Fall Container Gardening: Growing Potted Veggies In Autumn
By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer
Growing potted veggies isn’t difficult and a container vegetable garden planted between mid-summer and fall will keep you stocked with delicious veggies for several weeks, long after your in-ground garden is finished for the season.
Best Fall Vegetables for Containers
Here are a few suggestions for potted fall vegetables and tips on successful fall container gardening.
- Arugula is a salad green also known as “rocket.” Plant this member of the mustard family in late summer or early fall, then harvest in four to six weeks.
- Collards are hardy, leafy greens, perfect for container vegetable gardens. Plant seeds up to six to eight weeks before the first average frost in your region.
- Plant lettuce seeds in a wide container at least 6 inches (15 cm.) deep or start seedlings from a nursery. Lettuce needs sun, but shade is best during hot afternoons.
- Spinach can withstand all but the harshest winters. Plant spinach seeds in your container vegetable garden from late August to September.
- Bok Choy is a nutrient-rich member of the cabbage family. Plant baby bok choy between mid-summer and early fall, then harvest in about a month.
- Mustard greens planted in autumn can tolerate light frost and they are sweeter than those planted earlier in the season.
- Radishes are perfect fall vegetables for containers because they grow so fast. Try to get seeds planted four to six weeks before the first frost in autumn.
- Daikon radishes perform best in the cooler days of fall. Plant seeds every couple of weeks from late summer to mid-fall for harvest in early winter.
- Kale thrives in all but the coldest climates, although it won’t withstand several weeks of continual frost. Plant kale seeds six to eight weeks before the first frost in autumn.
- Swiss chard is an ideal fall crop because it tends to bolt when it ripens in summer. Plant seeds at least 40 days before the first expected frost in your area.
- Plant onion sets in late summer and you can use these tangy potted fall vegetables in about a month.
- Sow kohlrabi seeds in pots about six weeks before the first frost in your area, or into fall and winter if your climate is mild.
- Plant beets in late summer and early fall and they’ll grow into winter if temperatures don’t drop below about 40 degrees F. (4 C.). Plant seeds in a pot at least 10 to 12 inches deep. Eat the nutritious beets as well as the beet tops.
- Turnips planted in fall tend to be sweeter and more tender than those planted earlier in the season. Use a large, deep pot to accommodate the roots.
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Container Vegetable Gardening 101: Best Vegetables to Grow in Pots
by Matt Gibson
Once you’ve decided to try your hand in container gardening, there’s a lot to learn. Looking for the best vegetables to grow in pots to make it easier on yourself? You’ve probably done a bit of research to get an idea of what you’re getting yourself into. Maybe you’ve even gotten as far as picking out and purchasing pots, timing out the sun exposure in the areas where you plan to place your containers, or investing in some quality potting soil and fertilizer for the coming season. It’s time for the fun part—you are now ready to start picking out which plants you’ll cultivate in your container garden and start mapping out where you want everything to go.
If this sounds familiar, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’ll tell you which plants are most suited to containers. More specifically, we’ll review which vegetables are the best picks for container gardens. This article also includes the basic growing condition information you’ll need and care tips for most of our suggestions so that you’ll know what you’re getting into once the seeds are sown or seedlings have been transplanted into their new homes. In this guide to growing vegetables in container gardens, we’ve done our best to cover all the bases and teach you all the basics.
The Best Vegetables for Containers
There are tons of reasons that people pick up gardening as a hobby and even more reasons someone might choose to set up their garden in containers. Many people decide to try their hand at gardening for purely practical purposes. What’s more practical than saving money on your grocery bill by growing your own produce on your balcony, patio, or porch or in portable pots in your yard at home? If you want to put your green thumb to use and reap the benefits in the kitchen but only have a small space to devote to the endeavor, container gardening has you covered.
Great Combinations for Grouping Vegetables in Containers
Gardeners have spent centuries learning valuable lessons the hard way, and as a result, they’ve developed inventive techniques through the process of trial and error. The failures and successes of their attempts have been passed down through the generations in books and journals that are scattered across the world—and these are now being compiled all over the internet in websites and databases. One of the many parts of the gardening hobby that has been honed into an art is the practice of companion planting. Container gardeners have had a lot of success in grouping certain vegetables together, selecting those that have similar needs and growing condition preferences and planting them in clusters within the same container.
