Even if you’re short on space, you can still have a lovely, prolific garden by growing vegetables in pots. From tomatoes to potatoes, there are suitable container varieties that produce a good yield. In this article, we’ll explore the best container vegetable varieties, which bear the most fruit for the space, and how to grow them easily in your home.
Growing Vegetables in Pots: Get the Most from Small Spaces
Basically anything can be grown in a container as long as you have good soil, sunshine, water, and some kind of nourishment for the plants. Most plants need at least six hours of sun, and good drainage. Often container plants need to be watered twice as often as traditional gardens.
I usually go for varieties that have a high yield, because with a container garden the amount produced is obviously smaller. For me there’s no point growing melons in a container—it’s lot of time spent for few fruits. I also like to stick to heirloom varieties as much as possible to ensure plant diversity for a long time to come.
I recommend keeping your plants healthy by purchasing a good quality organic potting mix from your local gardening center. Don’t use regular compost or soil: potting soil is made for potted plants, and therefore provides good drainage that other soils might not. I also use fish fertilizer every 4-6 weeks to keep my plants well fed, especially tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. It’s a little stinky but it’s highly nutritious and the plants love it, and are better producers for it.
Container gardens are great for novice gardeners. It helps to familiarize you with how to grow plants, without worrying about weeding or crop rotation. It also allows you to try different varieties.
You can use many different types of containers—anything from 5-gallon buckets, to decorative pots. Even burlap sacks work well for certain veggies (like potatoes). The important factor is to make sure they have good drainage. If you’re using a bucket, for example, be sure to drill drainage holes at the bottom of the pot.
Most plants do best in a container that’s about 12 inches deep, to support a robust root system. That said, there are some below that are okay in shallower pots. Now, without further ado… the best vegetables for your container garden:
1. Ground Cherries
Ground cherries are one of the most prolific plants I have ever had the pleasure of growing. They’re not only beautiful, but also sweet and delicious. Despite their name, they’re not cherries, but actually part of the tomatillo family.
The plants are low and bushy and each plant produces close to 100 fruits a season, which is a lot of bang for your container garden. If you’ve never tried one before, they taste like a cross between pineapple and a very sweet tomato. In a word, “addictive”.
The Smithsonian shares five ways to eat ground cherries.
You can grow any kind of pepper in a pot. Just make sure the pot is wide enough for the leaves to expand. I like Banana, Italian Pepperoncini, and Red Cherry peppers because they’re small. As a result, the yield is usually greater than larger bell peppers, and they all taste fantastic when pickled.
Eggplant is easy to grow as long as your plants get a lot of direct sunlight and are well fed. They thrive in warmer locations, so depending on where you live you can grow them in the summer or year round.
The fruits come in purples, pinks, and whites. Some varieties are even striped. The shape can vary too, from the typical oblong to round and plump, or long and skinny. The leaves and flowers are beautiful, too. I like Rosa Bianca, both for its beauty and taste.
4. Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts look like baby cabbages growing on a tree trunk. They take 90 days to mature, grow vertically. and don’t need trellis supports. Plant them in early spring because they don’t like hot weather. Like most brassicas, they also don’t mind a bit of shade.
Tomatoes are probably the most well-known container vegetable. I like Galina and Stupice varieties, as both are very tolerant, small and tasty. Of course, there are many good varieties to choose from, and if you ask your local nursery or garden center they can set you up for success. Check out our article on the 10 best cherry tomato varieties.
It’s best to grow container tomatoes from starts rather than seeds. Tomatoes need to be staked, so be sure to plant the stakes when you plant the starts. You can also plant them upside-down, which is visually stunning.
Carrots prefer to grow in cooler temperatures. They also need deep containers that have really good drainage. That said, they also need to be watered regularly to prevent the roots from drying and cracking. Try growing them in a bag, like potatoes or other root vegetables.
Nantes is the recommended variety for containers, it is a bit shorter and the end is more rounded.
