Edible Container Garden:

How to Plant a Summer Vegetable Garden in Galvanized Containers

By Trace Barnett

How can you utilize limited space while enjoying a bountiful harvest? Create a summer vegetable garden in containers. Containers provide ample depth for root systems and add a charming rustic touch to any outdoor space. 

We’ll walk you through setting up your container garden, selecting the right plants, and caring for them throughout the season. 

The key to successful container vegetable gardening lies in selecting suitable plants, with some varieties naturally more adept for container cultivation. Compact plant types generally adapt well to containers, though even those needing support, like tomatoes, can flourish with proper care. Thoughtful combinations of plants can optimize space and yield, while some plant combinations should be avoided due to compatibility issues.

The Benefits: enhanced accessibility, space efficiency, minimal weeding, flexibility in plant placement, reduced risk of soil-borne diseases, no need for heavy garden tools, and greater control over moisture, light and temperature.

Choosing a Container

When choosing containers, prioritize drainage and size, ensuring ample space for root growth and appropriate soil depth.

A ½ wine or repurposed whiskey barrel makes an excellent choice to create a bountiful veggie garden. Or galvanized stock tanks also work well.

Opt for galvanized containers deep enough to accommodate the root systems of your chosen vegetables. Containers should ideally be at least 12 – 18 inches deep. Ensure that the containers have drainage holes at the bottom to prevent waterlogging, which can lead to root rot. A general rule of thumb is one or two drainage holes for pots 12” and under, and four or more drainage holes for containers over 12”. Be sure the drainage holes are evenly spaced and set containers up on a block to prevent clogging. Use a paper coffee filter to cover drainage holes. Water will drain out but not the soil. 

Select the Right Location: Place your containers in a location that receives adequate sunlight for your chosen vegetables. Most vegetables require at least 6-8 hours of sunlight per day.

Selecting Potting Mix

Potting mix selection is critical, with consideration given to moisture retention, drainage, weed and pest resistance, and lightweight composition. While pre-mixed potting soil is convenient for smaller-scale gardening, larger projects may benefit from custom blends. Proper care, including watering and fertilizing, is crucial for a thriving container garden. Watering frequency varies based on container type, size, material, and environmental factors, with thorough soaking recommended to prevent both under and overwatering.

Use a high-quality potting mix specifically formulated for container gardening. Avoid using garden soil, as it may compact in containers and hinder plant growth. Consider adding organic matter such as compost or aged manure to enrich the soil and provide essential nutrients. Fill the containers with soil, leaving a few inches of space at the top for watering.

Fertilization needs also vary, with balanced fertilizers suitable for leafy vegetables and phosphorus-rich formulas recommended for flowering and fruiting varieties. With attention to detail and a touch of creativity, container gardening offers a simple, enjoyable way to cultivate a unique and beautiful garden.

In crafting a captivating mixed vegetable container garden, think of it as orchestrating a symphony of flavors, colors, and textures right at your fingertips. Picture the drama of vibrant tomatoes, fiery peppers, and fragrant basil sharing the stage, basking in the warmth of the sun and the richness of well-draining soil. Intertwine this scene with the elegance of leafy greens—lettuce, spinach, and Swiss chard—dancing gracefully in the dappled light, their tender leaves promising crispness and vitality.

Delve deeper into the soil’s embrace to uncover the hidden treasures of carrots, radishes, and onions, their earthy notes mingling with the promise of a bountiful harvest. And let us not forget the whimsical squashes, with their sprawling vines and abundant fruit, adding a touch of magic to this botanical ensemble. 

Planting Tips

Fill the containers with potting mix, leaving a few inches of space below the rim. Follow spacing guidelines for each vegetable variety to prevent overcrowding and ensure proper airflow. Plant taller vegetables (like tomatoes or peppers) towards the center or back of the container, and shorter ones (like lettuce or herbs) towards the edges.

Flour: Using flour when planting in the garden, whether via direct sow or in containers, is an ingenious method to keep planting areas divided and assist in spacing while minimizing disturbance to seeds and seedlings. By lightly dusting the soil surface with flour along designated planting rows or sections, gardeners can create clear boundaries and guidelines for where to sow seeds or transplant seedlings. The flour acts as a visible marker that gradually dissipates over time, providing a visual aid without harming plants or soil.

This technique not only helps maintain proper spacing between plants but also ensures a more organized and efficient planting process. Additionally, as the flour naturally breaks down, it enriches the soil with organic matter, further benefiting plant growth and overall garden health. Overall, using flour as a planting aid is a simple yet effective strategy that enhances precision and promotes successful garden cultivation.

Best Vegetable Plants for Containers

  • Tomatoes: Choose compact varieties like cherry or patio tomatoes that thrive in containers.
  • Peppers: Bell peppers and chili peppers are well-suited for container gardening.
  • Cucumbers: Look for bush or dwarf cucumber varieties that produce well in containers.
  • Herbs: Basil, parsley, cilantro, and chives are excellent choices for container herb gardens.
  • Lettuce and Salad Greens: Leaf lettuce, spinach, and arugula are perfect for continuous harvesting in containers.
  • Squashes: Look for compact varieties such as ‘Bush Baby,’ ‘Pattypan,’ or ‘Gold Rush’ zucchini.

These varieties produce smaller plants with shorter vines, making them ideal for containers.Patio or container-specific squash: Some seed companies offer squash varieties specifically bred for container gardening, such as ‘Patio Star’ or ‘Container Bush Acorn.’ These varieties are bred to thrive in confined spaces while still producing a decent harvest.

  • Beans: Bush beans are ideal for containers, providing a compact growth habit and high yields.
  • Radishes and Carrots: Select smaller varieties suitable for container cultivation, such as French breakfast radishes or baby carrots.

Plants that thrive together:

  • Carrots, Beans and Squash
  • Beans and Eggplants
  • Tomatoes, Basil, and Onions
  • Herbs and Lettuce
  • Chard, Spinach, and Onions

Plants that do not play well together:

  • Onions, Beans, and Garlic
  • Dill with Fennel or Carrots
  • Tomatoes or Squash with Potatoes
  • Onions with Beans or Peas

Care and Maintenance

Water regularly, ensuring that the soil remains consistently moist but not waterlogged. Container gardens may require more frequent watering, especially during hot summer months. Fertilize every 2-3 weeks with a balanced water-soluble fertilizer to promote healthy growth and abundant harvests.

Fertilizing: Container vegetables benefit from regular fertilization to replenish nutrients in the soil. Use a balanced fertilizer or a fertilizer specifically formulated for vegetables, following the manufacturer’s instructions.

Mulching: Consider adding a layer of mulch on top of the soil to help retain moisture, regulate soil temperature, and suppress weed growth. Organic mulches such as straw, shredded leaves, or compost work well for container gardens. Monitor for pests and diseases, and take prompt action if any issues arise. Regularly inspect plants for signs of damage or infestation.

Provide adequate support for tall or vining plants such as tomatoes and cucumbers by using stakes or trellises. Harvest vegetables promptly when they reach maturity to encourage continuous production.

Create a thriving container garden, and enjoy fresh, homegrown produce throughout the summer.

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