Why you should plant veggies in containers, plus a shocking tip on caring for veggies!

vegetables herbs flowers in container
This container is functional and beautiful. It follows the rules of a decorative pot with a couple of thrillers (upright plants), fillers (shorter plants that fill in the pot) and spillers (plants that cascade down the side). This is an 18-inch pot and it contains a ‘Better Bush’ tomato, ‘Lady’ bell pepper, three medium marigolds that get 10 inches tall, three miniature marigolds that get eight inches tall and two nasturtiums. The nasturtiums get orange or red flowers. Both the flowers and leaves of the nasturtium are edible and have a peppery taste. While you wouldn’t put two tomato plants in a pot this small, you can squeeze in a pepper plant because it is smaller. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

First of all, there is still time to plant vegetables.

The best time to plant vegetables is the first week in June until about June 10, said Jen Weber, retail manager at Mike Weber Greenhouses, 42 French Rd., West Seneca. The ground is warm, the nights are warm and the danger of frost has passed.

So yes, you still have time to plant vegetables, but do it soon–The Fourth of July is too late, she said.

While you have to hurry a little, don’t be one of those people who try to get a head start on the season.

“It’s worse to plant too early,” Weber said. There are people who try to get their tomatoes planted around Mother’s Day. Even if the plants don’t get damaged by frost, they get stunted by the cold weather and it takes time for the plants to come back.

A bazillion reasons to plant vegetables in a container

I admit that I’m a lazy gardener, and that’s why I’m going to try planting tomatoes in pots this year. Growing vegetables in pots can be easier and can take less time than planting vegetables in the ground.

You don’t have to prepare a whole garden bed. There’s no rototilling and no digging. Gardeners who have a disability or who can’t bend as well as they used to like the ease of planting in containers.

I don’t routinely rototill my beds, but I always have to clear out the weeds before I plant, then I try to keep up with the weeds throughout the season. Every grass seed and weed seed that floated anywhere near my yard seems to be drawn into my vegetable garden. I’m hoping that using pots for my vegetables will cut down on some of that aggravating work.

Weeding is a big deal for a lot of people, Weber said, and even she has struggled with it in her home vegetable garden.

“I had a 20 by 30 vegetable garden,” Weber said, “but I’m not home. I don’t get home until 9:30 or 10 at night, so if I don’t have a flashlight, I’m not gardening. The weeds were as high as my tomatoes. That garden became a 20 by 30 disaster.”

Yes, I can relate! Even though I work from home, summer is my busiest time of the year. If I’m not at my computer, I’m out photographing other people’s gardens. I was relieved to hear that someone else had weeds that were obscuring their tomatoes.

So this year, in what used to be the vegetable bed, I’m laying down newspaper and mulch and setting pots of tomatoes and herbs on top of the mulch. I think it will look better than the weedy mess I’ve had in the past.

Another reason I’m going to try growing tomatoes in pots is that I hope I will get better results. You’re supposed to rotate your vegetable plants every few years to help prevent diseases that might linger in the soil from year to year. That’s hard to do in my yard because I have only a few sunny spots. I hope that using fresh soil each year in my containers will help protect my vegetable plants from disease.

Vegetables need full sun, Weber emphasized. Peppers especially need full sun or you won’t get fruit. And that’s another reason to plant veggies in pots–You can move the pots around to find the best location. If you’re dedicated, you could even move your containers from the spot in your yard that’s sunny in the morning to the spot that’s sunny in the afternoon.

Finally, if you don’t have room for a big vegetable garden, or if you don’t have a yard at all, you can still grow vegetables in containers. If you have a balcony or back stoop, you have room for a pot. And if you move in the middle of the summer, you can take your vegetable plants with you!

Container size, soil and general tips

A good rule of thumb is to plant one vegetable plant in a 10-inch pot, Weber said.

If you have a very large plant, you may want to consider using a clay pot, she suggested. A ‘Beefmaster’ tomato that gets four feet tall and has fruit that weighs a pound each could tip over if it was in a 10-inch plastic pot.

