Horticulture Magazine

10 Nutritious Vegetables That Can Be Grown In Containers

cucumber and tomato seedlings in pots

Edible gardening is all the rage right now – and by growing vegetables in pots, you don’t even need a back yard to do it!

Greater awareness around environmental issues has led to more and more people investigating how they can grow their own produce, even in urban locations. Thankfully, plenty of vegetables lend themselves well to cultivation in pots and containers, meaning you don’t need a huge amount of space for your crops to flourish. A terrace, balcony, greenhouse or conservatory is all that’s required to coax delicious and nutritious edibles from the soil.

Another strong advantage of growing in pots is the soil itself; while the idea of a fool proof vegetable patch is a total myth, containers offer the closest thing to it. That’s because you have far greater control of the concentrations of compost, nutrients and water which go into the terrain, while the enclosed nature of the cultivation will also protect your plants from unwanted critters and blights.

Finally, growing your vegetables in pots gives you the opportunity to quickly and easily move them into shadier or sunnier spots as the circumstances warrant. You can even bring them inside or move them outdoors as the thermometer dictates! This means you can prolong yields for as long as possible and reap the benefits far later into the calendar year.

Just remember that the reduced area in which the plant can manoeuvre means that it will likely require more care and attention than one growing in the ground – especially if you’re using a smaller pot. In fact, it’s a good idea to overcompensate when choosing the size of your receptacle, since more elbow room will allow the soil to retain moisture more effectively and give the roots more space in which to expand, leading to less maintenance in the long run.

In any case, there are a wide variety of different vegetables which work well in containers, but here are a few ideas to get your green-fingered culinary adventure started. Happy growing!

10 Vegetables You Can Grow In Pots Today

1) Tomatoes

tomato plants growing on a windowsill
Cherry tomatoes are a perfect option for a windowsill

Yes we know they’re technically a fruit! However, providing you get the species and the conditions right, tomatoes are easy to grow and very satisfying to watch develop. To make your life easier, select a bush or determinate variety, which will grow to a predetermined size and won’t take up too much space. Having said that, it’s eminently possible to grow other strains as well, but they may require more room and support in the shape of staking or a tomato cage.

Tomatoes love the sun, so start out your seedlings in February or March on a windowsill that receives plentiful UV rays. They’ll also work well in greenhouses, conservatories or polytunnels, but be wary of transplanting into garden soil unless you enjoy warm temperatures, lots of sun and little to no frost. They also gobble up nutrients, so keep the plants well fed and watered in sizable containers (at least 10 litres in volume per plant).

2) Lettuce

lettuce plant in a small plastic pot
Lettuce eat!

A durable vegetable, lettuce is perfect for the Great British climate in that it doesn’t require as much sun or warmth as some others on this list. In fact, it actually prefers a bit of shade, so the fact that it’s in a container means you can move it around the garden to receive more or less sun as is required. This will also allow you to better clamp down on the weeds and pests which can often disrupt lettuce yields.

Most lettuce varieties crop in spring, but some may continue to produce yields later into the summer, especially if you move them to cooler climes. They’re also fast growing; seed them in January to harvest in June. Simply sprinkle a few seeds on the surface of the soil, before dusting them over with compost, since they thrive on light during the germination stage. Miniature varieties like Little Gem and Tom Thumb are perfect for pots, as they require less space.

3) Kale

kale plant in a black planter being watered
This super food is also super resilient against whatever the weather throws at it

If lettuce is easy to grow, kale is positively child’s play. This robust plant is almost bulletproof in terms of the climatic conditions it can withstand; only the very worst extremes of winter will make a dent on it and it should otherwise flourish for the rest of the year. It’s also high in a variety of different nutrients and makes an excellent addition to your smoothies or a tasty sauteed side dish for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

For best results, ensure you plant kale in a spacious pot with a diameter of at least 30cm, while the soil mixture should be free-draining and packed with nutrients. Nero di Toscana and Russian Kale are especially recommended for growing in pots due to their manageable size and the fact that their taste will actually improve as the temperatures drop. Expect one plant to feed one person on a weekly basis all year round.

4) Potatoes

potatoes freshly dug from a blue container
There’s nothing more satisfying than a freshly picked spud

Though potatoes might require a little more space than other vegetables, if you provide them with enough soil and water then you’ll be well rewarded. That’s because the earthiness of freshly picked potatoes, alongside their higher water content, make them a far more appetising prospect than ones you might pick up in the supermarket. The importance of irrigation can’t be stressed highly enough, however; insufficient watering is the number one reason for poor crop yields.

For best results, seek out seed potatoes, which are specifically designed to be grown at home. You can plant the seeds in March or April, placing them at around half the depth of a pot at least 30cm in diameter and topping up with more soil or compost as the shoots begin to develop. One key advantage of planting in pots is the protection it affords against blight, a big killer of crops in late summer. You can also avoid this by harvesting in June or July.

5) Carrots

carrots sat in a terracotta planter
What’s up, doc?