Not only do the vegetables seem to appreciate the diverse company of their companions, but pairing the right vegetables together can actually strengthen their flavor profiles. Not all the possible partnerships are ideal pairings, however, so don’t just throw a bunch of seeds in a pot and hope for the best. The farmers who’ve come before us have already made plant-pairing mistakes for you so that we modern gardeners don’t have to learn the hard way. Here are several tried-and-true veggie combos that make a perfect posse and will give gardeners using large containers the most bang for their buck.
- Beans, carrots, and squash
- Tomatoes, basil, and onions
- Lettuces with practically any combination of herbs
- Spinach, chard, and onions
- Eggplant and any type of pole or bush beans
If you want to keep plant types separated but still save on space or you need to keep your vegetable garden portable, here are our suggestions for the best plants you can choose to go solo in containers. This list should not be considered comprehensive. Of course, there are other veggies you can grow in containers aside from the eight recommendations listed below. However, if you are starting a new container garden and you want to focus on veggies, this is where you should begin.
We’re featuring these eight vegetables due to their high rate of success when grown in containers, their easy care instructions, and their practical usefulness in the kitchen. If you want to start reaping the rewards of a farm-to-table gardening setup, consider this article your introductory course. Once you’ve chosen from the list below, you’ll be all set to prepare your soil, sow your seeds, and start saving on produce this growing season.
Plant peas one inch into the soil and space them two inches apart. Keep soil moist but not drenched, watering up to three times per day in warm climates. Provide full sun exposure after germination. Once sprouted, fertilize peas twice during the growing season with low-nitrogen fertilizer. Your plants will require staking from the center of containers—bamboo stakes are suggested. Learn more about growing peas.
Plant when temperatures are between 55 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Fertilize with a balanced plant food that is light on nitrogen. Thin seedlings to one to four inches apart when they reach two inches tall. Most varieties are ready for harvest 65 to 75 days after planting. Choosing to grow carrots in containers allows you to move them as needed when temperatures rise or fall steeply. Learn more about growing carrots.
Plant one cabbage plant per five-gallon container as cabbages can grow very large—up to four feet high and wide. If crowded, the size will drop significantly. Cabbage grows best in spring or fall, when temperatures are around 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Start seeds indoors about four weeks before last frost in the spring or six to eight weeks before the last frost in the fall.
Cabbages require steady, frequent deep waterings no more than two to three times per week. Put fabric around young plants to prevent cabbage worms and maggots from infesting the soil in your containers with their eggs. Wrap the base of each plant’s stalk with cardboard or tinfoil to ward off cutworms. If soil still becomes contaminated, discard immediately—never reuse. Learn more about how to grow cabbage.
Lettuce requires consistent shallow watering and ample drainage. Loose leaf lettuces are a better for growing in pots than more compact lettuce heads. Combat pests with blasts of water or insecticidal soap. Harvest the outer leaves first, then move on to using all leaves once the outer leaves grow back. Your lettuce plants will regrow and allow multiple harvests throughout the season. Learn more about growing lettuce in containers.
Bush varieties, such as hybrid, salad, and picklebush, work best in containers. All require staking. Container growing with an indoor start allows you to plant cucumbers much earlier than you could when cultivating them outdoors. Move your pots outside in early May. You’ll need to use a stake or trellis to support vines. Keep cucumber containers in sunny areas. They’re most comfortable in temperatures around 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
There’s a specific recipe for soil mix that’s highly recommended for cucumbers. Mix one part each of perlite, potting soil, compost, and peat moss. Fertilize this mix with low-nitrogen plant food. Once your cucumbers are thriving, keep an eye out for bugs, and blast any pests you find with water if necessary. Learn more about how to grow cucumbers.
Choose containers that are at least 12 inches wide as well as deep. Corn stalks will grow four per container at this size. Only grow one variety of corn at a time to avoid cross-pollination. Plant four seeds per container, spaced four to six inches apart. Place containers five to six inches away from each other.
Use garden soil formulated to retain moisture, and add fish emulsion or another all-purpose fertilizer before planting. Mulching around the plants will also help them hold in the water they’re given. Provide at least six hours of sun and warm soil, and place containers against a wall if possible to help with heat retention. Water your corn plants regularly in the mornings with a 10-10-10 fertilizer, and hydrate again in the evenings. Learn more about growing corn.
