Container Gardening in Small Spaces

Don’t have a pot for planting? Buckets, plastic jars, and carryout food containers work, too!

  • 9 April 2020
  • Author: Frederika Bain
  • Number of views: 6565
Container Gardening in Small Spaces

Hawai‘i is home to the most geographically isolated human population on the planet. We are vulnerable to disasters and heavily reliant on imported food. We need to become more food independent and have fresh produce readily available, in close proximity to local residents and their families. Growing your own is a great way to start.

With more than half-a-million housing units packed into our tiny state, containerized vegetable gardening is ideal for small spaces: apartments, condominiums, patios, as well as areas with poor soil conditions. With sufficient growing space, soil drainage and aeration, sunlight, adequate nutrients, and irrigation, you can grow vegetables quickly—right at home.


Plastic, clay, or cement pots are excellent for vegetable and herb production. But in a pinch, you’d be surprised at how many common household items can be used as planting containers—leftover plastic take-out food containers, old gutters, or storage tubs. With a little potting soil and fertilizer, these commonly discarded items can be transformed into food-producing vegetable gardens! Just make sure you cut or drill enough holes for drainage: about a half-inch wide, evenly spaced.

Root Space

Selecting the right container starts with knowing how much room the roots will need to fully develop. Some crops need more root space, such as cucumber, eggplant, daikon, soybean, ginger, taro, squash, rosemary, ung choy, and pepper. They should be planted in large containers—a 3- to 5-gallon bucket with holes drilled in the bottom is great. Medium-size plants, such as green onion, lettuce, spinach, basil, beans, mint, cabbage, kale, or radish should be placed in 1½- to 2½-gallon containers. Small herbs like mizuna, chives, and parsley can thrive in ½- to 1-gallon containers, like a plastic milk jug with the narrow top cut off. In general, it’s better to plant crops in a larger container rather than something too small that might limit the root development.


Be mindful that containerized vegetables are vulnerable to the same pests and diseases as vegetables grown in the ground. If soil-borne plant diseases are a problem in your area, try using “soil-less” potting mixes. For specific questions about pest management, visit the UH Master Gardeners website.

Another important consideration is fertilization, especially in Hawai‘i. So remember to feed your plants well. Stay tuned for an article on fertilization, coming soon!

Whether you have a natural green thumb or are a green-thumb-in-training, find your favorite seeds, review the science, get some fresh air, practice social distancing—and get dirty!

Jari Sugano and Kalani Matsumura, Cooperative Extension Service and Master Gardener Program, UH College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources