A simple guide to growing your own vegetables – how, when and where | Real Homes

A simple guide to growing your own vegetables – how, when and where

If you're keen to start growing your own vegetables at home, then we can help. From runner beans in pots on your balcony, to herbs on a windowsill – this is how to get started

Grow your own
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Growing your own vegetables at home is one of the most resourceful things you can do. And, this year, the desire to get green fingered has surged, however, not everyone has a garden...And, while this may come as a surprise to you, you can grow your own veg, fruit, herbs and the like, in all different types of small outdoor space, but more importantly, indoors too! 

Grow you own from scratch in pots, indoors, in a tiny garden or even on a small city balcony, just keep scrolling for our top tips on how, when and where to plant your seeds.

For more garden ideas and inspiration for all types of outdoor space, be sure to visit our feature.

1. Pick your spot

tomatoes and marigolds

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

The amount of space and light levels of your chosen growing spot will be the determining factor in what you grow, and you need to understand how much room you can offer each plant to grow in, before you get started. You need to treat plants a little like royalty, as if they feel cramped, then you can’t guarantee that they will produce as well as they may have done! To understand how much space each vegetable or fruit plant will need, check the seed packet and then select your pots and containers accordingly because this will make your life a heck of a lot easier.

2. Select your seeds

How to plant seeds

(Image credit: Getty Images)

When choosing what to plant, try and keep things simple, especially if you’re a beginner. The concept of growing your own produce is beyond exciting and believe us, the want to start ALL the seeds and to plant all the veg going in your local garden centre will be strong, but you must resist. Work with what you have, start small and with experience you’ll be able to know what you and your space can take on for success, every time.

Best places to buy fruit and veg for containers

All of the following offer seeds and saplings to get your started, plus the containers if you don't have anything to grow them in already.

  • If you do have enough outside space to create a booming kitchen garden then be sure to use our guide. Be sure to read our beginner's guide to vegetable gardening to help get your plot off the ground too.

What to grow in pots and containers

Here is a list of easy to grow vegetables and herbs that will do well in containers or even grow bags, making them a perfect small garden idea and we've specific information on how to grow them below.

  • Tomatoes 
  • Peppers 
  • Runner beans 
  • Courgettes 
  • Broccoli
  • Strawberries – how to grow strawberries
  • Cucumber 
  • Herbs such as basil, mint, coriander and the likes
  • Note: mint is fragrant and beautiful but very invasive which is why we’re suggesting to grow this in a pot. 

Garden expert Matt James also recommends: 

'Try salad leaves such as ‘Saladini’ and baby leaf spinach in shallow trays. For baskets and window boxes, choose trailing tomatoes, such as ‘Tumbler’ and ‘Garden Pearl’. Perpetual strawberries also grow well in deep boxes, but regular watering is essential – ‘Mara des Bois’ and ‘Aromel’ varieties are suitable.'

'Courgettes and dwarf runner beans (namely ‘Hestia Dwarf’) crop well in large tubs. In very hot sunny spots, sweet peppers and aubergine are good, as are herbs such as basil and sage. Early potatoes (try ‘Swift’ or ‘Charlotte’) are a doddle to grow with peat-free compost in an old compost bag or plastic dustbin.'

For best results when growing from seed

This is a really cheap, rewarding option, but be aware that growing from seed takes a little more care and attention. The key is to use good quality seed and cutting compost (preferably peat-free), then there are a couple of different ways to sow your seeds and to help them germinate. 

How to sow seeds

1. Take as many seed trays as you need, with drainage holes. Fill them with the compost leaving an inch or two below the surface of the tray as you’ll be adding more compost on top. 

2. The next step comes down to your gardening style, you can a) evenly distribute your seeds one by one using a piece of folded (paper airplane style) paper, leaving an inch between each seed (yes you read that correctly!). Or, you can b) go freestyle and scatter your seeds (as evenly as possible using this more liberating method). The former option will simply make life easier when you come to thin out your seedlings, and those of us that like a little visual uniformity will really enjoy the result too. 

3. Then cover lightly with a layer of compost and water (using the tip below within the seedling care section).

Note: if you’re growing herbs indoors, you can do this straight into a small pot or container to start with, before planting out into a larger pot or garden bed if you wish. 

4. Once done, your trays will need to sit in a warm and sunny (but not scorching) spot. A windowsill or greenhouse is perfect, while propagators will get things going even quicker. If you’re sowing seed outside, you can use the broadcast method or sow in rows, check out our vegetable gardening guide if you're looking to perfect a bigger garden plot.

Seedling care:

Germination

This varies between fruit and vegetable plants but it can take anything from 4-6 weeks, provided that you have sown them in their peak season. If you are using a propagator, you may see sprouting in as little as a couple of weeks – very exciting.

Thinning out

You’ll need to do this when your seedlings are big enough to handle. You can use a teaspoon to help lift the seedling from the tray, transport it then gently to your (ready prepared) container or other growing medium to plant out.

