Planning Crops in Pots

Plan your crops carefully to achieve a long cropping season and a lush, colorful container display at all times of the year.

Container Gardening on Sunny patio Site

Container Gardening on Sunny patio Site

Choose a sunny site on patio to grow vegetables, fruits and flowers in containers of all sizes and varieties. An advantage to container gardening is that plants can be moved around or inside if cool weather approaches.

©2012, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2012, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Step 1: Choose a Site

One advantage of growing in pots is that they can be moved into the sun or shade, from indoors to outside, or from an exposed site to a sheltered one. Most productive plants require full sun for at least part of the day, but consider the needs of individual crops because while sun-traps are ideal for ripening fruit, they cause leafy plants to wilt and increase the need for watering. Wind can also desiccate compost, damage plants, and blow pots over, so avoid exposed sites, if possible, or create some shelter around your crop display. 

Sunny windowsills, porches and conservatories are great places to grow crops throughout the year. For example, citrus trees fruit best in a cool spot indoors during the winter (move them outside in summer). Keep areas indoors well ventilated during the summer months and protect young plants from intense light with shading or set them on a north- or east-facing windowsill.

Step 2: Buy Essential Equipment

Essential Equipment for Container Gardening

Essential Equipment for Container Gardening

Buy seed trays, labels and a watering can for sowing seed.

©2012, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2012, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Buy seed trays, labels and a watering can for sowing seed.

Container gardening does not require heavy digging or soil preparation, so there is no need for an array of large, expensive tools. Invest instead in a good-quality hand fork and trowel, which will be valuable for planting and weeding, along with pruning shears for pruning and tidying plants. Also buy a watering can with a fine rose that will not displace the compost in your pots; a small can is useful for pots of seedlings. 

A range of containers of all shapes and sizes will provide homes for your crops. Buy them from nurseries and home improvement stores, but be imaginative too and create features from any suitable vessel that has some drainage holes at the bottom. Small pots and seed trays are also useful for raising your own seedlings. 

Good-quality compost is obviously indispensable, but also remember labels, string, wire, cloches, fleece, netting and supports, such as stakes, pea sticks and wigwams. 

Step 3: Choose Crops for All Seasons

Early Spring Lettuce Varieties Ready for Harvest

Early Spring Lettuce Varieties Ready for Harvest

Most seed is sown in early spring, but any harvests at this time of year will be overwintered crops. Early spring harvest includes lettuce varieties, peas, radishes, rhubarb, beets and swiss chard.

©2012, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2012, Dorling Kindersley Limited

For a display that is perennially bountiful, grow a wide range of fruit and vegetables and be poised with young plants to replace those that are no longer productive. This is not difficult to achieve with a little planning and by growing some plants indoors or under cloches outside. 

Planning ahead is the key to success if you want a continuous crop over a long season. First, decide what you would like to eat, and then find out when those plants can be sown and harvested. Also select a range of crops that will keep the garden full, and you and your family fed, throughout the year. Try to mix plants that crop over a long season, like zucchini, perennial herbs and Swiss chard, with quick-croppers, such as radishes and salad greens that mature in a matter of weeks, and can be sown every two weeks to fill gaps around plants that take longer to grow. 

Protecting plants from the cold and wet allows you to extend the growing season in cooler climates. If you have space indoors or in a greenhouse, you can sow seeds earlier in spring and harvest crops later in fall. Fleece and cloches can provide protection for many plants on cold nights in spring and fall, while an unheated greenhouse can be used for heat-loving crops, like tomatoes, where summers are unreliable. Growing lettuces, herbs and citrus trees on windowsills or bringing them into a cool conservatory will also prolong the harvest.

Step 4: Know What to Plant and When

Summer Crops Ripe for Picking

Summer Crops Ripe for Picking

Soft fruits and young vegetables are ripe for picking in the summer. Sow fast growing crops every few weeks to crop at regular intervals and provide a continuous harvest.

©2012, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2012, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Spring Most seed is sown in early spring, but any harvests at this time of year will be from overwintered crops. By late spring, however, sweet new-season treats will be ready to eat. 


Harvest:

  • Rosemary
  • Radishes
  • Peas
  • Lettuce
  • Rhubarb
  • Beets
  • Swiss chard

Summer Soft fruits and young vegetables are ripe for picking in the summer. Also sow fast-growing crops every few weeks to crop at regular intervals and provide a continuous harvest. 

Harvest:

  • Basil
  • Strawberries
  • Potatoes
  • Zucchini
  • Tomatoes
  • Blueberries
  • Beans

Fall and Winter  Fall brings a bounty of fruit and vegetables, many of which can be stored for leaner times. Winter crops can also be picked outdoors and on windowsills and in greenhouses. 

Harvest:

  • Sweet and chili peppers
  • Apples and pears
  • Potatoes
  • Leeks
  • Kale
  • Endive
  • Windowsill herbs
Keep Reading

Next Up

Edible Gardening in Small Spaces

Make the most of a small garden space by mixing flowers and vegetable plants in an ornamental edible garden.

How to Rotate Your Crops

Reduce pests and diseases and keep your edible garden thriving year after year with easy tips for rotating crops.

Make a Fabric-Covered Outdoor Pot

With a few strips of outdoor fabric, turn a basic, inexpensive planter into a colorful statement piece for your deck this summer. The bright stripes are best accented by a whimsical fern or palm tree.

Edible Displays: Kitchen Garden

Large planters offer scope for mingling flowers with vegetables to create a tiny kitchen garden or “potager.”

Edible Displays: Mediterranean Mix

Transform any warm, sunny corner with this exuberant mix of fruiting vegetable crops and flowers.

Be Terrace Tactical: Use Pots to Make the Most of Small Patios

You can grow a wide range of colorful plants in tiny outdoor spaces.

Planning Your Veggie Garden: Find A Location

Learn what to consider when choosing the right spot for growing vegetables.

Edible Displays: Bean Feast

Pack a group of beans into your plot with bushy dwarf cultivars that are suited to pots and vigorous climbing types trained neatly up stakes.

Edible Displays: Pepper Pots

Spice up a sunny patio or balcony with a colorful collection of chili peppers and sweet peppers.

A Celebrity Chef's Edible Garden

Chef Virginia Willis's Massachusetts home garden is brimming with edibles and flowers.