Can’t grow it in a plot? Grow it in a pot.



There is plenty of talk about vegetable gardening on this blog, no question of that. But not too much talk of container gardening. In fact, I seem to remember one of my fellow ranters saying (during a rant against houseplants) that plants aren’t supposed to be in a pot; they’re supposed to be in the ground.

Fair enough. It is much easier to keep stuff in the ground, or just stick seedlings in the ground year after year, as one often does with vegetables. But what if you’re like this letter-to-the-editor writer: It’s all very well for celebrity gardeners and chefs to tell us all to grow our own vegetables as it is healthier and far cheaper. This is true but not everyone has a garden big enough to grow their own in. In fact, many people live in apartments these days and the only access they have to an outside space is a small balcony.

I agree with the sentiment but not with the conclusion of this letter, in which the writer assumes vegetable growing is not possible for him. One of my work colleagues grows the most fabulous heirloom tomatoes I’ve ever seen, all in containers. Some Garden Walk gardeners have a wide variety of cool food crops in containers, some using supports if needed.

Paging through my Gardeners’ Supply catalog, it seems to me that there are dozens of smart container options that are engineered to keep plants just watered enough. I have not tried any of these, though, so I’d be interested if anyone has and if they work. Whatever you put them in, if you have sunny patio or balcony space, vegetables in containers are a smart option. Certainly my friend at work had enough to bring big paper bags in to work to share with us. (I love the little orange tomatoes.)

I think one of the things that may stop some people from growing food is the thought that they need a large sunny bed to start with. Personally I only have one of those, and I’m not about to give it up to vegetables. But I might have some heirlooms in containers this year.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Thanks! Living in an apartment as I do, and only having a small balcony on which to “garden”, I’m a big fan of containers. Obviously. I’ve seen some pretty spectacular tomatoes and cukes, beans and other climbers grown in very small places.

  2. I have a small yard and I extend my season and my overall yield with containers on sunny paved areas. I can also raise my lettuces up off the ground with containers – out of the reach of cats, rabbits, and slugs. Containers at table level are also a great choice for people who have trouble kneeling or otherwise reaching the ground to do traditional gardening.

  3. This summer and fall I will be working with silver fir tree tomatoes in containers for the first time. We have always had good success with pepper plants, particularly jalapenos, grown in containers, as long as you keep them well watered. Seem to think that eggplants would be well suited to container culture, but I have yet to try, we have too many in the ground all ready.

  4. I bought the Tomato Success Kit from Gardeners as a gift for my parents who at the time were only doing some light gardening (herbs) on their deck. The self watering planter worked great and they were very happy with it.

    They’re retired now with a 3 acre lot and my Dad uses the planter as a nursery bed for his grape vine cuttings.

    Obviously it’s a lot more expensive that planting some seeds in the soil but for people who don’t have soil, it’s a good option.

  5. I used these containers from Gardeners Supply last summer with great success. We have deer in our yard, so patio containers are the only way to go. They were great for tomatoes, and I also used the Terraza self-watering for beets, carrots, snap peas and spinach.

  6. This year I’m growing potatoes in containers. I liked the idea that in the fall all I have to do is dump the containers over and pick out the potatoes. I wasn’t really sure it would work, but I bought 3 plastic storage bins from Wal-Mart had holes drilled in the bottom and ordered seed potatoes. I threw compost in the bottom, a few inches of soil and planted the potatoes and checked faithfully every day for a couple of weeks. Eureka! They’re growing. I’m so excited.

  7. I live in an apartment with a balcony to garden on. Of course I have containers. I have not tried veggies yet but will be trying some next year. I think it’s silly that people would think you should not garden in containers. You can put almost any plant in a container as long as it has enough room to grow and the nutrients it needs.

  8. Ha. Well, to be fair, it’s not much hating them, but hating trying to keep them alive. Many have trouble. I’m a big fan myself.

  9. I have trouble keeping houseplants alive too. I have an aloe that is very forgiving when I go away and don’t water it for two weeks. But my other houseplants have long ago decided I was unworthy as a caregiver.

  10. I grow all my veggies in containers. We rent and we’ve found so much trash as we’ve dug beds on the property that I wouldn’t eat anything that comes out of that ground. As an earlier commenter wrote the container tomatoes need a lot of water, but we had a nice harvest last year from 5 tomato plants and 1 cherry tomato. We’ve expanded to new varieties of tomatoes and more vegetables in general this year.

