(Growing Vegetables in Containers)

Gary H. Brinen, Extension Agent - Horticulture (retired) and
Wendy L. Wilber, Environmental Horticulture Agent

Hydroponics generally is a complicated technique for growing one's own vegetables. However, one variation that has caught on with even the most novice gardener is referred to as "minigardening". It involves growing plants in containers, utilizing either a prepared mixture of a soil substitute and fertilizer, or aggregate culture.

Minigardening is practical for those who do not have sufficient yard space for an outdoor garden. Even persons living in apartments and condominiums can grow at least a few vegetables by planting a minigarden.

Areas suitable are along fences and in fence corners, in and around flower beds, adjacent to walks and drives, near the foundation of the house, on patios, porches and balconies, and even on roof-tops. Such small-scale container culture can be both practical and ornamental if properly and imaginatively done.

A wide assortment of containers might be used, ranging form hanging baskets and flower pots to tubs, bean hampers, and refuse cans. Most any container is suitable as long as it is sufficiently durable and large enough to hold the fully grown plant or plants. In this respect, gardeners are limited only by their imagination. An old bathtub might yield the prize tomatoes of the neighborhood, while an old plastic beach ball cut in half could become an excellent herb container.

Here are some examples for containers and crops adapted to them:

  • Pots, cans, milk jugs:
    Chives, green onions, herbs, radishes, parsley and lettuce.
  • Concrete blocks (hollow):
    Bush beans (2 or 3 plants in each section), parsley, herbs, lettuce.
  • Plastic bags (durable):
    Depending on bag size, large tomatoes or small plants.
  • Bushel baskets & 5 gallon trash cans:
    Tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, pumpkins, cucumbers, cantaloupes, and smaller vegetables.
  • Pyramid (constructed beds):
    Strawberries, radishes, lettuce, onions, chives, herbs, carrots, parsley, chard, cabbage.
  • Barrels and drums:
    Strawberries (set plants in holes in sides of barrel and along top).

Using the Containers

  • Metal containers would best be painted on the inside with asphalt paint, and clear containers on the outside with dark paint. Be sure to punch holes at intervals 1" above bottom of container to allow for drainage of excess moisture. Baskets could be lined with plastic film to keep soil mix from spilling through cracks.
  • Fill container with growth medium. Use any of the prepared mixes already mentioned, or a soil substitute such as sawdust, wood shavings, vermiculite, or even just good garden soil. Keep in mind that the lighter materials enable easy movement of containers.
  • In addition to the more detailed prepared mix already outlined under Aggregate Culture, a first-time minigardener might start with either one of the following two more simple mixtures:
    • (a) Thoroughly mix:
      1 bushel of vermiculite
      1 bushel of peat moss
      1 1/4 cups of dolomite
      1 cup of 6-8-8 fertilizer/with trace elements

    • (b) Thoroughly mix:
      1 bushel of sand or garden soil
      1 bushel of peat, cow manure, or well decomposed compost
      1 1/4 cups of dolomite
      1 cup of 6-8-8 fertilizer/with trace elements


In general, the more porous growth media, such as sand and gravel, most closely approximately hydroponic culture. These tend to dry out fast and do not hold nutrients for very long. Therefore, frequent plant feedings are necessary. Normally, the nutrient solution must be added and drained in the containers once or twice a day. During especially hot, dry weather, the aggregate may need more than two drenchings daily, sometimes as many as five. Use either fertilizer solutions made with commercially available soluble fertilizer (see aggregate culture), or the water culture solution.

Soil substitute mixes which contain ample organic materials, and which have fertilizer included in the mixing process, also will need additional fertilizer from time to time, but at much less frequent intervals than with the porous sand or gravel culture. Once every week or every two weeks may be sufficient. Use either soluble fertilizer, or dry common garden fertilizer, applied on the soil surface and watered thoroughly into the root zone. Don't apply too much or fertilizer burn will result. Usually, 1 teaspoonful per square foot of soil surface is adequate at each feeding. Where ready-mixed soluble fertilizers are purchased, follow label directions for application.

The use of trade names in this news article is solely for the purpose of providing specific information. It is not a guarantee or warranty or the products names and does not signify they are approved to the exclusion of others of suitable comparison.

(Fact Sheet #11)