On growing vegetables in containers


What this first-time veg-gardener has learned so farTomato-superbush3renee

I learned that "self-watering" still requires getting water into the container's reservoir.  Nothing happens automatically and without a water source nearby, I did a lot of schlepping – which was totally worth it for the glorious produce and fun of it all.

Another question to answer was how to support rather large plants, without being able to insert sturdy posts into actual soil, ya know. I tried some wire supports, but the squash just got tangled up in them.  I tied tomatoes against the privacy screen, but then couldn't move the planter around (on its handy rollers) to harvest the cherry toms. 

But like all gardeners, I'm already scheming about what I'll do differently next year and one BIG answer is to grow container-sized plants.  Yep, they actually exist, or at least Renee Shepherd sells them and she sent me a nice assortment for next spring. There's "Super Bush" tomatoes (no comment), "Bush Slicer" cukes, (ditto), "Little Prince" eggplant, and even container sunflowers and zinnias.  Can't wait to try 'em.Cuc-slicer2Renee

Something else I learned from the very patient Renee is that some plants – most vegetables are really and truly easier to grow from seed sewn outdoors – no need to buy starts like I did this year.  (And starts are only available in the super-common, too-big-for-container varieties.)  Seems they don't do much til the soil warms up, anyway.  Tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, however, DO work better when grown from seed in late winter – or starts grown by someone else.  Okay, I'm catching on, and I think I can manage starting tomato seeds indoors in March, really.  At least enough for two plants. Renee-obama

But back to Renee.  I had the pleasure of a nice long dinner with Polly Jones and Renee when she was in DC for the Congressional Club's annual First Lady's Dinner with Michelle Obama.  Here's part of her report on Renee's Garden Blog:

  Best of all, I was invited to the VIP
reception before the affair and had the thrill and honor of meeting
Michelle Obama in person. I was also able to make a personal selection
of our seeds to give to Michelle for the White House Garden. Michelle
was everything I expected — vibrant, graceful, clearly engaged and
enjoying what she is doing. When you speak with her, you have her full
attention and feel like you are the only person in the room. The
luncheon itself was really fabulous. I was seated at a table quite
close to the First Lady and other honorees, so I got to watch her "up
close and personal" as she gave a very insightful speech on community

Since when is having a small seed business the ticket to hobnobbing with power and (in this case) glamour in America?  Since now, baby – gardening is coming back.

All photos courtesy Renee Shepherd.


  1. Sounds as if you have a good harvest, Susan!

    Pine Tree Gardens in Maine also has a section in their catalogue for container-sized vegetables, and I have used a lot of them with good results. My fave this year though was a start from DiBaggio — “FairyTale” container-sized eggplant. 4″ long fruit, pale mauve striped with white, borne in clusters of three or four. I’m almost tempted to wear them as earrings, they’re so cute.

  2. I grew all my tomatoes in self watering containers this year, nine plants total, and they absolutely thrived.

    Where other gardeners around have wee little foot and a half tall plants, I have six foot tall monsters. Whether they’ll have time to ripen or not is a different story.

    I can see peas also doing very well in smaller spaces, and the eight-ball zucchini is also relatively compact, compared to what I expected. He’s growing mostly up, not out and is really thriving.

    Congrats on your edible garden!

  3. I have had very limited success with containers. I do believe it is possible to get good results, but it is generally much harder than using regular beds. So I would recommend them only for apartments or decoration, not primary production.

    They are so extremely sensitive to water and temperature. Even with self watering containers I found they needed more water almost every two days. Plant size was also fairly limited.

    Hot peppers and herbs are a notable exception. They work extremely well in containers.

    I was thinking about trying container strawberries this year, on a lark.

    But anyway, I have had much better luck with in-ground gardens. YMMV 🙂

    Happy gardening guys!

  4. I second Renee’s comments about seed starting vs starts. I had great luck with the tomatoes on the windowsill in March (I used those little expanding peat pots and windowsill sized trays), but the cucumbers were a bust–direct sow is best.

    And here’s another trick — trim off the side shoots on your tomato seedlings early and frequently. You get much stronger root systems, and more branching later (I’m talking determinate/bush variety like Renee suggests), and therefore, tons more blooms and tomatoes.

    One last trick, you should give a try to basil too! Start them with the tomatoes and then plant them together…the stinky basil supposedly keeps pests away.

  5. I would like to know more about vegetable varieties appropriately sized for containers. Is there a resource to learn more about that specifically?

  6. Here’s a tip for self-watering containers – something I had to learn the hard way. Drill one or two drainage holes near the top of the water reservoir. That way if you get a torrential rain and aren’t there to dump out the extra water, your plants won’t drown. Read more about the disaster here: http://timberglade.typepad.com/outside/2006/08/disaster_strike.html

    BTW – I find that the containers work wonderfully for growing peppers, too. And like Steph said, stick some basil in with the tomatoes (or peppers) – it does great.

  7. Guess I’ll be the first one to, um, expand on this post: are those Bush Slicer cukes on that plant, or is it just glad to see you?

  8. We’ve been raising vegies in pots on our patio for the past 12 years. Always successful. This summer was the best, because we used Renee’s special seeds for containers. I recommend the zucchini, cucumber, chard, lettuce, and green bean seeds direct sowed. The seed packet directions are excellent.

  9. Ahhh, as with anything in life, you have found the secret of growing vegetables in containers and that is ‘just do it’! I love that you are ‘scheming’ for better production and growth and as for the luncheon with MO, just a matter of time before you are sitting at her table. Are you sure you will be able to plant those ‘Super Bush Tomatoes’? 🙂

  10. Used Renee’s seeds for the first time this year. Everything is great. Coming back for more next year.

  11. I tried raising tomatoes in pots last year with not much success. Next year I’ll try raising my own seedlings and use self-watering containers. Thanks for the tips.

    Given the terrible tomato blight this season, raising your own makes good sense anyway.

    Now if I could get my sister out here to CA, I wouldn’t have to worry about anything. She’s an amazing green thumb.

  12. I may have to have to look into this, thanks for the information and encouragement. The usual spot for our itty bitty garden is now in too much shade .
    Things change.. gardens evolve, pots suddenly look like an option.

  13. It’s all about the soil, especially with containers. I did a mini comparison this summer and came up with some favorite varieties (Husky Cherry, Heartland), also a productive container mix (add 1/4 soil and some worm castings). No loss at all to late blight, which has been a scourge up here. Maybe just luck. More details on my recent blog post.

  14. This is one space saving idea.The containers are economically convenient too. We’ve tried herbs on October and vegetables on containers are definitely worth the try.

  15. I live in a village and work in agriculturing. We produce vegetables in our farms and i try to read everything
    about them. This information is very useful for me and i also found another useful guide about vegetables;


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