University of Maryland Extension

Container Vegetable Gardening - Healthy Harvests from Small Spaces

Back to herbs in containers


Eggplant grown in a containerGrowing vegetables is great fun, good exercise and a sure way to more nutritious eating.  But for many of us, simply wanting to plant a garden may not be enough.  We may lack a good site, or be too busy with other things.  Container gardening is a simple and fun way to grow edible crops in just about any situation.  It’s growing in popularity because it’s easy to get started and enables anyone to be successful— including those who think they have a “brown thumb”.  Even if you have an in-ground vegetable garden you may find it desirable to have edible containers of herbs and salad greens near the kitchen door.  This fact sheet has the basic information you’ll need to grow some of your own organic produce spring, summer, and fall!

The Growing Advantages

  • It’s perfect for all kinds of people— kids, people with physical limitations, college students, renters, novice gardeners, and any gardener wanting to cut back, downsize, and save time. (You can water and harvest 10 containers in 10 minutes.)
  • There is no digging or tilling.  You can garden in the rain without getting your shoes muddy! 
  • Container gardening is virtually weed-free. 
  • It’s inexpensive to get started.  Few tools are needed.
  • Helps to overcome some common gardener complaints:
    • backyards that are too shady for tomatoes
    • compacted, poor quality soils and soils   contaminated with lead
    • persistent soil-borne disease like Fusarium wilt of tomato.
  • Temporary or permanent containers (including window boxes) can be fitted to any location— balcony, deck, stoop, concrete pad, or any part of your yard. 
  • You can locate containers where they are most convenient for you and where they will grow best (place the tomatoes in full sun and the lettuce in partial shade.)
  • Better control over growing conditions (water, sunlight, nutrients) can lead to higher yields with less work than a conventional garden (10 sq. ft. can produce 50 lbs. of fresh organic produce).
  • Container gardens are easier to protect plants from weather extremes, insect pests and bigger critters.
  • Get a quicker start in the spring and grow further into the fall.
  • Vertical growth saves space and allows use of exterior walls.

Why Organic?
Organic gardening emphasizes soil improvement through the regular addition of organic matter, and biological and genetic diversity to manage insect and disease problems. A growing number of Marylanders are interested in buying and growing organic produce to reduce exposure to chemical pesticides.

For most gardeners, “organic” means no chemical fertilizers or pesticides.  Luckily, it’s pretty easy to grow container vegetables organically.  There are many types of organic fertilizers.  And spraying, even with an organic pesticide, should rarely be necessary.  This fact sheet emphasizes organic and sustainable growing practices that will save you money and put nutritious food on the table.  For example, using recycled materials for containers, filling those containers with backyard or locally produced compost, and planting flowers to attract beneficial insects are all ways to create a low-cost, ecological garden.

Next step: Getting Started with Container Vegetable Gardening

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