Saturday, 24 June 2017

What food can I grow in containers?

Different troughs with vegetables growingDon't let a lack of space stop you growing your own fruit and veg, There are plenty of edibles you can grow in containers. Even if all you have is a few pots then you can grow something to eat, and it will be the freshest and tastiest that you've ever eaten! So what food can you grow in containers?
People sometimes tell me that the reason they don't grow their own fruit and veg is that they don't have much space in their garden, or don't have a garden at all. But although this might limit how much you can grow, you can certainly grow something, and whatever it is will be the freshest you've ever eaten.

In some ways, growing crops in containers is easier. It is simpler to protect crops in pots from birds, slugs and insects than if they are in the ground or on a larger plot, and you can more easily control the growing conditions most of the time too. This means you can grow things that don't suit the normal conditions in your garden, like blueberries in ericaceous compost or carrots in fine sandy soil. You can even potentially bring containers inside in cold or stormy weather if you need to protect them.

GREEN FINGERS TIP: The downside of growing in containers is the restricted soil area the plants have access to mean you will need to water and feed the plants more often than you would if they were in the ground. Pots will fry out more quickly in hot spells, and you need to add extra nutrients  by feeding to get any sort of decent size crop. But keep watering and feeding regularly and they should do well.

So you can grow almost anything in containers. Some larger plants, like fruit trees for example, may prove difficult due to their size, but even so, the possibilities are almost endless. Here are a few edibles I've successfully grown in containers:

Tomato "Totem" in container on windowsill
Tomato "Totem"
Tomatoes. I've grown them from seed this year but usually just buy small seedlings from the garden centre and put in a pot. Tie them in to a cane to support them, and keep watering and feeding. If you buy a bush variety rather than a cordon (check the label or seed packet when you buy them) then you don't have to worry about pinching out shoots to get bigger crops. Keep them on the windowsill if you can. They do best in a sunny warm spot out of the wind, and outside there is also more chance of them getting blight which will kill the plant.

Strawberries growing in containers
Strawberries.  I don't think there is anything tastier than a fresh picked home grown strawberry! They can be grown in all sorts of containers, even hanging baskets. I just use pots and troughs, with the plants spaced about 6-9 inches apart. Once you establish them they will produce new plants every year by runners so you wont have to buy any more. Use the new ones to replace plants that are more than 3 years old as they will produce less fruit. Use straw to avoid the fruit hanging on to the soil, and cover with a net to stop the birds eating them before you do.

Little Gem & Lollo Rossa growing in troughs
Little Gem & Lollo Rossa
Lettuce and spinach. There are loads of varieties you can grow and you can sow more every few weeks for a steady summer long supply. I use a trough planter and plant them in two rows. Keep them out of really hot sun but avoid them drying out. Once they get going you can cut off a few leaves at a time from each plant, and they will just regrow. Use copper tape or pellets to stop the slugs eating them. To spice up your salads you can also grow nasturtiums up a cane. The leaves are peppery and the flowers are also edible. Or you can try watercress, in a pot or in some guttering! Rocket is also good in small pots.

Carrots growing in containers
Carrots - in two rows sown at different times
Carrots and beetroot. It's important to give these space so the longer a  container you can use the better. I use troughs and sow a couple of rows in each. When the seedlings come up I thin them out to the recommended spacing. Apart from a bit of watering you don't really need to do anything else until they are ready to pick.

GREEN FINGERS TIP: Make sure you space veg out to grow them to a decent size. Seed packets and plant labels will tell you how far apart from each other to sow or plant them. This gives plants enough space to develop. If you don't thin out seedlings, or plant things too close together, your edibles will be smaller than you'd like, or you'll get less from each plant, particularly roots like carrots and beetroot. 

Mangetout peas growing in containers
Mangetout peas

Peas and Dwarf French Beans. These are also really low maintenance. I sow them in modules and plant out the seedlings about 3 or 4 to a large pot, with some canes for them to grow up. As long as they don't dry out in hot weather, they will happily grow up, flower and then you can pick them. Mangetout and Snap peas are particularly good as you can eat them straight off the plant and kids love them.

Spring onions growing in containers
Spring onions
Spring Onions. Reliable to grow from seed, I sow spring onions every 4 weeks or so in rows in troughs. They don't need much looking after, you just pick them when they get to a decent size. They can be added raw to salads or mashed potato. Full size onions don't do quite so well in containers as they need more space to develop fully but spring onions work really well in a small space.

Garlic growing in containers
Garlic is easiest of all. Plant in late autumn as it needs a cold spell to grow properly. Without this it doesn't develop into cloves. I buy a bulb, break it up into the cloves and plant them in containers. You just leave them over winter and they grow up in spring. I hardly have to water mine as garlic seems to tolerate dry conditions well. In summer the leaves die back and that's when you pull them up. Store them somewhere dry and they will keep for months.

Herbs growing on windowsill
Basil & Parsley
If you really haven't got much space you can still grow herbs in pots on a patio, balcony or windowsill. Most herbs will grow well in containers. Mediterranean herbs like oregano, rosemary, and thyme like warm dry conditions or rich compost. Others like parsley and mint need more moisture and better compost. Basil is very thirsty and seems to need constant watering. I restrict it to the kitchen windowsill. Most others are fine outside in summer, and can be grown earlier in the year if you keep them indoors to begin with.

Mint growing in pots
Why not give some of these a try and let me know how you get on. Are you already growing food in containers? Get in touch using the comments section and tell everyone how successful you've been. If you're on twitter then take a picture of your crops and tweet me @PlanPlantPrune. I'll be posting some of my harvests on my facebook page.


  1. Replies
    1. HI Naomeh, great to hear from you, thanks for visiting the Green Fingered Blog! What you can plant now depends where you are but its a bit late here in South Wales to plant or sow a lot of summer crops that need time to develop. It is still worth sowing salad crops though, like lettuce, spinach, spring onion and radish, as you should be able to harvest them in a couple of months. Apart from those, most recently I've planted cabbages, kale and broccoli. These were small plants rather than seeds. Some of them will be harvested in the autumn and some not until early next year. Hope you can sow or plant something this weekend, best of luck, and let me know how it goes, either on the blog or Facebook.