7. Winter Squash
The smaller the fruit, the easier it is to handle a container. In this situation, you need the right amount of outside space for the plant to grow, rather than accommodating a large root system in the pot. Try Delicata squash: they’re sweet and delicious, with beautiful flowers. When you plant the seeds, add a trellis to the pot and train the vines to grow up. Place the pot up against a wall for more stability.
Chard grows easily in containers due to its large, upright leaves. Rainbow chard is my favorite; it looks beautiful and adds a lot of color to the container garden. You can pick it when the leaves are still small, or wait longer for them to grow to their full potential.
Garlic is wonderful for container gardening, because you can eat both the bulb and the green tops. You need a wide container to grow it, with 5-6 inches of space between each clove as the ideal spacing. Here are some essential varieties to try out.
Cucumbers grow well and have many uses, from fresh eating to pickling. However, vining cucumbers take up a lot of space. You can train them on a trellis to save space, but for cucumbers, get the best bang and grow Bush Crop cucumbers in a smaller space.
11. Fingerling Potatoes
Potatoes come in a wide variety of colors and are fun to grow with kids. For potatoes, you need a container that’s at least 12 inches deep. Plant 3 to 4 regular potatoes in the pot. If you choose a fingerling variety—like Russian Banana or Peruvian Purple—you can plant about 8, and the yield will be higher.
Once they begin to grow, make sure all the stems are fully covered with soil. Within a few months, they’ll be ready to harvest. I suggest buying organic potato starts from a reputable company. Store-bought potatoes have often been treated with chemicals. You can even grow potatoes indoors.
Radishes thrive in containers, as they’re very easy and fast to grow. They also come in a variety of shapes, from plump and round to long and skinny. I adore the French Breakfast variety.
If you don’t think you like radishes, try them smeared with butter and sprinkled with salt. You won’t be able to get enough.
Peas are easy to grow in pots, but they need some support, like a trellis. These early season plants actually stop producing when it warms up. They’re also high in nitrogen, so when they’re finished for the season, pull up the plant and replace it with something else. The second plant will benefit from the nitrogen in the soil.
Cascadia or Sugar Daddy are two varieties of sugar snap peas. The best part about them is that the peas are edible at any stage (although the fatter, the sweeter), and you can also eat the shoots and tendrils.
Sorrel is a delicious green that has a citrus flavor to it. It may also be considered an herb, but it functions in most recipes like a leafy green vegetable. It does well in shady spots, so it’s perfect for a porch garden that might not get much sunlight.
Spinach grows very well in containers. You can harvest “baby spinach” often, when the leaves are still small. It also does well in partial shade and only needs about 3-4 hours of sunlight daily. Plus, you can grow it in a shallower container, like a window box.
16. Summer Squash
Like cucumbers, vining squash take up a lot of garden real estate, therefore bush varieties are better. Try Black Magic Zucchini or Bush Crookneck. They need about 7 hours of sunlight. Practice companion planting and add a few marigolds or nasturtiums to the pot to keep pests at bay.
Arugula is very easy to grow, and is quite prolific. It does better in a contained area, making it a perfect candidate for your container garden. It’s also super versatile; works both like a leafy green and a salad green in the kitchen. Both the leaf and the flower are edible.
Rhubarb is a wonderful container vegetable. It does take some time to develop, because you can’t harvest it until the second year, but it’s also a perennial, which means it’ll grow back year after year. Rhubarb does well in partial shade, and has beautiful big leaves. Take note that its large root system requires a very deep pot: 20 inches at least.
Lettuce doesn’t need much sun, and grows quickly. You can grow pretty much any variety in any container. You can even grow it in a shopping bag. I like Rouge d’Hiver: it’s cold hardy and delicious when picked small. Jade Jem looks just like mini romaine lettuce, also grows quickly, and has a long harvest period.
20. Green Beans
Bush type beans are the best for container gardens. They do well with support from a trellis. Try varieties like Rolande or Provider for high yields and delicious flavor.
This list and growing guide should give you confidence that a container garden can produce well. If you want even more options, check out your local garden center. They can help you choose varieties that do well in your particular part of the world.
When you taste your first delicious homegrown produce, you’ll be glad you did.