All types of carrots adapt well to pot life, though standard varieties have extensive root systems, meaning you’ll need to use a container that is both deep and wide. If space is at a premium, baby carrots are an ideal choice in smaller points and come with the added advantage of their sweet taste. That’s thanks to the fact that they’re harvested before they have reached full maturity.

Larger varieties should be sowed in February, while smaller ones can wait until April or later. You should always ensure that the container is covered with a fine fleece or mesh, since carrot flies are a significant issue once the mercury begins to rise in late spring and summer. Another advantage of cultivating your carrots in a pot is the greater control you’ll have over the soil composition; carrots struggle in terrain with a lot of stones or clay, so a fine compost will produce markedly better results.

6) Courgettes

a courgette plant
That’s zucchini, to our North American friends

Courgettes are summer crops which will produce more vegetables the more they are harvested! Rigorous picking will ensure that a single plant can easily satisfy the needs of a small family all throughout the warmer months. They are quite delicate specimens, however, so avoid sowing the seeds until May if you plan to keep them outdoors; otherwise place them in a sunny spot inside the house, greenhouse or conservatory.

They’re also hungry and thirsty creatures, so make sure you give them enough room to develop. The seeds can be sown individually in smaller pots, but once a single large leaf has appeared, they must be transferred to a receptacle of at least 10 litres in volume. Once in position, make sure they’re fed and watered on a regular basis. You can make the process of ensuring they have enough nutrients that much easier by using a slow-release fertiliser in the compost composition.

7) Cucumbers

cucumbers growing from a container
From small seedlings do mighty gherkins grow

Have you ever heard that a cucumber is 95% water? If you have, it should come as no surprise that these vegetables are incredibly thirsty and demand constant irrigation. That makes growing them in pots slightly easier than in the ground, since the pot will retain moisture better, while container cultivation is also conducive to warmer soils. Cucumbers love the heat and warmer air penetrates to pot soil much more effectively than it does to ground soil.

As with courgettes, cucumbers are also tender beasts, meaning you should avoid growing outside unless your garden enjoys respectable ambient temperatures. For best results, cultivate them in a conservatory or greenhouse, while you should also use supports in the form of canes or strings to ensure the weight of the vegetable doesn’t impact upon the growth of the plant. Follow the same seeding, transplanting and picking process as the one outlined above for courgettes and you’ll be rewarded with a similar bountiful harvest each summer.

8) Peas

pea plant seedlings
Beneficial to the soil, pleasing on the eye, tantalising on the tastebuds. What’s not to like?

As one of the easiest vegetables to grow in a pot, peas make for an excellent project with younger members of the household. Although bush varieties are available, most pea plants (including sugar snaps and snow peas) will need some form of support to hold them up. One or more bamboo canes set in the middle of the pot and fastened with twine will be adequate to ensure they don’t collapse under the weight of their own deliciousness.

As well as providing a tasty snack or side dish, pea plants are also attractive additions to the garden in their own right, especially after flowers have begun to blossom but before the seedpods appear. What’s more, they’re also excellent enrichers of soil, imparting plenty of nitrogen which will help subsequent plants. Seed them in March, harvest them in June and replace them with salad leaves or other delectable veggie produce in late summer for round two of crop yields from that nitrogen-rich soil.

9) Beetroot

beetroot growing in a black plastic planter
Un-beet-able results

Beets are pretty adaptable tykes which will fair well in potted environments – providing they are given enough ground clearance. The roots like to delve deep into the soil, so make sure you plant them in a pot with a depth of around 25cm to 30cm. You should also bear in mind that a single beetroot seed contains a cluster of five or so individual seeds, so planting just one seed could produce multiple plants, depending on how many germinate.

Look to bed the beetroot seeds in in March, before harvesting their early leaf growth as a stand-in for spinach. Come late summer, you’ll have plenty of delicious beets to incorporate into your salads and sandwiches. A little know fact about beetroot is that it comes from the same family as Swiss chard, too, with the former grown for its roots and the latter for its leaves. Both do very well in pots, as long as they have enough good quality compost and regular irrigation.

10) Radishes

bright red radishes in a trough planter
From seed to salad in 25 days flat

There’s nothing quite like the satisfying crunch and the subtle spiciness of a ripe and ravishing radish. Incredibly versatile, these eye-catching red vegetables will make do in even the smallest containers; all that’s needed is a sprinkling of soil and enough water to slake its thirst and you can enjoy radishes almost year-round. Be mindful that they don’t enjoy full sun, however, so remember to move them to a shadier spot when the temperature rises.

Another huge selling point of radishes is their rapid turnaround time. Most strains will go from seed to harvest in well under a month, meaning you’ll have to wait hardly any time at all to enjoy their unique flavour and texture. With many different types available, you can pick and choose the ones that best suit your palette, while the fact that both the pods and the leaves are also edible means there is very little waste from this robust, dynamic and supremely efficient potted plant.

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