Watering

Watering your seeds is essential and there is a fine line between optimum moisture levels and water-logging which will essentially drown them. Treat the seeds delicately, especially in the first few days, and water them either using a gentle flowing watering can, so as not to disturb the soil too much, or you can sit the trays in a pan of water until the top of the soil looks glossy, at which point they are very much watered.

Pro gardening tips

Every fruit, herb and vegetable you grow yourself will be a new experience but here are a couple of Q&A gardening tips, courtesy of Matt James, to help you out.

Q. My tomatoes failed miserably with blight last year. How can I stop it from reoccurring?

A. Tomato blight is most common in warm, wet weather. Outdoor tomatoes are much more susceptible to infection, with greenhouse crops less so. Symptoms include a watery rot on the leaves, which quickly collapse, brown lesions on the stems and patchy brown fruit.

tomatoes on the vine with blight

Prevention is the key. Water only at the base of the plant — water left on the leaves encourages the disease. Open up your greenhouse vents on hot days and never grow potatoes and tomatoes together, as blight affects them both. Bordeaux mixture is a useful fungicide for preventative treatment, but is not suitable for organic gardeners.

Tomato varieties such as ‘Fantasio F1’, ‘Legend’, ‘Ferline’ and ‘Losetto’ offer some resistance to blight — try these instead.

Q. Does sowing early mean earlier crops?

A. In short, no. Plants need both warm temperatures and suitable light levels to grow strongly, so don’t sow too early (or too late), otherwise crops will fail to establish well. Follow the instructions on the packet.

Growing crops under cover – a cloche, cold frame or greenhouse – will mean that they bulk up more quickly, though.

Courgettes and dwarf runner beans (namely ‘Hestia Dwarf’) crop well in large tubs. In very hot sunny spots, sweet peppers and aubergine are good, as are herbs such as basil and sage. Early potatoes (try ‘Swift’ or ‘Charlotte’) are a doddle to grow with peat-free compost in an old compost bag or plastic dustbin.

Q. What kind of crops can I grow up the walls that surround my courtyard garden?

A. For sunny walls, try squash, pumpkin (‘One Two Many’ is prolific), climbing French beans (‘Cobra’ is good), and espaliered dessert apples and pears.

a child watering plants in modular wall planters

‘Living wall’ modular planters, from £22.49 each, Woolly Pocket

In a hot spot try a Brown Turkey fig, although it will need space. For shady walls (less than five hours of sun a day), grow acid cherries (‘Nabella’) and cooking apples. A vertical growing system or ‘living wall’ is also an all-weather option.

Q. Can I still use old seed if past the use-by date?

A. No harm will come from using old seeds, but you won’t get such a good germination rate. With larger seeds, try sinking them in water — if more than half float to the top, then use a fresh packet.

For small seed, sow a pinch in an envelope of damp kitchen towel, then place in a plastic bag in a warm spot. If after 7–10 days less than half have germinated, buy a new packet.

15 fruit and veg to grow in pots

1. Herbs

Herbs are easy container plants to grow

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Herbs are the easiest edible plants to grow and deserve a spot in any container garden. You can grow thyme, chives, mint, sage, parsley, coriander, oregano and rosemary outdoors, and basil  will prefer being in your kitchen. Choose herbs that you love to cook with and then keep them near the back door so you can maximum use out of them.

When to plant container herbs

Sow herb seeds indoors in spring and then move everything apart from basil and coriander outdoors once there's no chance of frost.

Find out how to grow a herb garden in our guide.

2. Tomatoes

Grow tomatoes as container plants in a small garden

(Image credit: Getty Images)

There's a reason why tomatoes are one of the most popular plants to grow – they'll thrive anywhere from pots to hanging baskets. You'll find that bush or trailing varieties are the best for growing in containers. Keep them evenly watered and feed regularly with a high-potash fertiliser for the best results.

When to plant container tomatoes

You should plant young tomato plants in containers in May once all risk of frost has passed.

Find more tips on planting tomatoes in our guide.

3. Chillies

Grow chillies as container plants

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Perfect for adding a kick to your cooking, chilli plants grow best under glass, which means they'll thrive just as well on your windowsill as they will in a greenhouse. They can also survive outdoors if you have a south-facing garden and sheltered spot for them. Interesting fact: the warmer the conditions, the spicier the chilli.

When to plant container chillies

Sow your chilli seeds indoors and then, if you need to, move outdoors from May onwards.

4. Lettuce and salad leaves

How to grow lettuce

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Impress your guests (when they're allowed back over) with home-grown lettuce as the perfect accompaniment to any barbecue. Almost all lettuce varieties grow well in containers, thanks to their shallow roots. They do best in wide containers and need rich soil and adequate drainage, so make sure your pots have holes in. They're ready to cut when a firm heart has formed in the centre.

When to plant container lettuce

For a summer crop, sow lettuce outdoors from late March to late July.

Find out how to grow lettuce in our guide.

5. Carrots

You can grow short-rooted carrots in a container

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Like potatoes, carrots usually need deep soil to grow well, but there are varieties you can grow in containers. Opt for short-rooted varieties like Early Nantes or Chantenay Red Cored for the best chance of success. Top tip: It's important not to damage the foliage that grows at the top of carrots as this releases a small that attracts carrot flies, which will ruin your crop.