For some varieties, you can go with a slightly smaller gallon pot, which is about 8 inches in diameter. There are smaller varieties of tomatoes called patio tomatoes that will do well in a pot that small. These smaller varieties, such as ‘Better Bush’, are sold in gallon pots at Mike Weber’s, so you can actually keep the plant in the pot you bought it in and it will do well all summer, she said. How easy is that?

If you want to put two plants in a pot, Weber suggests your pot be 24 to 26 inches in diameter.

If you already have pots that you want to use, make sure you measure them. I have what I thought were great big pots, but when I measured them, I was surprised to find out that they were only 18 inches in diameter.

Use potting soil, not soil from your garden for your containers; the soil must be light and airy. Choose a potting mix that has nutrients already added. Replace all of the soil every year– Plants use up the nutrients and, especially with tomatoes, you don’t want any diseases to carry over.

Mixing vegetables and herbs in containers

herbs and tomato plants in pot
This 14-inch pot contains a ‘Beefstake’ tomato, curly parsley, basil, silver thyme and three red onions starts. You can snip the onion greens and use them as scallions. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

“People are always asking me, ‘Can I mix herbs with tomatoes?’,” Weber said.

The answer is yes. You can plant whatever herbs you want in the same pot as your tomatoes. You could do a container for spaghetti sauce, planting tomatoes with oregano, basil and thyme.

Check out the photos of the mixed pots to get an idea of how many plants will work in a certain size pot.

Tip: Plant marigolds along with tomatoes. The marigolds will keep away beetles that can damage the plant, she said.

If you don’t want to plant this up yourself, you can buy them already planted up at Mike Weber’s.

Two tips on caring for vegetables that may shock you

Some of you may know about this first tip, but a lot of people get it wrong.

The tip is simply this: Don’t overfertilize your vegetable plants. If you are using a potting mix that has nutrients already in it, don’t fertilize at all, Weber said. Next year, replace the soil completely because the nutrients will be used up.

Even if you’re planting in the ground, be careful not to overfertilize. Don’t fertilize your vegetables, especially tomatoes, after they have flowered. If you do, you’ll get big, beautiful plants with no fruit, she explained.

Here’s the tip that may really shock you: Wait until your vegetable plants wilt, then water them.

I asked Weber for clarification at least four times to make sure I was getting this right.

“Yep, let them flop over, then water them,” she said.


It sounds counterintuitive, Weber agreed, but you want the plant’s energy going into producing fruit and not into the plant itself. If you look at a farmer’s field at harvest time, the plants look dead, but they’re yielding fruit. If you baby your plants, you will get big, healthy-looking plants with a small yield, or you will rot them.

While the plants that are placed out for customers at her garden center don’t look wilted, as the plants are being grown in the back greenhouse, the plants are allowed to wilt. If the plants get too wet, they could get fungus, which is a huge problem, but “A little bit of sagging isn’t going to hurt them,” Weber said.

If you have a mixture of plants in a container, go by the looks of the individual plants. If the marigolds are the only plants that look sad, water just the marigolds, she said, or you’ll be overwatering the tomato.

Here are some tips for specific vegetables.

Zucchini, yellow squash and cucumbers

hill of zucchinie
Planting a “hill” of zucchini doesn’t mean building up a mound of dirt; it means planting two or three plants together as if they were one plant. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Some people think you can’t grow zucchini in a pot, but you can. People get confused, Weber said, because directions for zucchini say you have to plant them in a “hill.” Planting them in a hill means you plant two or three plants together as if they were one plant. It doesn’t mean you plant them in a mound of dirt.

Zucchini needs to be planted in twos or threes so they will pollinate properly, she explained. The same goes for yellow squash and cucumbers.

Mike Weber Greenhouses sells zucchini with two plants in each cell of a six-pack. That means you’re actually getting 12 plants, not six, but don’t separate the plants; keep them in pairs. Put one pair in a pot. Plant zucchini in twos or threes even if you’re planting in the ground.


You can grow a regular cucumber plant in a hanging basket. Weber said her kids do this and they sell out every year. You pick the cucumbers when they’re a little smaller so they won’t fall off. Not only is this an interesting way to grow a cucumber plant, it keeps the rabbits from getting at the plant.


