Skip to main content
cucumber, tomatoes, peppers, green onions

New Vegetable Gardener — No Backyard for a Garden???

Growing your own food, both vegetables and herbs, can be challenging if you do not have enough space in the backyard for a garden or you don’t have a backyard at all. Don’t give up on the thought of growing your own food. Grow them in containers.

You will still need sufficient light, water and space for the vegetables and herbs to grow. And the “Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide” will help you decide the correct growing seasons and which varieties of vegetable you should grow that will fit into your planting area, whether it is a patio, balcony or the back bumper of your motor home.

When growing vegetables in a container, choose a suitable container that will meet the needs of the vegetable you intend to grow. For example, a tomato plant can grow very long roots; some may reach 6-7’ long. So a container that is at least 5 gallons in size will be necessary to grow the tomatoes to maturity. Once you decide which vegetables you intend to grow, you must select containers that will give them enough room to grow.

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service has an excellent publication about growing vegetables in containers and recommendations for minimum container sizes for many vegetable you will want to grow.

The containers you choose may be made of plastic, terra cotta clay, fabric (grow bags), ceramic, wood or other synthetic and organic materials. They may be tall, short, round or square. They may be decorative or you may want to try your skills and hand paint some. They may be purchased at local garden centers, found at garage sales, or do-it-yourself projects. The containers must have drainage holes to reduce the potential for root rot from routine watering. With drainage, a decision will need to be made regarding placement of these containers in your environment. This drainage water may stain concrete.

You can buy or grow your own transplants for the containers. Some vegetables will be grown by planting the seeds directly into the containers. You will need to choose a suitable media to put in the containers. I strongly recommend you consider a quality potting mix. Do not use soil from the backyard, potting soil or garden soil. I have found that many of the products that contain “soil” also contain soil diseases that can ruin your container garden.

Potting mix (usually soil-less) is typically a mixture of compost, peat moss, and perlite. This provides a light weight soil that doesn’t get waterlogged but retains moisture well. Potting mix is better for most container gardens, as waterlogged soil can lead to root rot and other problems.” You may want to make your own potting mix. Here is a good source for doing that: You will want to replace this mix every time you start growing another vegetable in the container.

There is no need to add gravel or rocks to the bottom of the containers before you add potting mix. It may cause drainage problems instead of improving drainage. Just cover the drainage hole with a piece of broken pottery or fiberglass screening to keep the potting mix from passing through the hole.

Add the potting mix to within 1-2” below the top of the container and water well. Stop watering if the water is starting to overflow the container. Continue to water until water comes out of the drainage hole. Use your hand or a hand trowel to create a hole large enough for your transplant or seeds. Place your transplant in the container no deeper than it was growing in the container you took it out of. Plant seeds no deeper than three times the diameter of the seed. Then water well and place a plant label in the container. Do not water again until the top inch or two of potting mix is dry to the touch. This may be a week or more. Do not water on a schedule. When you do water, water thoroughly to flush excess fertilizer and soil insect pests from the potting mix; water should flow out the drainage hole.

Vegetables growing in containers respond well to half-strength liquid fertilizers. The fertilizer should be a complete fertilizer; a complete fertilizer is one that includes all three elements: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. It is your choice to use a synthetic or an organic fertilizer. Plants do not care and will produce equally well with either one.

If your containers are on a balcony, they may dry out sooner than you expect because of air moving around them more often than containers in a screened patio. To slow the pace that they dry out, consider placing the containers closer together. Also, wind can topple tall growing plants like tomatoes that are staked to a trellis in the container. Pushing these containers in a corner or bracing them with a tall 2”x2”x 6’ stake may be necessary. These are things you must consider with a container garden.

For people living in a motor home, small containers with dwarf or miniature vegetables can be grown on the back bumper when you are camping in an RV park. Building small wooden boxes that may hold several containers will help with loading them into the motor home when you need to travel.

A lot of this information will also apply to gardeners living in mobile home parks and condominiums. I would rather see you all gardening in containers than not gardening at all. It is healthy, a good form of exercise, and will reduce your reliance of the grocery store for all your food.