Would you like to grow your own vegetables, aromatic plants and herbs, but you only have a small apartment balcony, part of a roof terrace, or even just a paved area outside? No worries! You can be part of a growing trend: become an urban gardener and embrace container growing.

Read the latest magazine "Urban vegetable gardens"

Choosing the right container and planters

Conventional flower pots, hanging planters, standard planters, balcony boxes, wall units: walk around your local garden centre and you’ll see just how much flower pots have evolved. There is something to suit every taste, from size, shape, colour, and style!

Containers should:

  • Be sufficiently tall to accommodate the roots of the vegetable plants you want;  
    • 5 to 20 cm high:    lettuce, radishes, herbs
    • 20 to 40 cm high:    beats, eggplant, zucchini, peas
    • 40 to 50 cm high:    tomatoes, cucumbers , climbing beans, carrots
  • Include drainage holes so roots don’t soak in excess water;
  • Include a self-watering tray (optional but strongly recommended)
  • Be washed and disinfected before planting.

Growing in squares

Square foot gardening was developed to optimize space and convenience. It consists of dividing a growing area into small square sections. For example: divide the space in a 60 x 90 cm raised bed planter into six 30 cm squares. If you decide to make your raised beds yourself, be sure to use wood that has not been treated with any chemicals. Also, limit the surface area to a maximum of 120 x 120 cm (16 squares) so you can easily reach the middle. 

Include a vegetable plant in every square, as well as a fruit plant and an herb according to the space requirements for each plant. 

Small PlantsLarge plants
radishes15 to 25cabbage1
carrots9 to 16brocoli1
onions9 to 16cauliflower1
spinach9pepper1 (with a stake)
beats9eggplant1 (with a stake)
chard4strawberry1 (with support)
lettuce2 to 5tomato1 (with a stake)
parsley4cucumber2 (with support)

Choose a rich soil

The benefit of container growing is that you don’t have to compromise on soil quality. Fill your pots with humus-rich soil and add vermiculite to enhance water and nutrient retention. Don’t use black earth, however, since it compacts too easily and inhibits drainage – vital to the health of plant roots. Opt for a mix that is specifically designed for container planting. These soils are light and contain all the nutrients necessary to maximise the growth of your plants.

Each plant in its place

Most vegetable plants require direct sunlight to produce fruits and vegetables of a good size and flavour. Some plants will grow very well in partial shade, so be aware of your sun conditions and plant choices. Be careful to protect your plants from strong winds, and on balconies, from water dripping from the balcony above.

Full sun (6 hours or more)

beans, corn, eggplants, squash, peppers, chili peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, melon, strawberries, beats, turnips, basil, lemongrass, stevia

Partial shade (4 to 6 hours)

cabbage (kale, broccoli, cauliflower), Swiss chard, lettuce, onion, parsley, peas, radishes, spinach, potatoes, carrots, garlic, onion, shallots, mint, chives, oregano, fuchsia, begonias, pansies

Caring for your plants

Basic  maintenance for a container vegetable garden consists of watering: moderate quantities at regular intervals to avoid dryness. There is little to no weeding to be done.

Since more intensive planting results in a higher incidence of disease, careful inspection on a weekly basis is recommended.

Remove wilted leaves at the same time and monitor your plants’ growth and development. Adjust stakes and supports if necessary.

What do we plant?

Certain plants, simply because of their unusual shape and how they grow and develop, can be suitable for container growing, but with a few provisos. Mint, for example, tends to dominate, taking over a container and smothering any other plants. You and your mint will be much happier if you designate a single pot for it and let it flourish on its own. Zucchini plants will range, reaching a diameter from 5 to 7 feet, so choose a large individual container where they can thrive and become the star of your garden arrangement. Other plants simply don’t succeed in containers, such as asparagus, a perennial that only produces after three years in the ground. Cilantro tends to go to seed more quickly when planted in a pot – it prefers to be planted directly in the ground.

  • Conventional pots (small size): Mint, all other herbs, lettuce 
  • Conventional pots (large size): Cabbages (kale, broccoli, cauliflower, curly kale), squash, zucchinis and melons, climbing plants (peas, beans, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers), tomatoes, chili peppers, peppers, potatoes, carrots, radishes, beats, chard, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, rhubarb
  • Balcony planters or hanging planters: Cherry tomatoes, strawberries, ground cherries, begonia, geraniums, impatiens
  • Wall units: Herbs, lettuce, strawberries
  • Raised bed planters (square foot design): Cabbages (broccoli, cauliflower, curly kale), climbing plants (peas, beans, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers), tomatoes, chili peppers, peppers, potatoes, carrots, radishes, beats, chard

Winning combinations

Take advantage of the space in large conventional containers to create arrangements that are as beautiful as they are delicious. For example, you could include a compact tomato plant, a chili pepper plant, some kale, purple basil and oregano for a gorgeous and appetizing combination. Or perhaps a geranium, orange cherry tomatoes, strawberries, rosemary and Swiss chard.

The possibilities and combinations are infinite, so have some fun! Simply be sure that the plants you choose will be good companions.Learn about companion-planting.