Container gardening

Information sheet

Containers enable any school to grow herbs and vegetables without needing a garden or allotment. They can be used to add structure and style to outdoor spaces.

  • School term: Early Autumn, Late Autumn, Late Spring, Early Summer
  • Level of experience: No experience needed
  • Subject(s): Science

The advantages of container gardening

  • They can add structure, style and brighten up areas while adding extra space for crops
  • They can be sited close to the classroom allowing for supervision
  • They are smaller, manageable spaces so children can care for them easily
  • They can be moved, for example from indoors to outdoors when the weather improves
  • They can be taken home over the holidays
  • They can be made accessible for everyone with a few adjustments, for example by raising them up
  • They enable you to grow plants even if the soil you have is poor or the plants require something different (e.g. blueberries that need ericaceous or acidic soil)
  • There is less chance of pest damage in containers or at least it is easier to manage

The disadvantages of container gardening

  • They can dry out easily so need watering and feeding more frequently
  • Only small amounts of vegetables can be grown in containers, so match the size of the crop to the container
  • Pots can restrict plant growth, although this can also be an advantage making some plants a more manageable size

Vegetables to grow in containers

There are many different varieties of vegetables that are suitable for growing in containers.

Crop Varieties
Aubergine 'Adona' or 'Bonica', begin indoors or under glass
Beetroot 'Boltardy', 'Pable', 'Regala' or globe varieties
Carrot 'Paris Market - Atlas', 'Adelaide', 'Caracas' and 'Royal Chantenay'
Chard 'Bright Lights' is a colourful spinach-like plant
Chilli 'Orange Wonder', 'Super Chilli', 'Razzamatazz' and 'Prairie Fire'
Courgette 'Bambino', 'Early Gem', 'Floridor' and 'Venus' are good in grow bags
French beans 'Ferrari', 'Maja', 'Sonesta', 'The Prince' and 'Purple Tepee'
Lettuce 'Little Gem', 'Red Salad Bowl' as smaller varieties also use salad leaf mixes
Peppers Sweet pepper varieties such as 'Canape', 'Ace', 'Gypsy' and 'Ariane'
Potatoes 'Swift' and other fast growing, shorter varieties. For more information head here.
Radish 'Cherry Belle', 'Scarlet Globe', 'Topsi', 'Sparkler', 'Bright lights' and 'French Breakfast'
Runner beans 'Hestia' and other compact varieties
Salad leaves Mustard, rocket, sorrel, mizuna and many more can all be grown in containers
Spring onions 'White Lisbon', 'Ramrod', 'Katana', 'Gaurdsman', 'Lilia' and many more
Tomatoes Many varieties suitable for containers including tumbling types for hanging baskets

Fruit to grow in containers

As fruit bushes and trees live for a long time, it's best to plant them in as large pot as you can (around 45-50cm in diameter) and refresh the compost every two years.

Crop Varieties
Apples Cultivars specifically for containers on a container or 'M26' root stock
Blackcurrants Compact cultivars such as 'Ben Sarek' and 'Ben Gairn'
Blueberries Most are suitable including 'Northsky', 'Chippewa' and 'Northcountry'
Gooseberries Compact cultivars such as 'Greenfinch' and 'Rokula'
Pears Cultivars specifically for containers on a container or 'M26' root stock
Raspberries Compact cultivars such as 'Glen Fyne' and 'Ruby Beauty'
Redcurrants 'Rovada' and 'Junifer'
Strawberries All varieties are suitable for containers
White currants 'Versailles Blanche'

For more advice on growing fruit in containers, have a look at advice on the main RHS website: Fruit in containers.

Many herbs and edible flowers are also suitable for growing in containers.


Examples of different containers

Ready-made:

  • Grow bags
  • Various pots and troughs in plastic or terracotta
  • Plant bags
  • Hanging baskets
  • Window boxes

Upcycled:

  • Baskets or wooden crates
  • Bricks with holes in them
  • Car tyres*
  • Chimney pots
  • Old boots or shoes
  • Old pots, pans or colanders
  • Old sinks or baths
  • Tin cans

*If you use car tyres, then these need to be lined. Substances contained in the tyres can be toxic to plants.


Important points to remember when container gardening

  • Containers not intended as plant pots may need drainage holes drilled into them (take care when doing this)
  • Containers full of holes may need a lining of horticultural fleece or plastic netting (such as shade cloth) to keep the soil in place
  • Standing containers on bricks or tiles can help to avoid waterlogging
  • Where you plan on keeping plants in a container for more than one year, use a soil based compost and a slow release fertiliser to keep them healthy

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