University of Maryland Extension

Planting and Maintenance - Container Vegetables

After you've chosen your plants, container, and potting medium, it's time to make your container garden!

How to Plant a Container Garden

  • Don’t fill the bottom of the container with pebbles, gravel, or rocks unless you need the added weight to prevent tipping. Cover drainage holes with mesh, gravel, paper towel, or a coffee filter, to prevent soil from washing away.
  • Prior to planting, use a trowel or your hands (wear gloves) to thoroughly work water into the growing medium.  This is especially important for soil-less mixes containing peat moss.
  • Don’t cram media into container.  Fill to within an inch or so of top of container.  Follow seed packet directions for planting, spacing, and care.
  • For attractive and versatile containers, mix herbs and annual flowers in with the vegetable plants.
  • Herbs such as lavender, thyme, oregano, marjoram, and chives require a loose growing medium and dry conditions.  Plant them together in porous clay pots and add some sand to the mix.
  • Keep containers together to increase humidity and water retention

Maintain Your Container Garden

  • Three-season planting (a.k.a. “succession planting”): When spring lettuce or radish is spent, pull up and compost the plants.  Then re-plant the container in late May with pepper plants, beans or cucumber seed.  In early fall you can plant kale, lettuce or broccoli raab to finish out the season. Don’t forget to fertilize after each crop!
  • Give them support. Cucumbers, pole beans, peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant will all benefit from some type of vertical support.
  • Move plants around if containers are portable to maximize sunlight (for heat-loving crops) and shade (for summer-grown salad greens).

When Plants Don't Grow Well in Containers

Diagnosing Plant Problems

Container-grown plants are subject to the same insect and disease problems as garden-grown plants, but container gardeners tend to have fewer problems. The biggest causes of plant problems are lack of water and nutrients and overcrowding. Plants can also suffer root rot from too much water, especially if the growing mix does not drain well. 

Go to 'Vegetable Problems' for additional help in diagnosing vegetable problems, or send your questions and photos to our extension specialists: Ask an Expert.

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