Winter Gardening in Containers

Many Winter Vegetables Can Be Grown In Containers

The satisfaction of growing fresh vegetables is undeniable, but many gardeners do not have a suitable in-ground location to grow them. That’s why choosing to do your winter gardening in containers is a suitable choice.

If you are forced to do your cool season gardening in containers because of your circumstances (such as living in an apartment), you should know that many cool-season vegetables can be grown successfully in containers if they are provided adequate care and the proper size containers.

Vegetables grown in containers need more frequent attention (such as watering) than those grown in the ground, but the work is physically easier. That makes this technique good for older vegetable gardeners and children who may find cultivating in-ground beds too physically demanding. Vegetables grown during the winter are quite hardy and generally can withstand normal winter temperatures once established.

Select a sunny location outdoors for your container vegetable garden. All vegetables grow best where the sun shines directly on the plants at least six to eight hours a day.

A location that allows drainage water to run freely from containers also is needed. And it is a good idea to use small bricks to raise larger containers off of wood porches or decks to prevent damaging the wood.

The larger the containers you use, the more choices you have of vegetables to grow. In addition, with larger containers, production generally is higher, and you don’t have to water as often.

Plastic pots, clay pots, tubs, half whisky barrels or other containers may be purchased, but virtually any container you can cut or punch drainage holes into may be used. Inexpensive foam ice chests work well, for instance. If the container has been used for other purposes, wash with warm soapy water and rinse thoroughly before using it.

Fill the container with a potting mix that drains well. The level of soil should be somewhat below the rim of the container after planting. This is called “head space” and helps facilitate proper watering.

Then select and plant vegetable seeds or transplants. The following are some of the vegetables that can be planted over the next few weeks from seed or transplants and the minimum size pot to plant them in. (Keep in mind that root crops such as beets, carrots, radish and turnips must be direct seeded into the pot.) The number of plants that can be planted in a specified container is shown in parentheses.

Use a minimum of a 1 gallon container for beets (2 to 3 plants per container), carrots (3), celery (1), Chinese cabbage (1), collards (1), garlic (2), kohlrabi (1), leeks (1), lettuce (2), mustard greens (2), bunching onion (2 to 3), parsley (1), radish (3 to 4), shallots (2 to 3), spinach (2), Swiss chard (1) or turnips (2).

Use at least a 2-gallon container for broccoli (1 plant per container), cabbage (1) or kale (1).

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A 3-gallon container is needed for brussels sprouts (1 plant per container) or cauliflower (1).

These are minimum container sizes for various vegetables that will allow them to mature and produce properly. You certainly can plant a greater number of any of these vegetables into larger containers than those listed. Indeed, using larger containers means they don’t need to be watered as often and it also offers more cold protection to the roots.

Check the soil daily and water often enough to keep the soil evenly moist. Do not allow the vegetable plants to wilt before watering. Always water gently until water runs out of the drainage holes of the container. To minimize disease problems, try to water without wetting the foliage, if possible.

A soluble fertilizer (the kind you dissolve in water to apply) applied about every two weeks works well for container vegetables. Slow-release fertilizers also can be used, and they reduce the need to apply soluble fertilizer repeatedly. Follow label directions. Just remember that without adequate fertilizer, vegetables take longer to develop and will produce less to harvest.

Weeds will occasionally appear in container plantings. They should be removed promptly if you see them.

Check plants daily to control insects and diseases when they appear. Check under the leaves to find insects such as caterpillars or aphids. Diseases are difficult to control, so keep plants healthy, clean and placed far enough apart to ensure good air circulation. Fortunately, insect and disease problems occur far less often in the winter than in the summer growing season. If problems do occur, contact your Local Extension Office for help in diagnosis and control.

Harvest your vegetables regularly, promptly and at the proper stage for maximum quality. After all, this is the reward for the effort.

If you have given up growing vegetables because of physical limitations, give container vegetable gardening a try. And if you live in an apartment or condo and have only a sunny patio or balcony, container vegetable gardening will allow you to experience the rewards of growing your own fresh vegetables.

Dan Gill is a horticulturist at the LSU AgCenter. Get It Growing is a weekly feature on home lawn and garden topics prepared by experts in the LSU AgCenter. For more information on such topics, visit our Web site at
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