Phil DudmanTop 10 vegetables to grow in pots

If you want to grow some of your own vegetables, and you’re short on space, then growing them in containers is a great option. But it’s not the only reason. If your soil is rubbish, and you hate digging, then it’s easy to create beautiful soil for growing in pots… and I’ll be sharing my recipe for a super soil mix a little later on. If you’ve never grown anything before, then grabbing a few pots, filling them with mix and planting out some established seedlings is the quickest and easiest way to get a start.

Phil Dudman's potted vegetables

Vegetables in a mini greenhouse

Vegetables in a mini greenhouse

If you’ve got something nasty in your ground, like soil borne disease or nematodes (a common result of growing lots of Solanaceae plants in one spot, like tomatoes and peppers) then container growing helps to relieve the heartache. But the thing I love most about container growing is the control you have over the environmental conditions … and by that I mean …if it’s too hot, too cold, too wet, too windy… you can just pick up your pots and move them to a more protected spot until the environmental extremes have passed. It’s also easier to make your own little microclimate for them with a shadecloth cover or a mini-greenhouse to extend the range of vegetables you can grow in your climate zone. Not so easy with an in-ground vegie garden!

Kale - Cavello nero

Kale – Cavolo nero

So what vegetables grow best in pots? Well, you can just about grow anything, but some things do better than others, so here are my top ten picks to get you started. (It’s a tough call picking just ten, so I’ve grouped a few of them to add value… and to make my job easier!).

1. Salad greens (lettuce, rocket/aruglia, Mizuna etc)
2. Asian greens (pak choy, bok choy, tatsoi etc)
3. Spinach (English spinach & silver beet)
4. Roots (radish, beetroot/table beet, turnip)
5. Kale
6. Spring onion/scallion
7. Bush bean**/wax bean/French bean/haricot
8. Tomato & eggplant/aubergine
9. Capsicum/red and green peppers
10. Potato

Greens and vegetables in pots

Vegetables are vigorous growers, so big containers are best. Small plants such as lettuce need a pot that’s at least 20-25cm (8-9″) deep and about 30cm (12″) wide, while more robust plants such as tomato and eggplant (aubergine) demand pots that are 30-40cm (12″-15″) deep and 40-50cm (15″-20″) wide. When it comes to those bigger plants, keep an eye out for more compact varieties that don’t fill the pots so quickly. Choosing plastic or lightweight pots will make it easier for you to move them around to an ideal location depending on the weather and season. Put heavier pots on a rolling stand or lots of smaller ones on an old BBQ or serving trolley. (And here’s a great vid from Adam about how to upcycle an old BBQ trolley)

Bok choy in pots

Bok choy in pots

Sunshine? Well vegetables like lots of sun… but if you’re in a warm climate, it’s good to select a spot that offers some protection in the hotter times of the day as pots dry out quickly and get really stressed in the heat. If you are limited for sunlight, say on a balcony, you can grow most leafy vegetables with as little as three hours direct sun a day. Fruiting plants however demand at least 5-6 hours to perform well.

Juicy tomatoes

Juicy tomatoes

OK… now for that mix. Don’t just fill your pots with garden soil and expect to grow good plants. It’s too heavy and over time settles in the pot and becomes hard, making it difficult for plants to thrive. Always use a good quality potting mix… and look out for one that contains added organic fertilizers and conditioners, although you have to be careful about how long it’s been stored at the nursery as it may have already lost its added goodness.

So I like to start with a quality potting mix and then add my own organic goodies to create the kind of medium that young vegies dream about… and here’s the recipe. (To measure the ingredients, you’ll need a 9-litre/9 quart/2½ gallon bucket and an empty 400g/1lb tin from the kitchen).

Phil Dudman’s Organic Potting Mix Blend for Growing Vegetables

2 x 9 litre (9 quart) buckets of good quality potting mix

1 x 9 litre (9 quart) bucket of garden compost

A few good handfuls of coir/coco peat

(I use an old 400g (1lb) tin/can as a scoop, and with it add >

2 scoops of pelletised chicken manure

½ scoop blood and bone

A good pinch of trace element mix

Mix it all together on a bench and you’ve got a truly magical blend.

Give it a try, and remember you need to keep potted vegies growing quickly for the best flavours, so don’t let them dry out, and to keep them kicking along, treat them to some liquid fertilizer every fortnight.

[** bush beans means those varieties that don’t climb a pole or trellis. You can harvest them as young snap beans, beans that you shell, or for use as dry beans, depending on which variety you choose. Here is a good variety selector]

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32 thoughts on “Top 10 vegetables to grow in pots

  1. Snap. I just planted ornamental kale in pots.
    My Italian neighbour grows all his veg and herbs in large pots ( despite having acreage) for many of the reasons you outlined. I did wonder though if the black pots didn’t prove too hot in Qld summer and “cook” the contents? I am inclined to choose lighter coloured containers.

    • Gold Star response Julie! I like to use black pots in the winter because of their ability to absorb the heat. Yes, it’s a good move to choose lighter coloured pots in summer, or you could group the pots and surround them with something that would reflect the heat and cool the pots, some fabric perhaps, shade cloth or mulch.

      Any other solutions folks?


      • I’ve wrapped my 50 cm black pots top to bottom in jute string, then using a sponge I’ve splodged the jute with an exterior all purpose pva glue mixed with equal parts water, just to stop it all stretching and falling off. The glue/water mixture makes it go further and the jute absorbs it more readily. It’s all dry and gone hard and now and looks beautiful too. I’m hoping this, combined with clustering the pots together will reduce the effects of our Mackay heat, even in winter. 33 degrees here today at 1pm.

