JoAnne Skelly: Thematic vegetable gardening in containers

Vegetable gardening in containers not only rewards a gardener with tasty veggies, but also provides an enjoyable creative outlet.

However, whether you plant your veggies in the ground or in containers, you may want to think beyond the traditional tomato plant. Think ethnic, global, regional or thematic. Try an Italian (tomato, garlic, radicchio, bell pepper, parsley), Asian (Japanese eggplant, Chinese cabbage, pea pods, coriander), Greek (tomato, eggplant, cucumber, garlic, fennel) or Mexican (hot peppers, summer squash, tomatoes, garlic, onions) theme. Do a pickle barrel (pickling cucumbers, garlic, dill) or summer salad garden (arugula, lettuces, cherry tomatoes). Plant a pizza (tomatoes, garlic basil) or salsa garden (cilantro, peppers, tomatillos, tomatoes). Or come up with your own themes. Thematic vegetable gardens can be beautiful in a container. You can plant more than one plant in larger containers using trellises and tomato cages. Multiple plants can create colorful displays while providing edible treats.

Good vegetable production in containers starts with giving the plants the right depth in which to grow. Nine-inch to 12-inch deep pots work well for beets, leaf lettuce, onions, radishes, spinach, Swiss chard or carrots. Twelve-inch to 16-inch containers are best for broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, eggplant, peppers, peas and cherry tomatoes. The largest containers, with depths of 16 inches to 18 inches deep or more, are perfect for beans, cucumbers, potatoes, tomatoes and summer squash.

All containers must have several drain holes in the bottom to avoid root rot.

Healthy productive plants start with good soil. Soil in containers should retain water and not dry out too quickly. However, it shouldn’t be too heavy or dense or roots will struggle to grow through it. For this reason, native soils don’t work in pots, unless mixed 50/50 or more with compost. Alternatively, there are many soilless mixes available specifically designed for containers. Choose only those that come sterilized. This will reduce the possibility of fungal diseases developing in seedlings or plants.

You can plant some of the thematic veggies in one container, complimentary herbs in another or all next to each other in the garden. Or maybe do an in-ground pizza bed and arrange the plants in the shape of a pizza. Doing a thematic garden is a great way to interest children in gardening and eating vegetables, especially if one container or plot in the garden is theirs.

No matter what you plant this year, have fun with it.

JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at


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