If you put two plants in a pot that is too small, they will crowd each other and the parts in the middle won’t get sun. You can try pruning the leaves from the center to let sun in and help those tomatoes to ripen, she said.

There are determinate and indeterminate varieties of tomatoes. Weber remembers the difference this way: Determinate varieties are determined to grow up straight and don’t need to be staked while indeterminate varieties get floppy and need to be staked. You may want to choose determinate varieties for containers.

For support, you can use a stake, a bamboo hoop or a small trellis. You can also set the pot up against a fence and let the plant grow up the fence. If you have a wooden fence, you can nail some 1 by 2 pieces of wood horizontally on the fence to form a lattice.


25 Comments on “Why you should plant veggies in containers, plus a shocking tip on caring for veggies!

  1. Tom, I’ve been trouble-shooting this all afternoon. I figured out a way on my end to unsubscribe you from these comments. You should be all set now!

  2. I live in Northern Minnesota. We usually plant after Memorial Day, but for the last few years, the ground has been so cold I’ve had to plant beans 3 times, as they would rot in the ground! Last year, as an experiment, I planted a bean indoors and transplanted it and it did great! So today, I’m going to plant beans in cups, set them on my “heating station” and when I see the beans break soil, I’ll set it outside so I don’t have to do the hardening off. My little heating station is in my grow room, I coil up the rope lights and put the cups on the lights. The rope lights give off a gentle heat. I also have fluorescent fixtures for when I start my plants indoors. I use the “daylight” bulbs.

  3. Bonnie, in the past I’ve used garden soil with a lot of compost, but I’m hoping to have better luck with the potting mix. Where do you live that it has been so cold at night?

  4. Rev Dr Tom, whenever you leave a comment on my site, you can choose to get an email every time someone else comments, or you can choose not to receive those notices. On the page with the article, scroll down below the comments. If you don’t want any notices, make sure all those choices aren’t clicked. If there’s already a check mark in a box and you don’t want the check mark there, click on the check mark and the check mark will go away. You can change your settings now if you like by going back to the article page here. We don’t want anyone to be frustrated! I hope that helps.

  5. in your email or at the bottom of this page: Want less email? Unsubscribe from all follow-up comments or modify your Subscription Options.
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  6. …how do I get away from this trail of comments????? …geeze! (I’ll never do this again):

  7. I guess I made a mistake with my soil in my pots that I planted tomatoes in. I used a mix of top soil, manure, little sand and little fertilizer. I’ve had to keep them in the garage as it’s still cold here, but tonight they go out. Nights will be in the 50’s finally, and 70’s during the day. I noticed my soil was a little “muddy” in the pots, but they are still alive and look decent.

  8. if they are small – I put the whole thing in – if larger I cut them up leaving some “meat” around each section of eyes. (my chipmunks love to dig them up and I sometimes find potatoes around the patio and yard – anyone want some chipmunks! Adoption is free! LOL! )

    They have different size galvanized tubs. I looked up about any metals leaching into food – doesn’t seem to be a problem. http://www.tractorsupply.com/tsc/search/galvanzied%20tank

    Gardens.com has some awesome elevated gardens. when you get on sale or free shipping – it comes out to almost the cost of making it yourself! So much easier on the back and knees! http://www.gardeners.com/buy/planter-boxes-cedar-raised-garden/8587631.html

    PS: I plant my herbs, tomatoes, carrots, etc mixed in with my flower beds too. Great way of filling in spots with the perennials and bushes!

    (Wish we could add pics to the comments – I’d show you mine)

  9. Donna, that was something Jen Weber mentioned and I didn’t include in the article. For some households, one pot of zucchini is enough to supply them for the whole season. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Stephanie, what a great story! Tomato seeds are great for winter sowing. You can make a mini-greenhouse out of a gallon milk jug or all sorts of other containers, plant your seeds, and set the container outside in winter. The seeds, as you discovered, will know when to sprout. And your container was big enough that that they could keep growing this long. Please keep us posted on how your plants do.

