by Adrain White
20 December, 2021 by
Lucija Johum

The choices for what to grow in a greenhouse are many. Practically any plant can experience some sort of benefit in these covered growing structures, while certain varieties will really reap the benefits more than others. There are also tons of ways you can grow the plants you choose in a greenhouse – including your favorites – and plenty of mediums they can flourish in, too.

Of all the possible crops and ways you can grow them, many greenhouse growers opt for container plants and a container system. More specifically: container plants are not planted directly into the ground, or row-cropped as in a vegetable farm or backyard garden. Rather, they are grown in a soil medium within a container or pot of some sort – large or small – and for a number of benefits only containers provide that would specifically support that plant.

What exact plants call for container planting? What benefits do containers bring to these select crops? We’ll explore the ins and outs of this widespread greenhouse method for you – and before you make the decision if it’s right for your business or hobby.


Why go for containers? Like any growing medium, containers bring specific perks to certain plants that aren’t possible in other instances. When it comes to containers and the pros (versus their cons), some of them have quite a bit to do with convenience.

First of all: growing in a container gives the grower more control of what exact soil they use, allowing them to tweak it easily and thus cater to their crops’ needs. Instead of being limited to the soil under their greenhouse cover, growers have more freedom in the choices of what they can grow. As a result of having more soil control, pH can also be better managed, diseases prevented, and even weeds suppressed.

Further, if the farmer or gardener has plans for selling whole plants as retail, pots or planters of course come in the most convenient, ready-to-transport form for customers. Not to mention: some plants simply do better in containers than in other situations, while in some cases the opposite of that is true. 

Root systems are allowed to grow and develop unimpeded, and without any nutrient competition with other nearby plants. Others varieties with highly rigorous, expansive root systems – or sensitivity to waterlogging – might not thrive on the other hand, or need more care to do so. For more sensitive plants, however, containers are an elegant, ideal solution. 

This is especially true if you need to move crops easily throughout various parts of your greenhouse for certain benefits, such as more shade, light exposure, or other elements. As an extra – and an aspect that could save you some money as well – this easy transport also optimizes space efficiency under your cover.


Would certain crops not work out in a container? That depends. Most plants can be container planted, even if they aren’t traditionally grown that way. Ultimately, it’s all up to the discretion of the grower.

Still, there are some limits to what you can grow: plants requiring very deep root systems, for example, may not do so well – such as taproot plants like beets, certain tree saplings, and others. If you find them very large or deep containers, however, you may be able to manage. Further, a few plants that grow in a vining or creeping fashion may be less tenable in pots or planters, though an added vertical system could help them along.

If you’re wanting to grow wholesale with the help of a lot of mechanized, efficient work on a high volume of annuals (such as with tractors, tillers, or cultivators), then container planting may be a very inefficient approach for obvious reasons. Instead, you’ll want to go for some form of row-cropping, which helps speed up growing tasks for a higher volume of crop output with a quicker turnaround – and with the help of machinery. This method is usually found in vegetable farming, though not always.


Annuals are short-lived plants that typically die after a year of life, usually before or at the onset of winter. Some of these, due to their specific needs, do exceptionally well in containers so you can cater to their requirements: including nutrition, moisture levels, pH, soil type, and more. 

Most vegetable food crops are annuals, as well as some flowers, herbs, and many others besides. For that reason, consider whether or not they would do better being directly planted or row-cropped versus container planting. Still, many growers know intuitively with their solid experience that very specific annuals benefit from pots, even if direct planting would work well for them, too.


This summer favorite grows exceptionally well in the naturally hot, humid environments greenhouses create. While considered a vegetable annual that benefits from direct planting, experienced farmers and gardeners of all backgrounds are privy to the knowledge that tomatoes flourish fantastically in containers too, since the medium provides them many natural advantages. Further: you won’t get those benefits of space efficiency, convenience, and a faster crop if you row crop with tomatoes (like you would with other vegetables), since you harvest only the fruit from its branches.

Additionally, tomatoes are finnicky and have very particular needs – needing consistent moisture and plenty of fertilizer – which can be met and made easier to meet with containers. Because overhead watering of these plants can be harmful and bring on disease and rot, container planting makes it quite easy to get water straight at their roots, just as they like it. However, tomatoes are susceptible to root diseases too – especially from nematodes. This is all the more reason to use containers, have control of the soil you use, and prevent disease form taking hold.

