Vegetables You Can Grow in Containers

Tomato plant growing in a container

Do you want to grow vegetables and herbs but don't have room for a garden? Grow in containers instead! Learn how to choose the right containers for your plants, and what plants work best in a container garden.

Vegetables you can grow in a container garden

Before we moved to Oklahoma I had a beautiful little garden patch in the "black swamp" area of the Michigan/Ohio border. The black soil was fertile and gorgeous, the summer rains were plentiful, and all I had to do was pull weeds and harvest the bounty.

Moving to Oklahoma was a shock. 

Our soil here is either silica sand or orange clay, depending on where you dig. Rain seems to be either drought or flood, and the summer heat is brutal on plants.

I've been amending the soil for a decade and learning what does and doesn't work to actually produce food in my garden.

But if you don't have space for a traditional in-the-ground garden, or if your only outdoor space is a deck or a balcony or a patio, you can plant your garden in containers!

Even if you have a garden but want to grow more plants, you can add containers to create more space.

The beauty of containers is that you can put plants where you want them, instead of being confined to a small plot of dirt in a not-so-great spot.

Have a shady yard but your deck is in full sun? Put containers on the deck. Do you rent a home and can't replace the lawn with a garden? Use containers.

Seeds or purchased transplants will grow equally well in your pots and planters.

How to get started growing in containers

The first step to beginning a container garden is to decide what you want to grow.

That sounds kind of silly, but you don't want to waste precious space on vegetables that your family won't eat.

Knowing what you want to grow will also help you gather containers in the sizes and shapes that will work best for you.

Lemon balm growing in a container herb garden

What to grow in a container garden

Most plants will adapt well to growing in a container, but some are better-suited than others. Many vegetables have smaller varieties that will fit better in your pots and containers.

Look for words such as "mini" and "dwarf" in the variety names, and "tidy" and "compact" in the descriptions. "Tom Thumb" is the variety name of several vegetables including tomatoes, lettuce and even peas.

Salad greens

Lettuce, spinach, and other greens grow well in wide containers. These containers don't have to be deep since the plants don't have a large root system. 

You can grow a small lettuce patch in a large, wide container. (You'll find some tips on growing looseleaf lettuce in this post, and see the metal washtub I used as a salad garden for awhile.)


Carrots, on the other hand, need a deep container. Carrots are vegetables with long roots so they need plenty of space to grow down deep. 

But you might not know that there are quite a few varieties of smaller carrots that will do well in containers. Look for "baby carrots" instead. Or try oxheart carrots, which are short and stubby. There are even round carrot varieties

Or you can harvest the longer varieties early so they won't need such a deep pot. 

Beets, radishes and other root crops

Beets and other root crops such as radishes and onions will grow well in large pots. Keep in mind the mature size of the root and be sure to give them enough width to grow in your containers. Wide pots will hold more plants but don't plant them too close together.

Vari-colored herbs growing in pots


Tomato plants tend to be large and top-heavy, but tomatoes are a staple in most gardens. However, you can grow them in containers.

Look for "bush" or "dwarf" varieties for tomato plants that will remain small. 

Determinate tomato varieties won't grow as large as indeterminate plants. (Learn the difference between determinate and indeterminate tomato varieties here.)

Or grow your favorite big tomato variety in a large container such as a five-gallon bucket and use a trellis or tomato cage so the plants grow upwards instead of sprawling all over the place.

You'll need one container for each tomato plant.


Most pepper varieties have compact plants although there are exceptions. 

While they don't need a trellis, peppers appreciate being staked or caged in some way to keep them upright when the fruits are ripe and heavy.

Beans and cucumbers

Bush beans and bush-type cucumbers are better suited to containers than the vining varieties unless you have a trellis system for them to climb on.


Most summer squash plants such as zucchini stay relatively small and are well-suited to large containers, but winter squash such as butternut and pumpkin require a lot of space to sprawl.


Herb plants are usually happy growing in containers. Most varieties remain small. 

Even a rosemary plant, which can reach the size of a large bush in the right climate and location, will stay small in a pot. 

Mint and other herbs in the mint family are best confined to a container anyway. Left to their own devices, they will take over a flowerbed or garden by sending out runners that develop into new plants. Growing them in pots will keep them where they belong.

