University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Spring News Article


Dr. Leonard P. Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont

Many garden vegetables can be grown in containers, tubs, or boxes, right on your porch or patio.  You can enjoy their color close at hand.  And you'll find that harvesting some tomatoes, cucumbers, and salad greens for your table becomes much more convenient.

Many vegetables and herbs are ornamental as well as useful.  While most can be container-grown at least part of the time, some are better suited than others.  Plants that grow rampantly and large, or that must be grown in great numbers to obtain satisfactory yields, generally should not be selected for container growth.

Pumpkin and squash vines and cucumbers usually are not recommended for container growth because they take up so much space.  If you have a large raised bed, or container such as a whiskey barrel half, you might consider one of the newer varieties with bush habits.

Other plants that may need larger containers include cabbages and corn.  Corn in particular can get quite large, and tip over smaller containers or dry out too often.  It also needs several square feet at least of plants, or several rows in a rectangular bed, in order to get good cross pollination and so good ear development.

Strawberries can either be grown in larger beds, and allowed to send out runners as they do in the field, or in special strawberry pots.  These are tall, large, and have holes in the sides where the runners can be planted.  Or you may adapt such pots to herbs, planting different herbs in each of the various holes.

Even if you don't have a very large container, vining crops such as cucumbers and squash can be grown.  Simply train up a trellis, around a window, or allow to cascade down a raised deck.  You may even train such vines over an arch, the fruit hanging down so you can watch them develop and easily pick them when ripe.

The most common container vegetable, and one of the most attractive, is of course the tomato.  Special dwarf varieties have been bred under a foot high, with small to medium-sized fruits.  Larger tomato varieties that grow to a set height (determinate) are suitable for large containers.  Those that keep growing taller (indeterminate) will need taller and more elaborate staking if grown in containers.  A range of fruit types are available, from the large beefstake types, suitable for slicing, to the small grape, cherry, and pear shapes.

Some vegetables can be grown for their decorative foliage, such as purple-leaved cabbage or the brightly colored stems and veins of new Swiss chard varieties.  One Swiss Chard example is the All America Selection 'Bright Lights'.  The ornamental cabbage and kale are often used for fall container plantings, and last well through many heavy frosts, up until heavy snow covers them.

There are many peppers that are quite ornamental, both bell types and the hot peppers.  A recent variety 'Chilly Chili' is under a foot tall, has peppers not too hot, elongated, and all colors as they ripen from green to yellows, oranges, and red.

There are many leafy greens and lettuces you can combine in containers.  Consider those with lacy or frilled leaves for fine texture, or those with colored leaves such as the red leaf lettuce.

Then of course you could plant just an herb container.  Tall herbs such as dill and fennel, with their attractive flowers and lacy foliage, might be underplanted with lower ones such as chives and parsley.  Thyme may be used to hang over the sides.  Or you can plant a whole container just of various basils to use in Italian sauces and pestos.

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