Relatives of tomatoes in the nightshade family that grow similarly – particularly peppers and eggplants – would also do wonderfully in pots or planters. They’re not always nearly so demanding as tomatoes, nor do they need the exact same pampering. All the same, containers can help in the realms of disease suppression, watering requirements, even harvest and transport in these reminiscent plants.


A wide range of flowers falls into the annual flower category. This includes marigolds, daisies, begonias, and many others. When it comes down to why they would fare better in planters, this can vary, as the category of annual flowers is a broad one: it is filled with a contrasting array of plants, all with very different needs and preferences.

This is exactly why some annuals may be great for containers: pickiness. Certain short-lived flowers, as in the case of tomatoes, have demanding standards in order to steadily produce blooms. Take pansies (Viola spp.) for example – though hardy plants (even in cold weather) to ensure plentiful blooms, these dainty annuals need to be watered quite often and thoroughly, and preferably at the roots to skirt disease. 

Containers can help make all this easier while preventing disease in the meantime. When grown on waist-level growing benches, flower maintenance (such as deadheading) is also made a simpler task. More often, however, containers allow easy transport of flowering annuals inside and outside of greenhouses from season to season, as the vast majority of them die back in the winter. 

For year-round annual blooms – and especially retail potted annual flowers with showy blooms sold to customers, who then bring them into their own gardens – growing in containers is your best bet.


Many herbs are perennials, but some are also annuals. Some examples: basil, chives, cilantro, parsley, or more medicinal herbs, like chamomile. Similar to annual flowers, herbs have a very wide range of needs and preferences – whether relating to temperature, soil maintenance, or pruning demands – that can be catered to with the help of pots or planters.

While some annual herbs (like garlic) fit better in the row cropping scenario for higher production and quick harvests, the maintenance some of these require simply fits better in the context of container-planted herbs. Many herbs benefit from routine pruning and foliage removal in addition to harvesting, making pots and planters at an accessible level (such on benches or shelves) much more ideal. Again, like annual flowers, easier transportation for retail or outdoor/indoor transitions throughout the seasons is very helpful, too.


One of the highest-value commercial agricultural products in the world today, cannabis represents an intersection of the previous two categories: it is both an annual flower and herb in one. Because of its specific and particular needs – one being moisture given at the roots to prevent foliar and bloom diseases – container planting is an exceptional option, and more or less the industry choice for growing the plant.

The flowers are its prized part, with the tops harvested and dried for processing. In container settings, harvest and cleanup is made most practical, as the harvesting process doesn’t typically require mechanized machinery at all. Further, cannabis growers need optimal control of even the most minute fine-tunings and adjustments to soil and nutrition within greenhouses; and this is especially made possible with the help of containers.


In both the annual and perennial realms, seedlings and eventual transplants of any sort are very well-suited to containers. Many growers of all sorts (especially those who start their crops from seed) rely on containers to help size up plants through their younger growing stages, especially if they’re not quite mature or hardened off enough to be transferred to a growing area outdoors. This especially applies to plants that need slow exposure to cold temperatures or frost, in order to adapt.

If you are a grower who starts from seed, transplanting and sizing up your seedlings with next-size-up pots in a greenhouse helps your plants through transitions to maturity, since root systems may grow quickly and eventually need more soil medium to develop fully. Especially if you are planning on moving these crops to an outdoor direct-planting site, this helps you attend to these plants in their young stages, and also make transportation easier when the time comes. 

Or: keep these seedlings in their containers through spring, and sell them as retail to willing gardeners, hobby farmers, and homesteaders looking for seedlings to start their own operations.


Perennials are botanicals of many categories – flowers, herbs, even some vegetables, and others – that will regrow year after year from the same root, tuber, bulb, or rhizome. For the same reasons that benefit annuals, perennials thrive in pots and planters because you can meet their needs much more closely when it comes to specific moisture, pH, soil type, and nutrient content. With the regenerative qualities of perennials, the benefits are even more obvious: plants in containers that come back each year can thus be transported and managed much more easily, time and time again.

Perennials are popular options for retail, whether as permanent houseplants or eventual transplants into an outdoor garden or farming operation (i.e. asparagus or rhubarb). As such, containers provide the best option for growers starting perennials from seed, and who then later have the hopes of selling them as whole plants commercially once they are mature. Flowers, shrubs, and specialty varieties are the most common examples.


