lettuce growing in containers
Updated: March 8, 2024

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What can I grow in a container garden?

  • Just about any vegetable or herb! Some of the more popular container crops are salad greens, peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, beans, chard, beets, radish, squash, and cucumbers. 
  • More challenging crops include melons, corn, potatoes, and sweet potatoes. The key is to experiment.
  • Look for “bush” or “dwarf” varieties of the crops you want to grow. There are quite a few tomato and cucumber varieties bred for small-space gardening.
  • New gardeners should start small in the first year. 

Best location for a container garden

Containers can be placed on any level surface — decks, balconies, and along driveways and sidewalks. You can also set them on bare ground and allow the plant roots to grow down into the soil or place them on top of a mulched area.

  • Edibles can also be grown in hanging baskets and window boxes.
  • Southern and western exposures will be the sunniest and warmest, while northern and eastern exposures will be shadier and cooler.
  • You’ll need 6-8 hours of direct sun for warm-season crops (tomato, pepper, eggplant, squash) and 3-5 hours of direct sun for cool-season crops (lettuce, spinach, Asian greens).  
  • Easy access to water is crucial. Some containers will need watering every day when the weather is hot and dry.
  • Consider the microclimate in the container garden area. Watch out for heat sinks created by brick,  concrete, and reflective surfaces.

Words of caution about container gardening

  • Containers and the water that drains from them can mark and stain concrete and wood decking. Using self-watering containers or plastic saucers to catch water will prevent this problem (and is very helpful if you are gardening “above” your neighbor’s balcony.)
  • The lighter weight of large plastic containers leads gardeners to believe they can be moved easily. But a 20-inch diameter container filled with moist growing medium and plants can weigh 100 lbs! (You can buy or make plant caddies to make heavy containers portable.)

Still have a question? Contact us at Ask Extension.