GET GROWING: Try these top picks for container veggies

For new vegetable gardeners or those short on space, growing vegetables in pots is ideal. Most types of vegetables can be planted in containers and growing in pots typically means fewer insect and disease problems. Personally, I also find it incredibly convenient to have a supply of cherry tomatoes, baby cucumbers, or tender greens located just outside my kitchen door.

The four rules of container gardening:

1. Match the pot size to the plant. Compact crops like leaf lettuce can be grown in small, shallow pots, but larger vegetables like vining tomatoes need sizeable containers with plenty of root space.
2. Select containers with good drainage. Now plastic containers sold at garden centers come with pre-drilled drainage holes. If you’re up-cycling a bucket or Rubbermaid tub, however, add drainage holes to the bottom before you fill it with soil.
3. Use a potting mix, not garden soil to fill the container. Potting mix is ​​lightweight and free-draining. I like to add some compost, filling the pots with two-thirds potting mix and one-third compost. This is also a good time to add a slow-release granular vegetable fertilizer.
4. Pay attention to watering. Pots dry out far faster than a garden bed and when the weather is hot you may need a daily drink. When you water, water deeply to encourage a healthy root system.

The best vegetables for containers:

Tomatoes

Tomatoes thrive when grown in containers and do best in a site that receives at least eight hours of sun each day. Small growing varieties, like tiny Tim or Lizzano can be planted in small pots or planters, but vining types like sungold need large containers and sturdy stakes for support. When choosing tomatoes for containers, look for descriptions like “determinate” or “bush” which indicate a more compact size.

Cucumbers can be grown in containers but will need a trellis, tomato cage, or some other type of support to climb. – Niki Jabbour

Cucumbers

All types of cucumbers can be grown in pots, but keep in mind that vining types like lemon or diva need netting or a trellis to climb. I prefer to grow bush varieties like spacemaster or salad bush in containers, supporting the compact plants on tomato cages. Plant a second crop in mid-summer for a September harvest.

Bush beans

Bush bean seeds can be directly sown in planters and window boxes in mid to late May when the risk of frost has passed. Plant the seeds one inch deep and four inches apart. Mascotte is my favorite variety for pots and offers a heavy crop of slender green beans just 50 days from seeding.

Peas

Peas love the cool weather of mid to late spring and I’ve already started planting pea seeds in my raised beds as well as a few pots on my deck. There are three types of peas: shell, sugar, and snap and all can be grown in containers. It’s best to stick to shorter varieties like Sugar Ann, Little Marvel or Early Frosty as they grow less than two feet tall.

Swiss chard

Any salad green can be grown in a container, but for longevity and production, it’s hard to beat Swiss chard. Unlike most greens which finish when the summer heat arrives, Swiss chard keeps going all season long. Plus, most varieties are extremely ornamental with brightly colored stems and leaf veins: peppermint, bright lights, and rhubarb.

Peppers

To yield a good crop, pepper plants need plenty of heat and sun. I plant both sweet and hot peppers in containers on my super sunny back deck. It’s too late to start pepper seeds now, so you’ll need to pick up seedlings from a local nursery in late May. A tomato cage inserted into the container at the time of planting provides a bit of extra support.

Niki Jabbour is the best-selling author of three gardening books, and a two-time winner of the prestigious American Horticultural Society Book Award. Find her on social media and at SavvyGardening.com.