  11. Tina, thanks for all these great tips.

    How do you plant the potatoes? Do you submerge the whole potato, or do you let the eyes peek out of the soil?

    I had to look up what galvanized watering tanks were. They’re used for holding water for livestock. They look nice and big.

    I have done the lettuce stalk thing. See how I grew celery from the stump.

  12. Chris, using whiskey barrels is a great idea for vegetables. Even with tomato cages, you have to put deer fencing around the barrels? Wow. But for a fresh tomato, you have to do whatever you can!

  13. Pat, I asked Jen Weber of Mike Weber Greenhouses about Epsom salt.

    Yes, you can use it on tomatoes, she said. Epsom salt contains magnesium, which is a nutrient tomatoes need. Apply it just one time when you plant. Plant your tomato, then sprinkle the Epsom salt at the base of the plant. Don’t put the Epsom salt in the hole or you will burn the roots. You can also dissolve the Epsom salt in water. The ratios of how much to use should be on the package of the Epsom salt. She emphasized that you shouldn’t fertilize tomatoes after they flower and you shouldn’t apply Epsom salt more than once.

    For other vegetables, don’t use Epsom salt; use a 10/10/10 fertilizer. You will see the numbers on the bag. Those numbers represent nitrogen, phosphorus and potash.

    For flowers, don’t use Epsom salt; use a fertilizer that contains nitrogen, phosphorus and potash. Which fertilizer you use will depend on what flowers you have.

    You can get help in choosing the right fertilizer for your plants when you stop into a local garden center such as Mike Weber’s. They have trained staff who know these things.

  14. Rev. Dr. Tom Jones, I asked Jen Weber of Mike Weber Greenhouses and she said that she uses the terms “potting soil” and “potting mix” interchangeably. Potting soil doesn’t really have soil in it. Both are peat-moss-based. If it really has soil in it, it’s probably topsoil, and that will be too heavy for containers.

  15. I always have veggies in containers now. A number of years ago, I had a large (for the city) vegetable garden but gave that up because of too much production. We could not eat or give away all that produce. Now in pots, that problem is solved.

  16. Just an FYI — I’ve been planting heirloom tomatoes in clear tote boxes after reading about container gardening on this website. Well, gotta tell you how surprised I was when I opened the containers last week to replant, and found one of them with big, fat, healthy tomatoes plants just bursting to get out! These containers were left out all winter, and recently moved into the back yard with hardly any sun. I guess the atmosphere was more like a terrarium, since you could see the condensation that was inside the container before I opened it. This year, I plan on planting seeds in each tub before closing them up for the winter — I’ll let you know how many plants I yield. So glad for the tip of planting in containers…Stephanie

  17. What about using Epsom salt for fertilizing? I am unsure as to how to do this.My tomatoes and peppers are all in pots, squash and beans are in the ground.Can it be used for flowers also?

  18. Here’s a tip for growing anything in pots: sink the pot into the ground a few inches. This keeps it from possibly tipping over and keeps water at the base of the planter instead of running out the bottom. Of course you can’t move it around, but the advantages are many!

  19. Have potatoes that have been around too long and the eyes are growing? Or cut off a section that has eyes and use the rest…. Plant them in a container. I plant early – if there’s still frost on the ground – I pull the container into the garage and bring it out during the day for sun until it’s warm enough to leave out. Try rerooting the thick lettuce stalk and replanting that too! or replant onions that are too old to eat. The ultimate in recycling! Galvanized watering tanks work great too!

  20. In the article, “Use potting soil, not soil from your garden for your containers; the soil must be light and airy. Choose a potting mix that has nutrients already added.” There’s a difference between potting “mix” and potting “soil” isn’t there???? Which should be used??

    Article is titled: “Why you should plant veggies in containers, plus a shocking tip on caring for veggies!”

  21. We plant tomatoes in half whiskey barrels. Have been doing so for over 30 years. We do Roma, Early Girl, and cherry tomatoes, planted 3 to a barrel with a tomato cage on each plant. We also grow peppers this way. We usually have 9 to 12 plants total, which gives us plenty of extras for freezing or canning. We do have to put deer fence around each barrel, but it’s worth it.

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