When to plant container carrots

Sow seeds 2–3cm apart from late March to July. Only water during dry periods.

Get more advice on how to grow carrots in our guide.

6. Radishes

Radish are perfect container plants

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Peppery radishes are great in salads and a good vegetable for newbies to grow. They're easy to look after and ready to harvest in as little as a month, so you'll see quick results. As with lettuce, you'll need a wide, shallow pot with drainage holes, and you need to invest in some rich compost. 

When to plant container radishes

Sow seeds about 1cm deep and at least 2.5cm apart between March and August. Harvest after about a month before they become woody. 

7. Potatoes

Grow potatoes in tall containers

(Image credit: Getty Images)

When it comes to comfort food, chips, wedges and mash are right at the top of the list. Luckily, potatoes are really easy to grow in the UK. They do need relatively deep soil, but you can still grow them in containers such as barrels, plastic dustbins or even stacked tyres. Choose salad varieties, like Charlotte, or easy-to-grow varieties like Red Duke of York or Rocket.

When to plant container potatoes

Put up to three tubers in a 40L container. They'll be ready soon after the plant flowers – about 10-12 weeks.

More about planting potatoes in our guide.

8. Spring onions

Spring onions are easy container plants to grow

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Spring or salad onions are a great crop for containers because they don’t need deep soil. They are also really easy to grow and are ready in just eight weeks. You can grow them outdoors in a sunny spot or even on a windowsill. Spring onion plants need to be watered in dry weather, but other than that you can leave them to it.

When to plant container spring onions

Sow about 1.5cm deep into containers every couple of weeks from March onwards for a lasting supply.

9. Beetroot

Beetroot grow well as container plants

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Growing beetroot is a double win as you not only get the deep burgundy roots we're used to seeing in supermarkets, you can also eat the leaves, which are similar in taste to spinach. Beetroot will grow in any pot that's at least 20cm wide and 20cm deep. You'll need to water the plants in dry weather and they're ready to harvest once they are the size of golf balls. Top tip: Soak the seeds in warm water for a few hours before sowing to speed up germination.

When to plant container beetroot

To avoid having loads at once, sow a few seeds every couple of weeks from March to July.

10. Chard

Chard is a good container plant to grow

(Image credit: Getty Images)

A close relation of beetroot (and spinach), is chard. It's becoming more popular in the UK as its colourful stems make it look as good as it tastes. You'll need a container at least 25cm deep that's placed in a sunny spot and to remember to water the plants regularly. Harvest the leaves regularly, starting with the outer leaves, to encourage regrowth.

When to plant container chard

Sow seeds about 2.5cm apart from March to July.

11. Cucumbers

how to grow cucumbers

(Image credit: Getty)

Cucumbers will grow well in deep containers at least 25 centimetres deep, in a frost-free area such as a greenhouse or against a sunny wall during the summer. Cucumbers are climbers and will need supports, and if you're growing them in a conservatory or greenhouse, you'll need to pick the right variety. 

When to plant container cucumbers:

March if growing indoors, and late May onwards if you're planting them outside or transplanting seedlings into bigger pots on your patio.

Find out more about how to grow cucumbers in our guide. 

12. Peppers

Peppers happily grow in containers or even deep troughs – all they really need is plenty of heat, sunlight, and water, so always choose the sunniest spot your can find for them. If your garden or patio isn't south-facing, you can still grow peppers in containers, but you'll need to choose a thinner variety such as the banana pepper, which won't need as much sun to fully develop.

When to plant container peppers:

Plant seeds in seedling tray from February to April; transplant into containers where they are to mature when the shoots are about three inches tall, and only put them outside from mid-May onwards.

Learn more about growing peppers in our guide. 

13. Runner beans

runner beans

(Image credit: Getty)

The humble runner bean does very well in patio containers, provided you water the plants often. Like other edible plants, runner beans prefer a sunny, sheltered spot; they will give you a continuous harvest from July onwards, if you pick them regularly.

When to plant container runner beans

Between February to April, where they are to grow. Only put the container outside when it's really warm, ideally from late May onwards. 

14. Strawberries

strawberry 'Mount Everest'

(Image credit: Waitrose Garden)

Strawberries are one of the most satisfying edible plants for containers, and will thrive in pots or hanging baskets, provided they're given lots of water and sunlight. They don't like being waterlogged, so will need goo drainage. Choose a trailing or climbing variety such as 'Mount Everest' for a pretty display plant.

When to plant container strawberries

If you've bought bare root runners, plant them in March, when the weather's no longer too cold. Plug plants will need to be planted in containers in May. 

Find out more about how to grow strawberries in our guide. 

15. Onions

how to store onions

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One of the easiest edible plants to grow if you're a beginner, onions are also a fun gardening project to do with the kids. Onions do very well in large containers and are harvested in the autumn.

When to plant container onions

Between February and April in seedling trays. Keep well watered and transplant when shoots are about three inches taller. 

Learn more about growing onions in our guide.

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