Enjoy a Vegetable Container Garden | Midwest Living

Enjoy a Vegetable Container Garden

Grow a feast even in a small space with containers of vegetables, herbs and edible flowers.
  • Colorful flavor

    Three cheery containers reflect the colorful produce growing in them: Hungarian wax peppers, tomatoes, purple basil, golden oregano and bright parsley.

    Tip: Put the ingredients for a side or salad in one pot or grouping of pots. For salsa, grow cilantro, tomatoes and peppers. For salad, try a mix of lettuces and chives. For pesto, grow basil and garlic.

  • Succeed with succession

    A colorful mix of cool-season lettuces is just the start of the growing season. Sow lots of seeds, then harvest excess for microgreens, snip baby leaves for salads and harvest the whole plant before it bolts.

    Tip: Get more from your containers by planting successive crops. When all the lettuce has been harvested, plant tomatoes, peppers or eggplants.

  • Spicy planting

    Sure, strawberries grow well in strawberry jars. But the jars are also the perfect container for herbs, with pockets for flavorful greens as well as dainty flowers such as fleabane. This container started with one plant each of basil, marjoram, oregano, sage, lemon balm, mint and parsley and two chive plants.

    Tip: Use a time-release fertilizer so your herbs get the food they need all season long.

  • Grow up

    Taking advantage of a sunny high spot, this tasty pair of tomatoes and basil is a good-looking variation on the traditional hanging basket of flowers. Ripe tomatoes are in arm's reach, too. 'Tumbler Hybrid' is bred to hang off a cascading plant.

    Tip: Compact, or bush variety, plants are best bets for this planting method.

  • Rosy outlook

    You can grow herbs and even a handful of veggies in window boxes. This one contains oregano along with geranium, blue ginger, Peperomia, and a pretty begonia.

    Tip: Pick a window that gets the most sun, typically a south-facing one without an overhang. For yearlong herb harvest, move the window box indoors to a sill for winter.

  • Be fruitful

    Even citrus trees thrive in pots (depending on your Zone, you might have to move pots indoors for winter). Here, calamondin (miniature oranges) grows above sage and rosemary.

    Tip: Dwarf citrus, such as oranges, lemons and limes, will produce in pots. Increase pot size as the tree grows, pruning once it hits maturity.

  • Hanging around

    Growing plants upside down has more ups than downs! Cucumbers and tomatoes are commonly grown this way. And there is the bonus of having another crop on top. Here, grape tomatoes and a couple Mediterranean herbs team up with dark accent plants for beauty.

    Tip: To create this look, poke a hole in growing bags, buy a planter designed for this method, hang a bucket that has a hole in the bottom, or make your own.

  • Queen of summer

    Step outside your door and pluck one of these sweet and juicy tomatoes for supper. We grew the cultivar 'Celebrity', which produces lots of full-size fruit from midsummer until frost. 'Cherry Hot' peppers, chives and 'Turkana Scarlet' verbena round out the mix.

    Tip: Regular watering is essential for healthy tomato plants. A large container, such as this 10-gallon plastic pot, does not dry out as quickly as a smaller container but will still need to be watered at least every other day. Placing a saucer under the pot may help conserve water.

  • Savory spikes

    Onions and chives add pretty spikes to vegetable plantings. In the green container at back, tall chives (Allium schoenoprasum) grow with 'Gypsy' sweet pepper and French thyme (Thymus vulgaris). The basket in the front includes 'Salad Bush' cucumber and yellow onion. The middle container offers more salad fixings: 'Bush Goliath' tomato, 'Summerlong' basil and Italian (flat-leaf) parsley (Petroselinum crispum).

    Tip: Select a potting soil made with compost instead of a nonrenewable resource such as peat.

  • Stately stems

    'Bright Lights' Swiss chard is valued for both its bold stems and copious production of vitamin-rich foliage. A spicy red chile pepper trails over the side of the pot. 'Callie Bright Red' Calibrachoa and 'Laguna Sky Blue' Lobelia add to the Technicolor appearance of this edible garden accent.

    Tip: Harvest Swiss chard when the stems reach about a half-inch in diameter. New stems will quickly emerge, ensuring harvest until frost.

  • Gourmet goodies

    Edible flowers add color both to your containers and your meals. 'Bon Bon Mix' Calendula in the back container blooms in front of 'Rainbow' Swiss chard. At right, 'Starfire' marigold hovers above the shiny, round leaves of 'Salad Delight' red cabbage. In front, 'Patio' tomato and 'Summerlong' basil round out the edibles in this group of containers.