Growing in containers makes it easy to move tender, perennial herbs to a sheltered location during the winter. 

Zucchini growing in a large feed tub

Where to find containers

If you're like me, now you're thinking of all the containers you'll need and are ready to faint. It would be prohibitively expensive to buy them all!

Fortunately there are many ways to save money on containers - because really, anything that will hold soil will work. Be creative and use what you have, or can get for free or cheap. Ask your family, friends and neighbors if they have anything you might be able to use.

Be sure to drill or poke holes in all of your planting containers. Water must have a way to drain out of the pots, or your plants will rot in the too-wet soil.

Try these suggestions:

  • Nursery pots - the kind that trees and shrubs are sold in - are perfect if you have them left over from previous plant purchases. Some are a bit flimsy but they should last for a season or two. Be sure to wash them out well before using.

  • Five-gallon buckets are pretty easy to find. You might be able to score some from your local grocery store's deli section just by asking. I have some from a local restaurant that originally held pickles and mushrooms. Fortunately my plants don't care that I couldn't get rid of the pickle smell.

  • Big black rubber feed tubs are relatively inexpensive if you need a really large pot. I've grown tomatoes and zucchini in these tubs. A large feed tub could hold a salad garden.

  • Children's plastic wading pools aren't terribly expensive when purchased from the dollar stores.

  • You can even grow plants in empty feed sacks, and if you're like me you have a lot of those. No livestock? Use dog food bags instead.

    Poke a few holes in the bottom of the sack, add soil to the desired depth and roll the top of the bag down to add stability to your planter. They only last a season, but at least you're getting one more use out of them before they go in the trash can or the fire pit.

Basil seedlings growing in a white metal pot

Think outside the box and look around at what you already have. A laundry basket, a metal trash can, even a wooden box or an old drawer from a discarded dresser can hold a plant or two.

Caring for your container garden

Fill your pots and tubs with good quality soil and compost, and follow directions on the seed packets for spacing and planting depth.

Most vegetables do best in full sun, but some plants can tolerate a partly sunny area. A general rule is if you're growing the plant for its fruit (tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, etc), it needs full sun. Greens and root vegetables are usually content with a bit of shade.

Container gardens have a big advantage: you can move plants from a poor location to a better spot. If your fence blocks the sun in the height of summer, you can simply move your pots. 

If the summer sun turns out to be too intense for some of your plants, you can easily move them to a shadier, cooler location.

Plants in containers can't send their roots deep into the soil to reach moisture in dry weather, so you'll need to water them regularly.

Don't forget to feed your container garden with your favorite organic fertilizer such as comfrey tea or compost tea.

Text: "how to grow vegetables and herbs in a shady garden"

Where to buy seeds for your container garden

I buy my seeds from Mary's Heirloom Seeds. Mary sells only organic, heirloom seeds and has signed the Safe Seed Pledge. I've always been very satisfied with my orders and happy with the seeds' germination rates too.

The list of seed varieties Mary sells is constantly growing longer and longer - over 650 varieties of Heirloom, open-pollinated, non-GMO & non-hybrid seeds - and includes several combination kits as well, such as a salad garden kit and a pollinator garden kit.

How to grow vegetables in a container garden.

For more gardening and simple living posts, subscribe to The Acorn, Oak Hill Homestead's weekly-ish newsletter and follow me on FacebookInstagram and Pinterest. I'd love to see you there!

I've teamed up with some of my favorite bloggers to bring you some great gardening advice and ideas. You'll find them all here:

SoulyRested - One Thing Every Gardener Should Do

Spring Lake Homestead - Garden Planning

Bloom Where You're Planted - My Favorite Seed Company

Lumnah Acres - Starting Our Seeds

Mid-Life Blogger - Swiss Chard, Stained Glass in the Garden

To PIN this post and links to all seven of these informative garden posts in one convenient place, save this image to Pinterest:

What can you grow in a container garden? Anything you want!


My hope is to inspire you, and to encourage your homesteading plans and your dreams of a simple, self-reliant, God-dependent life. You can join me at:
  Facebook | Pinterest | Instagram | Subscribe