To get the best from growing vegetables in pots and to ensure you always have something to pick, it’s worth taking the time think about the plants you grow and how you grow them. Choose good quality peat-free, multi-purpose compost, and consider adding slow-release fertiliser granules and water-retaining gel to keep plants growing well. Find out how to get the best from growing veg in pots, with our simple steps, below.
And follow Alan Titchmarsh’s short video guide to help you get started growing vegetables in containers:
You don’t need a vast allotment to grow veg, you know. If all you’ve got is a doorstep or the tiniest of patios or balconies, you can still grow things to eat. What you need is a large pot like this one. I say large, because small ones tend to dry out and if you’re away all day at work, you’ll come home and find your plants completely desiccated. This one here, I’ve planted up with lettuces. They’re already starting to grow. It seems to do it within minutes of being planted.
The compost I’m using is good, ordinary, peat-free multipurpose. It’s a large pot, good drainage holes in the bottom, of course, to allow any surplus water to escape. There I put lettuces, here I’m putting dwarf French beans. You can buy them now in strips like this. And when you push them from below, out they will come with their little root balls.
Now, if you’re really mean you can split these. But to be absolutely honest, in a pot like this, four of these trios put in, will give you an absolute welter of beans. So use your hand as a trowel, pop it in there like that and just work them all the way round. There’s no way that these are going to outcompete one another and some are going to do better than others, because if you make sure that they never go short of water and, on days like this that’s quite vital, they will romp away. And then after about three to four weeks, you’ll start liquid feeding them once or twice a week, dilute liquid tomato food will do well. Kept in the sun, kept well watered and just allowed to grow away and do what they want, you’ll be picking beans off those in a couple of months. Lovely thing to have in tiniest space.
Of course that’s one way of growing them – from plants. You can also grow from seed – even cheaper. A pot like this with radishes or spring onions. Just make little drills. Now a drill is a miniature furrow and this piece of cane pushed along the surface of the soil like this will make furrows in which you can sow your seeds. The way I like to sow is always to put some in my hand and then sprinkle them almost like salt on your fish and chips. You know, how you used to do when you were poor! Let the seeds settle about half an inch apart – these are radishes. That will give them room to grow right the way along those drills and any spare seeds, put back in the pocket and then pull the compost with your fingers right the way across. I’ve moistened this before I sowed them, to make it easier to do. But I will, along with the French beans, give them a really good watering in with a rose, a sprinkler head on the end, to settle them in position. And avoid any kind of check, particularly with the plants. And there you have three large potfuls which will give you lettuces, dwarf beans and radishes. It’ll take you next to no time to do them and, boy, will you feel proud when you’re picking your first crop.
Combine crops that like the same growing conditions
Combine crops that like the same growing conditions. Basil and tomatoes both thrive in a sheltered spot in full sun, along with aubergines and chillies. Many Mediterranean herbs thrive in the same growing conditions, and can be planted together.
Grow companion plants
Grow companion plants together in the same pot. Basil can prevent whitefly on tomatoes. Summer savory is said to discourage blackfly from broad beans.
Use big pots
Use the biggest pots you have space for to provide a good, deep growing medium for your pot-grown veg. This will mean you have to water and feed your plants less often, and they’re more likely to produce a bigger crop, as they have more space to grow. Deep pots give tall plants, like climbing beans, stability. Avoid containers with tapered sides if you need to use supports, as canes can’t be pushed far enough into the compost.
Make most of your space
Make the most of your space by growing different plants together that crop at different times. Radish, lettuce and pea shoots can be grown among slower-growing tomatoes and kale. Use trailing plants such as tumbling tomatoes and nasturtiums, which will grow down the sides of your pots, along with root crops that grow down into the soil and take up little space above the surface.
Use support to grow upwards
Don’t assume pot-grown vegetables have to be dwarf varieties. Use plant supports to gain height – bamboo canes or hazel poles are ideal tied together to form a tepee for climbing French or runner beans, borlotti beans and nasturtiums.
Grow edible flowers
Plant edible flowers like nasturtiums and violas alongside your more traditional vegetables to decorate salads, while also encouraging beneficial insects.
Don’t forget hanging baskets