Some perennial flowers succeed exceptionally in other mediums besides containers, even in direct plantings underneath a greenhouse cover. This includes common blooms like gladioli, lavender, or tulips. Even for production operations, such as for cut flowers or floral businesses for example, these techniques work quite well – though some growers may prefer containers to streamline their businesses in certain ways.

Again, containers allow direct watering to the roots, pH and nutrient control, and even reduced competition of nutrients for individual crops, as opposed to a row crop or similar system. For those wanting to sell retail flowers as potted plants, pots or planters are clearly the best way to go. Popular examples include orchids, poinsettias, or primroses, to name a few.


Perennial herbs are quite similar in their scope to perennial flowers. While they could be hugely successful in other mediums (even directly planted), they experience loads more benefits through a container system, and that other mediums wouldn’t provide. Better control of disease, weed suppression, easier transportation, and opportunity for retail are all made possible.

Further, the expansive growing patterns of perennial herbs – such as rosemary, sage, or oregano – can make container growing a very space-efficient method as the season progresses. As herbs begin to billow and branch out, containers can be effortlessly moved farther apart to make room for one another, saving labor, space, and even the costs implicit in managing herbs that grow too close together. Not to mention: containers make harvesting a cinch on waist-high shelves or benches.


A popular type of houseplant nowadays, greenhouse growers can propagate succulents in containers for successful retail sale. This includes jade plants, hen-and-chicks, cactuses, aloe, and many more in this category. Moisture regulation is not a huge problem, since the majority of these need hardly any watering – and when they do, only in very limited amounts, which can be perfectly delivered in container form.

In fact, succulents probably do best in containers over any other medium, mostly because they will almost always be sold as retail house plants. Plus, their soil needs are more specific, and unlikely to be found or reproduced in other methods (especially direct planting). As these water-holding, beautiful plants grow larger over time, growers can re-propagate choice parts from their main growth to expand their populations in yet more containers, thus boosting income if sold.


These niche plants absolutely love the environments that greenhouses naturally create, particularly the heat and humidity. As for the soil mediums that most tropical kinds need, you’re very less likely to find this outside of what must be replicated with purchased soil or other mediums in a container setting. Though there are some exceptions, plants like palm trees, bananas, and certain ferns will require pots or planters to match the soil requirements they need in a non-native, non-tropical greenhouse setting.

Just as with succulents and many others, too, containers make these plants easy for retail sale, if growers want to go commercial with them. Otherwise, convenient transportation can be a very helpful element in a pinch for tropical plants for other reasons. For example: if cold drafts, temperature fluctuations, or other greenhouse malfunctions occur, these more sensitive plants can be quickly moved to safer areas or structures when the need arises.


For obvious reasons, shrubs and containers are made for each other in a greenhouse setting. Save for a choice few categories that may be less ideal in this case (such as berry shrubs), most plants of this designation will likely be cultivated for eventual retail sale. As such, there’s less sense in other mediums for varieties of this size – especially in direct planting.

Additionally, shrubs tend to have specific pH requirements that are only well replicated in controlled soil mediums, such as containers. Add its space and cost efficiency, and you’ll quickly find that growing greenhouse shrubs – all the way from azaleas to roses and hibiscus and more – require containers to be successful. You also have an easier time managing their moisture needs, soil specifics, and more that way, too.


Wanting to grow your own indoor greenhouse nursery? Similar to shrubs, growing trees or saplings for retail really only makes sense in the context of container planting. This is for obvious reasons, of course: most trees are going to eventually tower beyond the confines of your structure!

At some point, your trees and saplings will need to be moved outdoors – whether for sale or transplant – and any way to make the move easier, the better. While bound root balls are one option, containers provide a cleaner, neater, and more streamlined setup. You’re also able to tailor the soil in these pots or planters precisely to each tree or sapling’s needs, while still providing ample room for the tree’s root systems to develop before the plant reaches full maturity. 


Why container plant in a greenhouse? Looking at all the options for what you can grow in a greenhouse above, the reasons are numerous – and the plant options are almost endless. To put it all in a nutshell: containers provide benefits in the form of better soil control, fine-tuning soil type, easier watering, direct nutrient supplication, less competition, less weeding, and easier transportation once plants need moving, if they ever do. 

Last but not least, however, you also optimize space efficiency in your structure. When you optimize space, you also optimize production. And if you optimize production – you optimize profits. (Or, enjoyment, if you happen to be a hobby grower, too.)

Start writing here...

Lucija Johum 20 December, 2021
Share this post