Choose one of the following varieties for containers: Bush Acorn, Black Magic Zucchini, Bushkin Pumpkin, or Bush Crookneck. The two most important factors to consider for growing squash in pots are container size (only one squash per 24-inch container) and soil type ( loose, well-drained soil loaded with organic matter or compost).
The best soil for squash is a mix of one part each perlite, peat moss, potting soil, sphagnum, and compost. These plants will need seven hours of full sunlight exposure and a trellis for support. Vertical growth is recommended. Intersperse your plants with a few marigolds and nasturtiums to drive pests away. Water them when soil is dry two inches below surface. Feed organic fertilizer every two weeks during the growing season. Learn more about squash.
Pick the proper size container for the variety of tomato that you want to grow. For smaller varieties, hanging baskets and window boxes will suffice, while larger varieties will require five-gallon buckets or even larger containers. The most important component to consider when selecting the appropriate planter for your tomatoes is whether the pot you have in mind is deep enough to house the plant’s root system. Twelve inches of depth is sufficient for most varieties of tomato plant.
There are two distinct types of tomato for gardeners to choose from — bush (determinate) or vine (indeterminate). For container gardening, the bush type is your best option. Bush tomato plants do not require staking because they do not grow as high and are easier to maintain in a controlled environment. Some of the best varieties of bush tomatoes to try out are Toy Boy, Patio, Pixie, Micro Tom, Floragold, Early Girl, Big Boy, Stakeless, and Tiny Tim. Learn more here.
Tomatoes require loose, well-draining potting soil with lots of organic material, such as manure or well-rotted shavings. Try out an equal mix of compost, potting soil, perlite, and peat moss. Weekly watering is usually sufficient, but the watering schedule should be increased during especially hot and dry periods. Full sunlight exposure is essential to get the best possible harvest out of your plants.
Start seeds indoors in early spring, or purchase seedlings from the nursery. Move your containers outdoors as soon as the last threat of frost has passed. Begin using a water-soluble fertilizer every other week during midsummer, and continue feeding tomato plants throughout the full growing season. Container tomatoes are relatively easy to grow and can yield just as much fruit as plants cultivated directly in the garden as long as they receive proper care and growing conditions.
Once you have tried your hand at growing these eight vegetables and had some success, you might consider growing peppers, chives, onions, garlic, and even more veggies to stock your crisper drawers. Future installments will tackle fruits, herbs, and flowering plants, each with a focus on which plants are the easiest to grow in pots.
Join the move towards minimalism! Mini- and dwarf vegetables provide hefty harvests from small pots and plots! Whether you have a small urban garden or just a small space, try these petite plants with oversize appeal—and yield! These fruits and vegetables are also ideal for the patio or even an apartment balcony.
So many vegetables are good for container gardening! Mini- and dwarf vegetables are especially suited to pots. All of these colorful, palate-pleasing edibles are container-ready!
(For growing tips, visit our individual plant guides.)
1. Mini Lettuce!
Perfect for containers or as edible edging in flower beds, ‘Pomegranate Crunch’ lettuce is a color sensation. The mini-romaine/butterhead cross produces small, dense heads with cherry leaves and light green hearts dusted with red. Color graduates smoothly from the outer leaves to the heart, creating stunning contrast. You’ll be picking these fast-growing, crunchy heads 45 days after seeds sprout.
Tip:To prevent slugs from damaging lettuce leaves, mulch your soil with shredded cedar bark or sprinkle diatomaceous earth or finely crushed eggshells around the plants.
Credit: High Mowing Organic Seeds
2. Baby Broccoli
Baby broccoli requires very little space. Got a window box—or a windowsill? Bring either one to life with ‘Aspabroc Baby’ broccoli (the original broccolini). Four plants fit tidily into a 24-inch-long window box or other container. This mild-tasting broccolini (a cross between Chinese kale and broccoli) produces tender, small broccoli heads atop asparagus-thin, tender stems. You’ll be harvesting the center head 50 to 60 days from transplant and snacking on shoots shortly thereafter—and again and again (four or five more times). Oh, and if a flower appears, it’s edible, too.
Tip:Start seeds early, about 3 weeks before planting outdoors. Transplants will tolerate cold days and nights down to 30°F. Broccolini thrives in cool weather.
