Easy shallow container plants?
May 5, 2016 1:35 PM   Subscribe

I have a lot of containers for my garden, but a whole lot of them are maybe gallon size or smaller. What vegetables or herbs don't need a ton of root room?

My garden at home wasn't super successful last year and I think a lot of it was due to crowding. I'm having a hard time determining what size container is ok for what vegetables. Clearly seed packets give you ideas for row spacing and such, but they pretty much assume a lot of dirt going down.

What vegetables or herbs do you know that either grow pretty shallow roots or pretty much just grow down, clearly carrots but other not so obvious ones?

posted by stormygrey to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Almost more than room for the roots, the problem with small containers outside is that they dry out really quickly in warm weather, so regardless of what you plant your watering schedule might become kind of a chore. And of course the soil has to be rich in organic matter unless you want to be fertilizing a lot. Houseplants do well enough in small pots because they grow slowly and use comparatively little water (and aren't in intense, direct sun much either). Can you scrounge up some larger containers?
posted by jon1270 at 1:51 PM on May 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

You're going to be able to grow a bumper crop of chives for sure.
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:53 PM on May 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Herbs will be your best bet in smaller pots because most of them actually like to be dry for a day or so between waterings. As jon1270 correctly points out, smaller containers need a lot of attention and very regular watering. Don't be fooled by all those pretty Small Space Container Garden coffee books where the plants were grown in perfect conditions in green house beds before being transplanted to containers just for the pictures. Small container vegetables rarely produce much in the way of veggies and even those are usually tiny. But if you must try, I reccomend Peppers like Jalapeno or Serrano, which can do contains with some success if given proper attention. Also I have a Myers Lemon tree that does well in a small (for a tree) 25 gallon pot. I get 12 to 13 lemons from it each year. But again, it's a very pampered plant.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 2:03 PM on May 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

We've had great luck with chives and other herbs, also rosemary and lavender have done well (several years old) and tolerate a bit of dryness. Succulents as well.

I have been flummoxed by all the tiny container garden veggies and side with walker westridge above - most don't like it. Salad and microgreens planted and harvested in regular rotation would be fine though.
posted by jrobin276 at 2:54 PM on May 5, 2016

Strawberries, chives, basil. Maybe some baby lettuces. I use 15 gallon containers for vegetables at the smallest, and don't recommend anything smaller really.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:12 PM on May 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Peas are very shallow rooted and can be closely planted--in most places you would have wanted them in the ground by March or April but it may not be too late in your area if you pick a fast maturing variety. They are also not hugely productive, but if you like sugar snap peas or snow peas it may be worth the effort. I'd cram 'em in there--I go for about a 2" spacing when I do peas so I'd go ahead and try like 6 seeds per 1 gallon pot, then thin to 3-4 successful seedlings and insert a twiggy branch about 2' tall for them to climb up.

Bush beans also might work, one per pot, and are more a mid-summer vegetable.

Then, if you've not given up on gardening in August, I'd sow a few pots with mâche , and then keep sowing mâche all fall every couple of weeks as any other pots open up.

As for herbs--basil and cilantro are high-value mid-summer annuals I'd take a stab at. Chose a specialty variety like Thai basil if you want more bang for your buck.

All this is a labor of love. You'll need to water ever day or figure out some sort of irrigation system and get maybe 1/2 lb of produce per pot for your efforts. But if you enjoy gardening and eating fresh produce you've grown yourself, then the "I spent 2 hours of my time for this pound of peas" is never the right calculus anyhow.
posted by drlith at 3:29 PM on May 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Arugula and cress will do ok with shallow + crowding, at least until the heat hits.
posted by deludingmyself at 7:46 PM on May 5, 2016

Tomatos will get by in 1 gallon containers; you'll have to water pretty much everyday though. Installing piping for drippers (possibly automatic timer operated) will help a lot with reducing the pain of that chore.

I haven't tried it but I'd bet small hot chili peppers would survive OK in 1 gallon pots too.
posted by Mitheral at 7:47 PM on May 5, 2016

I have an herb garden in my window, but for outside gallon containers, I am growing Sun Gold cherry tomatoes. I know it's a vine, and a grower, but I feel confident it can be grown in a gallon sized container, with adequate sunlight and supports.

Otherwise, I am growing Grandpa Ott morning glory, also in a pot, with supports, with shading the roots with mini Dianthus and Veronica Speedwell.

In another pot, I am doing pansies, and trying to sprout sweet peas, which seem to not like me this year, despite soaking the seeds twice. If not, I will put my morning glory seeds in that space and be done with it. I really want some dancing ladies, aka lobelia. So those are my 2nd choice if the sweet peas don't sprout.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 8:13 PM on May 5, 2016

Depending on your location, be very very careful planting morning glory. They're incredibly prolific, and with no hard winters to slow them down, they're known as "bindweed." Technically, "*##@!^* bindweed."

I've always had good luck with leafy veggies in small containers; there are dozens of different lettuces alone, and I harvest them leaf by leaf. And two harvests a year; one planting in the very early spring and another in late summer. Flowers at the height of the summer (I buy a couple of pots of in-bloom plants from the nursery, but you could start some from seed if you're so inclined).
posted by kestralwing at 8:48 PM on May 5, 2016

Another vote for annual herbs: dill, basil, cilantro, parsley (technically a biannual).

I've grown cress and seem to be growing arugula right now (not sure how the arugula happened).
posted by JawnBigboote at 8:08 AM on May 6, 2016

Thanks everyone! Looks like its big ugly Rubbermaids again, for any kind of actual production.
posted by stormygrey at 8:37 AM on May 6, 2016

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