose sweet potatoes, wait to plant until the nights are warm. Mint is another excellent container option that’s tolerant of heat and sun (just make sure to water it regularly).

Choosing the Best Pots
If you’re limited on space, a container garden is an excellent way to grow your own fruit and vegetables without having a half-acre of land in the backyard. Before you buy your plants, you’ll want to get some pots. Plants enjoy having a lot of space, and you’ll need pots that give at least 12 inches of soil.

You can grow tomatoes and squash if you have room for a five-gallon container. If you have little space, you might consider plants with shallow roots like kale, onions, corn, and broccoli. If you plan on moving your containers throughout the year, remember that a big container will get quite heavy when filled with soil.

Make sure that the pots have adequate drainage, too. A waterlogged plant can create a breeding ground for fungus and bacteria, which can stall healthy growth. If you use those standard black plastic pots to house your container garden, you can usually puncture the bottom with a few holes if they don’t already have drainage.

Selecting the Healthiest Soil for Your Plants
Technically, you can use any dirt to grow your plants, but you might be disappointed at the lack of growth that regular earth provides. Your plants will fare much better in soil meant for container gardens. You can find a potting mix for container gardens that drains quickly and helps prevent waterlogged plants.

Getting a bag of soil is also the best way to avoid unintentionally introducing disease, bugs, or other contaminants into the pots. You don’t have to get the fanciest and most expensive soil for your container garden, but make sure that, at the very least, it’s a basic potting soil for flowering plants and vegetables.

If you can, avoid bagged soil with “garden” soil on the label. That soil is meant for plants in the ground rather than containers. Container soil usually drains faster and is more lightweight than garden soil. Container potting mix is more aerated than regular dirt, so it will allow your plants to spread their roots comfortably during the growing season.

Proper Placement for Your Container Garden
Placement matters when it comes to container gardens. Still, one of the advantages of planting your fruits and veggies in pots is that you can move the pots as the sun moves throughout the seasons. Take a look at the locations you have available for your garden and measure the number of hours of sunlight the area gets. 

If your chosen spot gets at least six to eight hours, your plants should feel fabulous in their pots. If you’re thinking of growing greens like lettuce or spinach, you can usually get away with about four or five hours of sunlight a day. 

However, plants like tomatoes and peppers need a lot of sun. Try to find a place on the western or southern side of your home or apartment for your sun-loving vegetables. If you get wind regularly at your home, try to choose the side of your home that gets less wind so your plants don’t dry out prematurely.

Getting the Water Just Right
One of the critical differences between container gardens and in-ground gardens is that plants grown in containers dry out faster than plants in the ground. For example, if you plant tomatoes in the ground, they will enjoy a sprinkling of water each morning. About one to two inches a week is sufficient.

On the other hand, tomatoes grown in containers usually dry out faster. You have two choices for watering your container plants. You can water them twice a day or just give them a little extra water in the morning with a single daily visit with the watering can.

Make sure that you water your plants when the sun isn’t high in the sky. Early morning is an excellent time for watering, but you can also water the plants before you go to sleep, and they’ll fare just fine. Check the pots on a regular basis. If they get too dry by the end of the day, give them an extra dousing.

Avoid watering the tops of your fruits and vegetables. Point the hose or watering can at the base of the plant at the soil level. Plants drink through their roots, not their leaves. Although you should avoid soaking the plants so often that they remain waterlogged, it’s best to give them deep waterings every few days rather than shallow watering every day. Deep watering encourages enormous healthy root growth.

Choosing When to Fertilize Your Garden
You can choose to apply a slow-release fertilizer powder at the beginning of the growing season or add a liquid fertilizer every two to four weeks throughout the growing season. If you choose a slow-release plant food, you’ll choose from fertilizers like fish meal pellets, alfalfa pellets, and cottonseed meal.

You may want to add an extra feeding to your plants if the weather gets particularly hot for more than a week. Extreme temperatures can stress your garden, and they’ll use their plant food faster than they might in cooler temperatures. As with watering, try to avoid delivering the fertilizer during the heat of the day.

If you’re worried about feeding and watering your container garden regularly, plants that may suit your scheduling needs include lima beans, corn, mustard greens, and okra. These plants are drought-tolerant, and you don’t need to fertilize them too often to enjoy an excellent yield. If buying fertilizer for twice-monthly feeds feels too expensive, dial it back to a monthly feeding. Your garden will fare just fine.

Supporting Tall Container Garden Plants
Some vegetables can grow extremely tall and start to fall over if they get too tall. You may want to invest in some thin stakes to hold the plants securely as they grow. You can reduce the amount of disturbance to the plants by staking them early with a tall stake or pole and supporting them with additional ties as they grow.

Some plants like snap peas and pole beans fare well when trained to climb. Did you know that you can train cucumbers to grow up a wall with a sheet of nylon mesh? The plants will grow beautifully tall, and the fruit will hang down as they grow toward the ground.

If you’re growing a plant that may get tall and bushy or create vines that spread all over the place, you may want to buy poles or a cage at the beginning of the season before the vines get too long to control. Vegetables like tomatoes can take over a small container, and it’s helpful to guide them along the wires of a cage to avoid unnecessary pruning in the middle of the season.

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