Image: Pinetree Garden Seeds
3. Swizzle Stick Celery!
Celery is not usually on our list, but ‘Peppermint Stick’ (Apium graveolens) is no ordinary celery. It’s eye candy and tasty, too. Bicolor, it’s full of sweet flavor (raw and cooked) and perfect for kitchen gardens and pots.
It was so no-fuss to grow, too. We planted it in a large container and left it alone, except for watering and a little granular, organic fertilizer. ‘Peppermint Stick’ is slow to bolt, and its red color is much darker on the outside stalks. Plants grow to about 20 inches tall and are fully mature 85 to 100 days after the seeds are sown. Start indoors 30 days in advance of the gardening season.
The flavor is surprising sweet and intense—and it even holds up through cooking.
Tip:Keep potted celery in the shade during hot summer months to prevent bolting. Then bring the pot indoors, set it in a sunny window, and use the celery during the autumn and winter for seasoning
Credit: Seeds by Design
4. Snack-Size Peppers
Brilliant red, orange, and yellow ‘Hungarian Cheese’ peppers are tidy plants. These 28 inch-tall plants produce quickly—about 60 days after being set out as transplants. (Seed packets are an equal mix of the three pepper colors.) Thick-walled, flat, and fluted, these sweet peppers are great for stuffing or eating out of hand. If you have a hefty harvest, don’t worry: They store for 2 weeks or more in the refrigerator. Keep peppers picked for continual production, especially in containers.
Tip:Scratch 1⁄4 cup of Epsom salts around each plant after it’s established the salts will supply a hefty dose of magnesium, needed for plant vigor and numerous blooms that set fruit.
5. Miniature Peas
‘Tom Thumb’ (aka ‘Half Pint’) pea is an old variety from the 1850s that is new again, thanks to the interest in container gardening. A true miniature that grows to only 10 inches tall, it’s a natural for pots. You’ll be picking plenty of full-size pea pods 50 days after sowing. Most peas can withstand a chill this one can tolerate temperatures down to 20°F. More good news: No staking needed!
Tip:In the spring, soak pea seeds overnight for quick germination in cool soil and inoculate them with rhizobia powder. Peas are legumes, which take nitrogen from the air with the help of a rhizobia bacterium that colonizes on pea roots.
Credit: Tom Thumb Peas, Territorial Seeds
6. Pot Blueberries
‘Blueberry Glaze’ blueberry, a 2-foot-tall compact mound, looks like a boxwood and can be sheared as such afterberries are harvested. Perfect for a container on a patio, the shrub has tiny, deep-green leaves, white-with-pink blossoms in the spring, and small, deep-blue berries in midsummer. Their intense flavor is much like that of wild blueberries. The plant needs only 500 chilling hours and grows well in Zones 5 to 8.
Tip: Keep the soil in blueberry containers acidic scratch sulfur into the soil every spring when you apply granular fertilizer. When planting, use a potting mix that is predominantly peat.
Credit: Blueberry Glaze by Small Creek Farm
7. Strawberries Without Runners
‘Pineapple’ alpine strawberries produce tiny, 1-inch-long, yellow berries with the distinct taste and fragrance of pineapples and roses.
The mounding plants are rugged, even from seed, and do not set runners. This is a huge deal because they are easier to maintain! In addition, the plants are putting their energies into producing fruit, not runners.
Alpine strawberries bear during their first season, and plants grow larger every year. We’ve found that ‘Pineapple’ varieties are often the first to germinate with very high germination percentages so it’s vigorous from germination to maturity. Finally, the birds don’t carry away massive numbers of white-yellow fruit like they will red fruit.
Tip: Use them as edible edging for flower beds.
8. No-Prune Berries
‘Sweet Lifeberry’ goji berry is an antioxidant-packed ancient berry from China that thrives in Zones 5 to 9. Purple flowers cover creeping vines in the spring, before brilliant red berries blanket the plants.
Though they sound exotic and are most often found with a high price tag in health food stores, Goji berries are actually easy to grow hardy plants. Goji will do great in a container. Just be sure to choose one large enough (at least 18” in diameter) with drainage hole. For container cultivation, stake three to five strong canes and cut off the remainders.
These berries are exceptionally sweet when ripened on the plant. No pruning is needed, and the plants are disease-resistant. Dubbed the “superfruit” because of the multitude of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids they contain, goji berries can be eaten out of hand, made into smoothies, or dried like raisins.