  11. We live in an apartment and our entire “garden” is in containers. We have two window boxes with herbs, a hanging basket with strawberries, another window with carrots, and then a bunch of large planters with tomatoes, peppers and zucchini and some medium size ones with lettuce and spinach in addition to our houseplants. I would love to be able to grow in the ground but since I can’t I would rather grow in containers then buy what the grocery store has at an exhorbitant price.

  12. It is really cool to hear from all these container gardeners. I gardened on a balcony for 10 years. My mom helped me start my first garden there. I must admit I failed with vegetables, but I gave up too soon, probably..

  13. This spring I tried some mesclun lettuce in a container. It’s doing great. I didn’t even thin it. It’s not a very large container, but I’ve already had several salads. And I love plucking and eating a few leaves now and then right from the container. I paid $1.89 for a package of seeds that have given me lettuce for weeks and is still producing. Not bad considering gourmet mixed baby lettuce sells for about $8.00/lb around here, and that’s not even the organic stuff. Mine is.

  14. I use the self-watering planters in front for flowers, and in the back (the huge Terrazza trough planters) for cut flowers and vegetables (okay, mostly tomatoes).

    I’m in Zone 7a, and it’s a dry zone 7a, so chrysanthemums and tulips both overwinter splendidly for me. BUT…because it’s a dry zone 7a, the self-watering feature is completely useless here. I installed a 1/4″ soaker hose system through the containers to provide adequate water, and that works fine.

  15. I kitchen garden in a third floor condo. This year I’m expecting about 200 pounds of tomatoes. I also grow a wide variety of salad greens and potherbs, corn, beans, peas, peppers, edible flowers, and herbs. My husband and I generally can go for 6 months without buying fresh veg, and this year I’m putting food up, which should extend that time quite a bit. The rest of the year, we buy local and seasonal (in Detroit, that means a lot of cabbage and potatoes). This is my fourth year growing food this way, and every year I manage to expand on it. It’s simply stunning how much food you can grow in containers.

  16. Grouchylisa–wow, I’m really impressed. Also at the other container growers.

    Here are two more reasons to use containers:

    1) GOPHERS. They used to eat all my bulbs. (Also potatoes.) No more. bonus: when the bulbs are done, you can haul them off to sit over the septic tank or in some other seclusion.

    2) I originally started using containers to save water–but that only works if you use the ones with tanks like the ones Gardener’s Supply sells. If you get good-quality ones, they last for years and years, so you can just keep adding to the collection.

    But you have to watch out for some badly-designed kinds (I think “Terraza” is beautiful, but it doesn’t drain, so I need all boggy soggy plants in there even after drilling a drain hole). Or you can home-make cheaper (but admittedly tackier-looking) containers. I’m thinking about writing on this on my garden blog, if anyone is interested to know more.

  17. Just realized I dissed “Terazza”planters: it’s the “Belfiori” planters that are the soggy boggy ones–but they seem to have been discontinued.

    I’m blaming it on my Italian–which somehow seems better than blaming it on pure forgetfulness.

  18. I know I’m late to the party on this topic, but I wanted to say that the self-watering containers from Gardener’s Supply work great. The only modification I recommend is drilling two drainage holes just at the top of the self-watering part. A few years ago, I was out of town for business and we had a huge thunderstorm with lots of rain. Spouse is not a gardener so doesn’t obsessively visit the garden 4-5 times a day. I was out of town and just thought, “Oh good, rain.” I got home, though, and my beautiful tomatoes and peppers had drowned. Here are the pictures of what happens when tomatoes drown (not for the squeamish):

  19. About fifty per cent of my garden space is an almost never used concrete patio. Now this space has twenty four 18 gallon well drilled storage boxes with carrots, cabbage, celery, Florence fennel and various lettuces’. Also forty ‘garden center’ type boxes with radishes, beets, swiss chard…..
    One of the best keep secrets is using rubber/plastic 18 gallon storage boxes. Using a one inch paddle bit drill 12 to 16 holes in the bottom and using the shape end of the paddle pit drill 24 to 32 small holes about 85 to 95% the way down. Fill the bottom 10 to 20% with small gravel the rest with high quality soil. I’ve grown 14 inch carrots…..

  20. Here is Southern California we are having real problems growing tomatoes because of nematodes. So gardeners are going to pots, soil sterilization, planting marigolds, you name it.
    In fact there is an online discussion at

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