Growing vegetables in containers

In these challenging and changing times more and more people are thinking about growing their own. Not everybody has a big garden, allotment or room to grow vegetables in the ground so we’ve put together a few tips on how to start growing vegetables in containers where space is limited. Our favourites are tomatoes, potatoes and salad leaves.

Most vegetables can be grown in containers as long as you chose the right sized pot and most can be grown between April/May and October. It’s quite easy, fun and something to get the kids involved with. The quickest vegetables to get up and ready are radishes and salad crops but most will take longer so don’t expect fresh vegetables straight away, but it will be worth waiting for.

Where and where to start growing vegetables in containers?

First of all pick your spot. The sunnier the better because most vegetables don’t like being shaded. If you have an area in front of a south facing wall, that’s brilliant but just go for the best you can. The exact timings will vary depending on the crop (check the label) and whether you are sowing seed or planting out young plants but the main growing season is from spring to autumn. Some tender plants (such as tomatoes and chillies) can be sown indoors now in a conservatory, greenhouse or a sunny windowsill and then planted out when the danger of frost has lifted. Others, such as salad crops, carrots, potatoes and radishes can already be planted outside.

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What containers to use?

Next you’re going to want some pots to grow things in. Plastic pots and troughs are probably the cheapest option (especially on delivery costs) and many can look really attractive. There are lots of online suppliers so just ‘google’ them. Check your local garden centre first as many are offering delivery at the moment. Ceramic and terracotta pots are going to cost more but they can look better. At the end of the day it’s a matter of taste and budget. You can use nearly anything as long as there’s enough room for the plant to grow and develop and as long as there’s drainage holes. For potatoes you can get special pots and bags for growing or its just as easy to grow them in old compost bags (see how to later) . Certainly cheaper.

Compost, Fertiliser and Water

It’s always worth starting with a decent compost. In normal times you can just pop to the garden centre or DIY store but at the moment you’ll probably have to get it delivered. Lots of garden centres and online nurseries and suppliers are offering home deliveries and in some places even you local milkman can drop some off. Next you are going to need to feed the plants. You can feed with a liquid feed as you water in the growing season or make life simple and use a slow release fertiliser such as Osmacote added to the compost before you plant up.

What to grow?

The following vegetables can grow quite well in containers:

Beetroot: sow from April with 10cm spacing. Best to go for short-rooted or globe varieties

Broad beans: sow from February at 20cm spacing. Ready June onwards

Dwarf French beans: ideally planted May onwards due to danger of frosts at spacing of roughly 20cm. Ready late summer.

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Carrots: Normally carrots need a deep soil so in containers best to use short-rooted varieties such as ‘Early Nantes’ or ‘Amsterdam forcing’. They may be short but taste fab. Sow now (late March-April) for early carrots in July. Other varieties sow between late April and early June for harvesting between September and October.cultivars from the Nantes or Amsterdam groups from February for June pullings, thinning to 8cm between plants. You might want to over with fleece from April to exclude carrot fly or lift the container at least 2ft off the ground as the fly only normally fly low.

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Chillies & Peppers: Best grown in a greenhouse, conservatory, sunny window sill or very sheltered spot. A little bit more effort is needed for growing in pots but worth a try as they look so bright and cheery. You need to start sowing chilli seeds indoors in February and as they need lots of warmth to germinate they will need the help of a heated propagator to get them started. The seedlings can then be potted up into individual pots and then grown on until risk of frost has passed. You treat them a lot like tomatoes with regular watering and feeding until ready.

Herbs: parsley and coriander do well, especially if started early on a window sill as does basil (but basil is more tender so don’t start it too early)

Lettuces: mini lettuces such as ‘Little Gem’ and ‘Tom Thumb’ spaced at 15cm can be sown from January for harvesting from June onwards.

Peas: sow from March; plant every 15cm. Edible varieties work well

Potatoes: Because potatoes are easy to grow in grow sacks, potato grow bags or even old compost sacks, they can even be grown on a balcony if you don’t have any other outside space. Plant early varieties and salad potatoes from late March for lifting in the summer. Lots of potatoes benefit from ‘chitting’ before you plant them. This means allowing them to sprout prior to planting. You can do this by laying them out on a tray or old egg box in a bright, frost-free position and when the sprout is about an inch long you can plant them. This process just allows them to grow away quicker. Salad potatoes grow well in old compost bags, so you don’t even need to buy special potato grow bags. Start by turning the compost bag inside out so that the black is on the outside and then put a a couple of slits in the bottom for drainage. Fill your bag about half to two thirds full with compost and then bury one or two of the chitted potatoes, with their sprouts face up, in that compost. Water well and don’t let the compost dry out and then in a week or so the shoots will emerge. At that point you can then cover over with compost until the bag is full. Continue to water and harvest when ready in the summer.

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Radishes: easy to grow and quickly germinate from seed. Sow outside from March and for a regular supply sow every few weeks.


Salad leaves: A really good choice for containers. You can sow from February onwards at roughly 5cm spacing between plants. You can get ”cut and come again’ salads such as rocket, baby spinach and lettuce leaves so when you cut off a few top leaves the plant will grow back and give you more a few weeks later.

Salad onions: sow from February at approx 5cm between plants. When they are big enough for you so about June pull up and eat.

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Tomatoes: will need plenty of sun and plenty of room for root development so choose a big pot or use grow bags. Depending on size of the pot stick to one plant per pot. You could always try in a hanging basket. Plant young seedlings outside after the last frosts so probably early May at the earliest but depends on your area. Some might need support so consider adding a metal support or bamboo canes with string when you plant out your tomatoes . Essential for regular watering and feeding with tomato feed. We always think cherry tomatoes and the smaller patio or bush varieties are best as they ripen before the onset of blight which, in our experience, normally happens from August Bank holiday onwards. ‘Tumbling Tom Red’ and ‘Tumbling Tom Yellow’ have worked well in the past.

The most important thing with tomatoes is to keep the compost moist at all times, but not waterlogged, irregular watering can create other problems like splitting.

Further care
As we have said in other sections the most important thing with all these vegetables is to water regularly (but shouldn’t be water-logged) and feed with a liquid fertiliser every two week.

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