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COLUMN: Tight on space? Consider containers

Gardening tips from Cornell Cooperative Extension

Rosanne LoParco
Sentinel columnist
Posted 6/12/22

If you’re short on space or don’t have time for a traditional vegetable garden, why not consider growing vegetables in containers.

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COLUMN: Tight on space? Consider containers

Gardening tips from Cornell Cooperative Extension


If you’re short on space or don’t have time for a traditional vegetable garden, why not consider growing vegetables in containers. Just about any vegetable – and many fruits – can easily be grown in containers.

Container vegetable gardening is also great fun for the kids to try! With container vegetable gardening, you can focus on growing what you want and only what you need. Just about any crop can be grown in a container. Many crops have varieties suited for containers. In general, look for words like “bush”, “dwarf”, or “patio” when selecting plants (or seeds).

Also look for quick maturing crops, or what’s described as “days to harvest” on plant tags or seed packets. Also, consider these four keys to success for productive containerized vegetable plants.

The right container

You don’t need to spend money on special containers. Five-gallon buckets, empty milk jugs, dishpans, storage totes all make excellent containers for edible crops. Containers need to be clean and have at least one drainage hole. Drainage holes are critical to ensure excess water can flow out easily, allowing plant roots to breathe.

The size of the container depends on what you are growing; a single tomato, for example, will need about a 20 inch-wide container. Peppers and eggplants grow well in smaller containers, about 14 inch pots. Salad greens can grow well in a window box or bowl. Plastic containers are best; clay will dry out too fast. Five-gallon buckets are a perfect size for just about any vegetable plant.

A good potting mix

Don’t use garden soil; it’s too heavy for containerized plants. Use a good quality potting mix. You can also use a compost mix. A mix of half-potting mix and half compost is sufficient. Compost will have benefits similar to slow-release fertilizer and will increase the water-holding capacity of your soil.

Water and fertilizer

Both will be your biggest challenge. Most vegetable containers will need to be watered daily during hot summer months, and sometimes more than once a day.

Be sure to thoroughly water, adding water until it starts to drain out of the bottom. It’s important not to let vegetables dry out like you can with flowers; once vegetables dry out, they are permanently stressed and may not recover. If you’re not a dependable waterer, you may want to consider using self-watering containers, which include a water reservoir that can allow you to miss an occasional watering.

Vegetables in containers need more fertilizer then in-ground plants. Since you will be watering more, that results in greater nutrient loss, which means you will need to add more fertilizer. Add a slow-release fertilizer when you plant your containers and then reapply using a water-soluble fertilizer every two to four weeks.

Light and plant

Vegetables need full sun to thrive. Some of your salad crops will grow in part-sun. Even though you can plant just about any variety, consider more compact varieties, which are better suited for containers.

Maximize space by growing vertically; using a trellis, a cage or stakes. This allows you to grow crops such as zucchini, cucumbers or beans. Determinate varieties of tomatoes are smaller plants best suited for containers; but that doesn’t mean you can’t grow the big vining indeterminate varieties. Just be sure to provide adequate support to hold the plants.

Practice companion planting by adding some flowers. Companion plants such as marigolds, nasturtiums or calendula will attract beneficial insects, which can take care of bad pest populations. Culinary herbs also make good companion plants or can be grown on their own.

Cornell has a great fact sheet on growing vegetables and herbs in containers, including varieties and what container size to use; visit for more information. Don’t let the lack of a garden space deter you from growing vegetables, fruits or herbs this year.

Cornell Cooperative Extension Oneida County: Home and Garden questions can be emailed to or call 315-736-3394, press 1 and then x 333. Leave your question name and number. Questions are answered weekdays 8a-4p. Also, visit our website at Or phone 315-736-3394, Press 1 and then Ext 100.


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