Image: Goji Berries
Peas (Pisum sativum)The Spruce / K. Dave
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Peas can be planted in early spring and then again when it gets cool in the fall. There are three types of peas: English peas, snow peas, and sugar snap peas. They are perfect for succession planting because they enrich the soil with nitrogen. Depending on the variety grown, most peas will require some type of support. Plant them in early spring. Once it gets warm and they finish producing, pull them out and plant something else in that container. Nitrogen is a vital nutrient fertilizing the soil for the next batch of plants. Peas are also one of the best vegetables to grow with your children they grow quickly and easily.
- USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 11
- Sun Exposure: Full sun
- Soil Needs: Good drainage, enriched or loamy soil
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Best Fall Vegetables to Grow
It may be surprising to discover just how many varieties of vegetables thrive well as second season and late-season crops. Read your seed packets and try to select varieties of these fall vegetables that have shorter maturation periods to give yourself the best chance of a complete and plentiful harvest. Sown directly into the garden from seed or grown into seedlings indoors, this robust list will round out your growing season with tons of fresh produce.
Grow beets in your fall garden by sowing seeds directly into the soil and planting in succession for a robustly staggered harvest. They enjoy the cooler temperatures of fall so that they can grow slowly and evenly, avoiding that bitter and woody unpalatable taste. For best results, sow seeds from mid to late summer for fall harvest.
Broccoli and Cauliflower
Brassica plants like broccoli and cauliflower thrive well in fall gardens. They produce well in the cooler days of fall to produce their vitamin-rich flower heads. The milder temperatures of fall provide the ideal steady growing environment for a flavorful crop. Since both require an average of 120 days to reach maturity, we recommend sowing seeds indoors in late spring and transplanting seedlings during mid-summer.
In the garden, bush bean varieties are quick producers, which makes them ideal candidates for a fall bumper crop of beans. To grow beans sow seeds directly into the garden at least 45 days before the average first frost date. Their vining cousins require a long growing season and produce on an ongoing basis. This makes them poor candidates for fall garden vegetables.
Cabbage is an exceptional fall vegetable to grow. They thrive on the cooler days of fall to produce their robust heads. The milder temperatures of fall provide the ideal steady growing environment for a flavorful crop. Since cabbages need an average of 100 to 120 days to reach maturity, we recommend starting seeds indoors in late spring and transplanting seedlings during mid-summer.
Select quick-growing, more compact cultivars for sweet, crunchy root vegetables in just five to six weeks. Plant carrots in succession, sowing seeds a week or two apart for a continual harvest.
Kale, Swiss Chard, Collards, and Mustard Greens
Hearty greens make great accents in fall and winter soups and stews and thrive in the cooler temperatures that the fall season brings. The seeds of these vitamin-rich fall vegetables germinate easily, and their leaves are hardy enough to withstand a light frost. In fact, the cooler bouts of temps can even improve the sweetness and texture of their leaves. Sow seeds for a fall harvest in mid-to-late summer or grow seeds indoors and transplant seedlings in late summer.
Corn comes in a variety of cultivars that require varying amounts of time to mature. Plan ahead when planting corn and sow seeds directly, counting the days until maturity backward from the average date of frost in your area. If you are getting a late start planting your fall vegetables, choose a corn variety with a short growing period and plant in late summer. This will give proper time for the plants to fully mature before the onset of cold temperatures.
Don’t miss the opportunity for fresh salad greens that continue through the fall months. If you are diligent, you can have a ready supply of lettuce available to harvest from early spring right up until the first frost. These quick-growing fall vegetables can be harvested beginning three weeks after seed sowing. Plant successive rows of seeds each week or two to maintain the flow to leaves and keep your salad bowl overflowing.
Snow peas do extremely well in cool weather, making them a premium fall vegetable. The cooler days of fall encourage more rapid growth and added sweetness of peas. Sow pea seeds approximately 11-12 weeks before the expected date of frost in your area. If you would like a more successive flow of snow peas, start a few weeks earlier and plant pea seeds each week for a rolling fall harvest.
Rutabaga and Turnips
Get the most out of rutabagas and turnips by planting them with the intent of a fall harvest. You’ll need to plan ahead when planting these fall vegetables because their seeds should be directly sown, as they require at least 100 days until harvest. Your wait will be worth it, as they will produce flavorful, giant root vegetables come fall.