Caring for Vegetables in Pots

woman caring for vegetables in pot

Filling and Planting Your Pot

Containers should have soil filled nearly to the rim of the pot.

Fill the pot with soil to an inch or two of the rim.

Once you have the right plant, the right pot, and some premium quality potting mix (don’t use garden soil!) for your situation, it is time to put them all together.

Before filling your pot, cover the drainage hole(s) at the bottom with a coffee filter, piece of screening, or scrap of landscape fabric. This will keep soil from spilling out of the hole but still let water drain; don’t use anything that will stop drainage. If you have a heavy pot, consider putting it on casters for easy movement. Then fill the pot with potting mix to an inch or two from the rim of the pot. Plant your plants, then fill in around them with more potting mix, if needed, to be sure that the roots are properly covered.

Don’t press down and pack the potting mix, though you may want to tap the pot on the ground or rock it back and forth a couple of times to settle the soil into air pockets. Water gently, allowing the water to drain through the pot, wetting the potting mix as it goes. Water a second and a third time to be sure the soil is thoroughly moist. Excess water should be draining from the bottom of the pot. For a quick nutritional boost, add liquid plant food (like Bonnie plant food) to the water. After you’re done watering, take a look at your plants to be sure that their roots are not exposed or planted too deeply (unless it is a tomato, which requires deeper planting).

Finally, add a layer of mulch on top of the potting mix to help conserve moisture. Good mulch choices include wheat straw, pine straw, and soil conditioner.


Water container gardens daily in summer.

Pots dry out faster than in-ground gardens, so you’ll need to water containers often, especially in hot weather.

Your potted vegetables will need plenty of water as they grow. You will know it is time to water when the top inch of potting mix is dry to the touch. You will also learn which plants dry out the fastest. Once plant roots have filled their pots and the weather gets hot in summer, you can plan on watering on a daily basis. Remember that fluctuations in soil moisture can worsen blossom-end rot in tomatoes. It is better to have constant moisture than to alternate wet and dry conditions. Consider a spaghetti tube drip irrigation system if you have a lot of pots clustered in a single place that is easy to run water to. It will make watering a breeze.

If you are growing vegetables in pots during the winter in an area in which temperatures could freeze the soil, your plants may wilt because the moisture in the soil is unavailable to the roots. If you have a sunny south- or west-facing wall, that is a good place to put your pots and grow your vegetables. Masonry is particularly helpful in creating a beneficial microclimate, releasing the warmth of the sun to prevent cold damage at night. See Keeping Pots Watered for more about watering.

Fertilizing Your Pots

Use Bonnie plant food to grow vegetables and herbs in pots.

A fertilizer that mixes with water, such as our Bonnie Herb, Vegetable & Flower Plant Food, is best for container gardens.

If you are growing vegetables that produce fruit, such as tomatoes, peppers, and squash, avoid fertilizing with too much nitrogen. Nitrogen (the first number in a three-number fertilizer formula, such as 10-10-10) encourages leafy growth at the expense of flowering. For example, you may have a beautiful tomato plant, but few fruit. However, if you are growing lettuce, basil, or another plant whose leaves are your goal, nitrogen will fuel production.

In either case, you’ll want to fertilize regularly and moderately. Some potting mixes have a short-term supply of fertilizer in them, while others are slow-release over a long period of time, so be sure to read the label. If you are using short-term fertilizer, don’t add additional doses for the first 2 to 4 weeks, depending on how often you have to water.

The frequent watering required by container plants will wash away nutrients more rapidly than if the plants were grown in the ground. Help replace them by using a timed-release granular fertilizer, or a plant food that you mix with water, like Bonnie Herb, Vegetable & Flower Plant Food. (Either way, be sure to follow the directions on the label.)


Gene George

Iuse your plants all the time I am a home gardener. From time to time someone gives me some seed. The problem I have is it starts fine then it just dies. Is there a special starter mix I should use. Thanks gene

Danielle Carroll

Hi Gene,

There is an art to starting your own transplants from seeds indoors. Most seeds are started in a soilless mix. Germination mats and additional lighting are often needed when greenhouses are not an option. I would give your local cooperative extension system a look for information on starting seeds in your area.
-Danielle, Bonnie Plants

robert conway

Growing Tomato in pots.
Having a lot of growing going on my German Johnson plant. It was started from a pint pot, into a 16 inch pot and is now four feet tall. The stem split into three main stems two feet above soil and one flower the size of a dandelion (one inch in dia) then flower died. Other flowers are very tiny and on the very top of the stems.

Used potting soil, fertilized once Micgrow, about a month ago.

My better Boy is doing ok setting fruit, as is my patio determinate. All plants fruit are small. Peppers (Banana) are flowering no peppers yet this plant is about two feet.

I have gardened for over 40 years this pot stuff in Sunset Beach, NC on my deck is all new to me. HELP!!

Bob C

Kelly Smith

Hi Bob,

Start out by reading through the articles in our Container Gardening section. We’ve included tons of useful information for anyone trying growing in containers. Two articles I suggest particularly for you are What Can I Grow in a Pot? and What Size Pot? The German Johnson tomato variety is a huge plant and the 16-inch pot is probably too small for it. If possible, you could try transplanting it to a larger pot, at least 24 inches in diameter and depth. Also, be sure to stake it and the Better Boy well. Your patio determinate should do well. For all these plants, try to use the biggest pot possible. You may just need to be patient with the peppers. As the weather heats up, they should start fruiting—peppers love the heat.

Let us know how it grow! Best of luck with your container garden.

Kelly, Bonnie Plants

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