University of Florida

The Neighborhood Gardener –
Alternatives to Traditional Vegetable Gardening:
Containers and Raised Beds

Spring is prime vegetable season, so why not try a different approach to traditional vegetable gardening? If you don’t have the proper resources, the physical ability, or the space for a large garden there are alternatives to fulfill your gardening dreams. Limited space and light can also be a good reason to try something new.

Two non-traditional vegetable gardens include container gardening and raised bed gardening.

Container Gardens

Potted tomato plantContainer gardening has become very popular and almost all vegetables can be grown in containers. Containers are a good option for apartments, rooftops, balconies, terraces, and other small spaces.

Container choices are limitless; you can use almost anything to grow your vegetables as long as it's big enough and provides adequate drainage.

Containers can range from traditional pots to bushel-baskets and trash cans. The larger the container the greater your plants will thrive.  Look for containers that are at least 12 inches deep to accommodate large root systems.

Container Ideas:

  • Half barrels (whiskey or food storage barrels)
  • Storage containers
  • 5-gallon pails or paint buckets
  • Baskets
  • Wash tubs
  • Clay pots
  • Plastic bags

Place your containers in a spot that will receive at least 6 hours of full sun each day, so plants will produce healthy yields. The great thing about containers is that you can move them if the plants are receiving too much or too little sun.  

The type of soil you use is very important. A high quality potting mixture is ideal.  Regular soil from your garden may have drainage and pest issues.

Veggies should be planted in containers the same time you would plant them in your garden. See the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide for planting dates. Your choice of vegetable will determine whether you start them from seeds or transplants. Good veggie options for containers include: tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplant, onions, bush beans, lettuce, and herbs.

Before planting, make sure the soil is thoroughly watered and allow it to sit for a few hours. After planting, water again and remember container vegetables lose moisture easily and require frequent watering. Fertilize your veggies every 2-3 weeks with a balanced liquid fertilizer.

Harvesting container vegetables is the most rewarding time. You can leave the fruit on until it is fully ripe or you can harvest as soon as the crop reaches a desired size.

Raised-bed Gardens

If garden soil is poor, raised beds are a great option for vegetable gardening. And they're also very attractive. Raised beds are easy to work with and often require less maintenance than conventional gardens. The size and shape of your bed can vary, but should typically be at least 12 inches deep. The frame of the bed can be constructed out of a variety of materials.

Material Ideas:

  • Untreated wood (or new treated woods that aren't toxic like the old arsenate types)
  • Stone
  • Brick
  • Concrete blocks
  • Bamboo
  • Hay Bales

Raised beds on patioLike container gardens, be sure to pick a location that receives 6-8 hours of sunlight per day before you build your bed.

Plan out your design and allow access to all areas of the bed without having to step onto it. Four feet is usually the maximum width for gardening convenience. After construction, the bed should be lined with wet newspaper, cardboard, or landscape fabric to hold down weeds. Fill the bed with a high quality potting soil or compost mix.  The soil should be loose and not compacted. A simple irrigation system can also be installed in these beds with drip tape or a soaker hose.

Vegetable plants are grown close together in raised beds, which allows room for more plants. Again, plant vegetables at the same time as you would in a regular garden. Water plants consistently, as raised beds also have increased soil drainage. Mulching these beds can be beneficial to retaining moisture and suppressing weeds.

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