Whether you’ve only got a patio or balcony, there are plenty of vegetables that you can grow in pots. So even if you don’t have a garden, you can harvest a range of tasty veg from your own outside space.
Lots of supermarkets sell seeds and compost, so you can pick them up with your food shopping or order online from seed companies, such as Mr Fothergill’s, Thompson & Morgan and Kings Seeds.
Which? Gardening magazine trials veg varieties to help you find the best. We also have advice from veg-expert Charles Dowding each issue. Try Which? Gardening magazine for just £5, by subscribing online or calling 029 2267 0000.
Choosing a container
- Generally speaking, the larger the container, the bigger the crop. Opt for pots with a capacity of least 10 litres – 20 litres is even better, but these will cost more, take up more space and be heavier. Anything smaller will dry out too quickly and you’ll spend all your time watering.
- Plastic pots are often the cheapest option, plus they’re light and strong. However, they may not look the most attractive. Terracotta pots insulate well and breathe, but can dry out more quickly particularly in smaller sizes.
- Be creative with your container choices, too. There may be items around your outside space that you can re-purpose, such as an old basin, bucket or recycling bin. Just make sure you add some drainage holes.
- Growing bags are another option – they’re cheap to buy and easy to use, but you’ll need to keep on top of watering.
Discover our Best Buy growing bags
Using a good-quality compost is essential when growing in containers. Choose one of our Best Buy composts for patio pots.
Caring for your plants
Crops in containers need more feeding than those grown in the ground. Add a controlled-release fertiliser to the compost when you plant up your containers. Alternatively, feed with a liquid fertiliser or tomato feed. You’ll need to keep an eye on watering – be sure not to let your pots dry out. Position your veg pots where they’ll get plenty of sunshine.
Watch out for pests:
- Slugs and snails can rapidly munch through young plants and can be controlled with ferric phosphate slug pellets used sparingly.
- Aphids, such as greenfly and blackfly, can infest young shoots, but are easily dealt with by squashing between a gloved finger and thumb or with a contact insecticide.
- Powdery mildew can take hold in late summer forming a dusty white coating on leaves. Remove affected leaves and avoid wetting them when watering.
Visit the Which? Gardening helpdesk for advice on pests and diseases.
- Sow seeds from April, 1.5cm deep direct into your container.
- Cover with a fine mesh, such as Enviromesh, to keep carrot flies away and thin the seedlings to one plant every 2.5cm.
- You can make successional sowings up until July.
- Short-rooted varieties ‘Cidera’, ‘Early Nantes 5’ and ‘Mignon’ all did well in containers in the Which? Gardening magazine trials.
Find out how to beat carrot fly.
- Spuds are a kitchen staple that do very well in pots and couldn’t be easier. You can plant in April, or earlier if you have somewhere frost free to keep them.
- It’s best to use ‘seed potatoes’ that are sold for growing. Get hold of some early or second early varieties if you can; these can be harvested in 10 to 12 weeks. Look out for ‘Charlotte’, ‘Athlete’ and ‘Kestrel’.
- Choose a container of at least 25cm in diameter and plant one seed potato at around half the pot’s depth.
- As the shoots begin to grow keep topping up with more compost until the pot is full.
- Harvest from late June or early July.
- A single plant will keep a small family supplied with courgettes all summer.
- These are tender veg, so hold off sowing until May; sow singly indoors in 7cm pots, potting on into a large pot – at least 10 litres in size – once plants have at least one large leaf and the risk of frost has passed.
- Courgettes are thirsty and hungry plants, so keep well-watered and add controlled-release fertiliser to your planting compost.
- Pick courgettes when they are 10 to 15cm long; regular harvesting encourages more to form.
- There are lots of varieties to choose from, but ‘Defender’ and ‘Parthenon’ have done well in our trials.
How to grow courgettes
- Cut-and-come-again leaves are ideal for a ready supply of salads throughout the summer.
- Make successional sowings from spring to early autumn to ensure you never run out. Sow thinly on the surface of pots of compost – indoors or in a greenhouse early and late in the year, or cover pots with horticultural fleece if you don’t have a greenhouse.
- Water regularly and harvest young leaves, cutting 2cm from the base, which will encourage new growth.
- Most seed suppliers sell seed mixes containing a tasty blend of leaves, such as ‘Spicy Greens Mixture’ from Nicky’s Nursery and Mixed Oriental Leaves from Kings Seeds.
- Sow seeds from February to March on a sunny windowsill in 7cm pots or modules, or pick up some young plants from the garden centre; you can also order online.
- Tomatoes are tender, so don’t plant outside until you’re sure there won’t be any more frosts (roughly mid-May).
- Plant two to a growing bag or single plants in 10 to 15-litre pots and keep well watered and fed with a tomato feed.
- Choose determinate or bush varieties, which will grow to a predetermined compact size, rather than indeterminate or cordon types, which need training and supports. You could also try hanging-basket tomatoes.
- As you might expect, cucumbers are tender but can be grown outside, especially if you choose an outdoor variety, such as ‘La Diva’ or ‘Rocky’, or you have a sheltered spot for a greenhouse type. Look for mini and half-size varieties, too.
- Sow single seeds into 7cm pots in May in a heated propagator or on a warm windowsill. Use a Best Buy compost for sowing seeds.
- Once the seedlings have one true leaf, transfer into 10cm pots in a greenhouse or indoors and finally growing bags or 10-litre pots when the plants have around five leaves.
- Train up supports – using either canes or strings – as they grow and pinch out the side-shoots.
- Once fruits appear, pick regularly to encourage more cucumbers to form.
- Dwarf French beans tend to crop over a fairly short period (around four weeks), even if you pick the pods regularly.
- Sow around 12 seeds direct into a 10-litre container in late May or early June for a crop in July.
- Making successional sowings in new pots at intervals will extend the crop into August.
- Along with green-podded varieties, such as ‘Stanley’, try yellow-podded ones, such as ‘Golddukat’, or a purple type, such as ‘Purple Teepee’.
Learn how to grow tomatoes in a hanging basket
Dwarf French beans
Watch our videos of what to do in the veg garden every month.