    • Hi Sam. I live in the Northern Rivers where it’s often wet. Mediterranean herbs hate it, but growing them in pots has solved the constant problem of root rot and mushy foliage. Pots have saved my sanity!

  2. Great potting mix combo Phil. I have printed that out to go into my seed box ready for the next batch of soil we make up! Thanks for sharing your ‘recipe’.

  3. Pingback: Top 10 Vegetables To Grow In Pots - Plant Care Today

  4. If you place the pots on a kid’s wagon you can roll them where you want them easy.
    Also a table or cart with wheels works. I was just thinking about building a set up on wheels too.

  5. Pingback: How to grow Asian greens | GardenDrum

  6. What do you use for your “pinch of trace elements”? I’ve been growing veggies up on our deck for several years (due to severe deer issues – I used to like Bambi LOL) but have never found a really good potting mix “recipe” like yours. I’m getting ready to plant kale here in Kentucky, USA and would like to try your mix. This is my first attempt at fall planting on the deck. Any other fall veggies you can recommend for my deck garden? Thanks!

  7. I would like to use self watering pots. I plan to use the commercial ones – earth box or smart gardern (haven’t decided yet) on my balcony for lettuce. I was advised that larger vegetables such as tomatoes don’t do so well in these pots because they aren’t deep enough for the roots. (and your advice confirms this.) If I use different deeper ones specifically for the tomatoes, do I have to change the soil each year? Should I rotate different vegetables that I plant in these pots and if so, will plants with shorter roots like broccoli still benefit from the self watering effect in the deeper containers?

  8. I live in Alaska. Black pots are key in growing large tomatoes and other veggies in containers. Great article.

  9. I have just discovered your postings via fb, and am hoping that you being subtropical, I may see workable solutions for Hong Kong. Any gardening books i find here seem out of sync with this climate. I am 100% container gardening,on our outer courtyard, in rural HK, mainly because feral water buffalo and wild boars and monkeys do raids on nearly anything I plant. I lived in a country park, a protected area off-road and off-limits to motorists without a pass, so even hauling in pots and soil is a labour. My problem is the extreme wet in summer and extreme dry in winter. I have been doing just trial and error, and can grow grape, papaya, strawberries, passionfruit now, but tomatoes, lettuce, herbs, potatoes, carrots turn to mush in the wet. I have planted agave around the perimeter to deter animals, and it grows to about 6 feet tall. Any suggestions?

    • Hi Ailsa – it’s so interesting to hear about how others garden and I hope you’ll find lots of helpful advice for subtropical and tropical gardening on GardenDrum. One post that might help with your rotting vegies is from Wilson Wong in Singapore.
      He says the secret to wet season gardening is creating a container that is open to the air on the sides as well ie not plastic or terracotta. You need to use a geotextile/shadecloth type fabric that doesn’t rot when it’s wet. An alternative might be to try drilling lots of small holes around the sides of a cheap plastic pot and see whether that works to keep the mix more aerated.

  10. use lots of banana skins and some Epsom salt in your planting hole (about 1 tablespoon of Epsom) gives food to veg and repels bugs. I live in Tasmania o

  11. Love looking at your potted mixed variety of veggies with marigold 🙂 They all look great! May I know them name of the plant from the first pic with sharp pointed leaves? Thanks, Phil.

    Cheers, Evelyn, KL, Malaysia.

  12. Hi, just left a message without leaving my details. Could you let us know what is the container in your article. It appears to have legs which would be a great advantage where I am to keep the ants out of the soil. thank you. also convenient to reach being elderly.

    • Hi Jeb, The flowering plants are annual marigolds (Tagetes) which are great for attracting pollinating insects to your vegetable garden. The tall skinny upright leaves are shallots, also called spring onions, green onions or scallions. The other salad plants include Italian parsley and butter lettuce. Shallots/green onions are great garden plants and the bulbs will last for many years in a warm-climate garden if you keep harvesting the green part.

      • Thank you Catherine. Does it need to be specifically Italian parsley and butter lettuce or any other variant of parsley and lettuce will do? BTW, can you plant marigold as a companion plant for eggplants?

        • There’s no fixed ‘recipe’ for this planting box and what’s best to plant depends on your own climate zone – and what you like eating best! In fact, unless you’re cutting it every day, smaller curly-leaf parsley would fit much better than Italian parsley. And the lettuce doesn’t need to be a head-forming lettuce. You could grow leafy greens like rocket/arugula or cut-and-come-again salad lettuce.
          Re companion planting for eggplant, eggplant doesn’t need a companion plant as it readily self-pollinates, usually by wind or very small insects moving around in the flowers.

          • thanks again. ah, so any leafy greens will do like the lettuce which we love to mixed with Taco salad. another one, how about ordinary onions or regular bulb onions (sibuyas in Tagalog) to replaced the spring onions, green onions or scallions because in our area, we rarely have or buy spring onions, green onions or scallions?

          • Yes you can grow ordinary onions in a pot but they take much longer to grow to a harvestable size (maybe 4-5 months depending on the climate) than the other plants shown here, and they need more clear space around them (at least 70mm around each bulb). While onions need lots of water when they’re growing, they also need to be kept much drier during the last month before harvest, so they may not be compatible at that stage with plants that need much more water, like lettuce.

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