Beginning a container vegetable garden is similar to starting an in-ground vegetable garden. The main difference is space considerations (which can be freeing, when a gardener contemplates the possibility of growing indoors as well). Container gardeners should be vigilant in monitoring the moisture levels of their vegetables. Containers dry out more quickly than the ground, so frequent watering during hot weather is a must.
Whether the space available is a small patio or a large yard, just about anyone at any level of gardening knowledge can start a container vegetable garden. Just as small ceramic tiles can be arranged to suit any size kitchen or bathroom, so too can container vegetable gardens be arranged to suit any space available.
If a gardener wishes to grow vining vegetables such as peas, beans, tomatoes, or cucumbers, trellises or cages will be necessary. Growing vertically can help to make the most of a small amount of space.
A plethora of pots is available at most home improvement stores and garden centers. However, creative container gardeners can turn virtually anything into a home for vegetables when given a 6-inch or greater depth, as long as adequate drainage can be supplied. Decorative washtubs, old toy boxes, and pretty bowls can all make lovely containers for vegetable gardens. This may involve drilling holes in the bottoms of some containers so that excess water can drain off when veggies are watered.
Since these plants are intended to be edible, another major concern is toxicity. Containers where lead paints, creosote, or other potentially harmful substances have been used should be avoided. Such containers may, however, be reserved for non-edible container gardening.
Most vegetables prefer full sun (at least six to eight hours per day). It is possible to grow vegetables in containers indoors, provided that the gardener has a sufficiently sunny window (south-facing in the northern hemisphere, and north-facing in the southern hemisphere). This should be taken into consideration when planning outdoor container gardens as well, particularly where space is confined. If a gardener's patio faces away from the sun, a container vegetable garden should be planned somewhere other than the patio.
Beginning container vegetable gardeners should consider whether the local climate is mild, without harsh winters. In areas with harsh winters, tender container-grown vegetables may need to be moved indoors when weather gets below freezing. An indoor area that gets sufficient sunlight should be available for these plants in this circumstance.
Most vegetables can be grown successfully in containers, especially since containers come in all shapes and sizes. In the case of larger plants, however, it is best to find dwarf varieties of these plants for container gardening. Dwarf tomatoes, cucumbers, and even carrots have been bred with container gardeners in mind. As long as they receive sufficient sun, water and fertilizer, they are the best bet for a container garden.
Additionally, take care when planting multiple plants in a single planter. Gardeners should make sure that plants grow well together before planting, as some vegetables may inhibit each other's growth. Even if that is not the case, some vegetables grow taller than others, and may prevent smaller vegetables from getting their necessary sun. Lettuce plants like shade, but tomatoes and cucumbers need full sun. Container gardens should be planted accordingly.
Container gardening expert Rose Marie Nichols McGee recommends against planting potatoes in a container garden. While it can be done, the amount of effort required exceeds the rewards.