    Tip: Large, deep-rooted plants -- bush cucumbers, tomatoes or beans -- do best in soil at least 12 inches deep. Shallow-rooted plants, such as lettuces, radishes, and edible flowers, get by in soil 4 inches deep.

  • Pick a pepper

    This trio of sweet bells -- 'Purple Beauty', 'Red Beauty' and 'Bell Boy' -- offer purple, red and green fruit respectively. These season-long producers set fruit until the first frost. A lush herb carpet grows under the peppers. English thyme creeps over the edge of the pot, and parsley and peppermint mask the peppers' lanky stems. Angelonia 'Cascade Deep Purple' complements the cool blue hue of the container.

    Tip: Containers made of nonporous material such as resin reduce watering by preventing soil moisture loss. Jazz them up with colorful paint, as we did with this one.

  • Good-for-you trio

    Harvest a bumper crop of fresh produce from your backyard with these containers of nutrient-rich produce. Choices such as kale, parsley and peppers are rich in powerful disease-fighting compounds known as antioxidants.

    In the green pot: Kale ('Dwarf Blue Curled Vates' and 'Red Winter'), spinach ('Avon'), Swiss chard ('Ruby Red'), soybean ('Disoy'), Italian parsley, fernleaf dill, Greek oregano, sweet marjoram, basil ('Summerlong') and globe basil

    In the red pot: Tomato ('Health Kick', 'Patio Princess' and 'Big Mama'), sweet pepper ('Tangerine Dream' and 'Red Delicious'), hot pepper ('Mariachi'), strawberry, beet ('Red Heart'), and watermelon ('Sugar Baby')

    In the yellow pot: Nasturtium ('Jewel Mix'), Calendula, cantaloupe ('Sweet 'n' Early'), and sweet potato ('Bush Porto Rico')

  • Edible combo

    Grow vegetables, herbs and edible flowers for your kitchen in this pretty container garden. Use a large container and allow plenty of space between plants to encourage growth. Plants include oregano, thyme, sage, 'Patio Hybrid' tomato and 'Jack Be Little' pumpkin.

    Tip: Pots, by nature, limit gardening space, so look for space-saving compact or bush-type vegetable varieties. 'Bush Champion' tomato grows only about 2 feet tall but produces fruits that can weigh up to a pound; 'Red Robin' bears cherry tomatoes on a 1-foot-tall plant. 'Salad Bush' cucumber grows only about a third the size of a regular cucumber vine.

    How to make this garden

  • Chef's friend

    The more eggplant you pick, the more eggplant you'll get. 'Little Fingers' eggplant can be harvested when it reaches 3 inches long and maintains its mild flavor until it grows to 8 inches. Frothy Verbena bonariensis and low-growing Ageratum contribute to the purple theme, while snowy white Bacopa trails over one edge of the container. Sage, a fragrant and edible herb, grows at the base of the eggplant.

    Tip: Most vegetables require at least six hours of direct sunlight a day for fruit production. If your only garden space is a shaded balcony or courtyard, forgo the peppers and tomatoes and opt for a delectable salad garden.

  • Box lunch

    Old wine crates provide a perfect home for small veggie varieties. In the container at back, 'Starfire' marigold blooms behind the ever-bearing 'Ozark Beauty' strawberry. In the container at front, 'Romeo' and 'Babette' carrots grow behind 'Kestrel Baby' beets.

    Tip: Line crates with landscape fabric or black plastic with drainage holes to help retain soil and moisture.

  • Bright delight

    Squeeze a vegetable garden into a sunny corner of a deck. This bountiful pot is home to a banana pepper, 'Juliet' grape tomato, basil and thyme. Ornamental peppers in red, orange and yellow add additional pops of color. The tomato plant cascades over the bright orange pot, allowing more space for companions to grow.

    Tip: Don't forget to feed your plants. Begin the season by incorporating slow-release fertilizer into the soil. While plants are actively growing, apply a balanced fertilizer (such as 12-12-12) at half-strength once a week when watering.


  • Herb-lovers' choice

    Variegated thyme, oregano, regular thyme, tricolor sage and golden variegated sage energize a container with their varying shapes and foliage colors.

    Tip: Once you've planted herbs in well-drained potting soil, the hard work is over; they need little attention aside from watering and pinching back to encourage lush growth.

  • Tag it

    Mark your sprouts with these easy-to-make plant labels made from recycled items from around the house. Canning lids and plastic plant pots quickly become clever hanging tags; 9-gauge aluminum wire makes an easy-to-bend stake. Just pound a nail hole in a canning lid and label it with a permanent marker. (To use the tag again next year, spray with polyurethane.) For the plastic tags, cut any shape from last year's plant pots and label with a silver marker.


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