16 Vegetables That Are Easily Grown in Pots or Containers
Are you thinking of adding vegetables to your container garden this season? Some vegetables actually grow better in pots or containers than others. In this article, gardening expert Logan Hailey shares her favorite vegetables to add to your container garden this season!
If you don’t have a backyard or community garden plot, you can still grow an abundance of fresh veggies. Believe it or not, I once had a 4-foot x 8-foot apartment balcony with over 40 varieties of crops growing in containers!
Almost any vegetable crop can be grown in a container as long as you choose the right size pot and a container-friendly seed variety. Tomatoes, peppers, herbs, and greens are just a few of the possible candidates for a spring or summer container garden.
You can also extend your season with fall or winter kale, onions, roots, and more. When the weather cools, containers offer the ease of moving indoors if needed. The following crops are eager to please in containers!
- Best Container Varieties: ‘Genovese Compact’, ‘Everleaf’, ‘Tulsi’
- Minimum Container Size: 8” pot, or 1 quart to ½ gallon container
Basil is one of the most popular garden herbs for a reason: this homegrown herb yields in a great abundance from a small space. It tastes decadent on a range of dishes. And it is superior to wilted, store bought leaves.
Basil is a warm-weather crop that savors the extra coziness that a pot offers. If you plant basil in the spring (after the chance of frost has passed), one plant can fuel your pesto and garnish needs for most of the season.
The trick for long-lasting container basil is to harvest it regularly. Pluck the tips of the leaves to prevent basil from bolting. You can also plant a second succession of basil in midsummer and bring it indoors when the weather begins cooling in the fall.
- Best Container Varieties: ‘Crisphead’, ‘Butterhead’, ‘Oakleaf’, ‘Romaine’, any lettuce seed mix
- Minimum Container Size: 6-8” pot or a railing planter
Most varieties of lettuce are beginner friendly and require very little space. This cool-weather crop does best in the spring and fall. If your climate is very warm, move lettuce pots to a slightly shaded area or plant them in the bottom margins of a large tomato planter.
Lettuce is shallow-rooted and only needs a container about 6” deep. You can grow lettuce as a baby green salad mix or as heads:
- For a baby mix, scatter your seeds throughout the container densely at about 3-5 seeds per inch.
- For lettuce heads, grow a single lettuce plant in an 8” pot or plant several heads 6-8” apart in a longer container.
- Best Container Varieties: Any plum or cherry tomato, or dwarf varieties like ‘Micro Tom,’ ‘Tumbler,’ ‘Sunrise Sauce,’ or ‘Yellow Canary’
- Minimum Container Size: 24” diameter pot (at least 24” deep) or a 15-20 gallon grow bag
Although they take up more room, tomatoes are an ideal container plant because they are the gift that keeps on giving. You can grow a large potted tomato plant and pick juicy cherries or slicers all summer long.
A 20-gallon grow bag is one of the best options for tomatoes. Your pot should be at least 24” deep to account for the tomato’s root zone. Just like planting in the ground, you should plant seedlings deeply so roots can form along the stem.
Determinate varieties will bush out and stabilize themselves in a pot, but indeterminate varieties prefer a tomato cage or stake to support their vining growth.
Technically, all tomatoes can be grown in pots. However, dwarf varieties have been bred to yield more from a small space. For the best results, prune your tomato suckers regularly to encourage the plant to produce more fruit.
- Best Container Varieties: ‘Shishito,’ ‘Poblano,’ ‘Jalapeno,’ ‘Habanero,’ ‘Holland Mini,’ or ‘Baby Belle’
- Minimum Container Size: 3-5 gallon pots or grow bags
Most peppers are naturally very compact plants. Moreover, they are specially adapted to container growing because they have such a long growing season.
You can plant pepper seeds in pots indoors about 6-8 weeks before your last frost. This head start will ensure you have a thriving pepper bush by early summer.
Hot peppers like jalapenos, cayennes, and habaneros tend to be the most compact types that can thrive in a 2-3 gallon container. Sweet peppers prefer a pot that is at least 18-24” deep and 12-24” inches in diameter. A 5-gallon pot or grow bag usually works great. For the quickest ripening, opt for baby or mini bell peppers.
- Best Container Varieties: ‘Patio Baby,’ ‘Orient Express,’ ‘Calliope,’
- Minimum Container Size: 3-5 gallon pot or grow bag
Like their pepper cousins, eggplants naturally grow as compact shrubs. At full maturity, most varieties expand to 2-4 feet wide and tall. While the chunky Italian eggplant is the most well-known, Asian eggplant varieties yield more fruits per plant and the eggplants are more tender. Mini eggplants like ‘Patio Baby’ grow adorable 2-3” long fruit on compact 18-24” plants.
The fairly deep roots of eggplant require a pot that is at least 12” deep and ideally 18-20” in depth. A tomato cage or similar trellis system can prevent eggplant branches from sagging when they get heavy with fruit.
Be sure that your container is very sturdy so it doesn’t tip over. Terracotta or whiskey barrel planters with big drainage holes are great for eggplant.
- Best Container Varieties: ‘Dwarf Siberian,’ ‘Black Magic,’ ‘Blue Scotch Curled’
- Minimum Container Size: 3-gallon pot
For cool-season container gardens, kale is a popular frost-hardy potted plant. The beauty of kale and its cousins has even garnered it a place in the ornamental landscaping industry.
As long as you give kale full sunlight and well-drained soil, it will earn its spot in your patio garden. However, beware that kale will bolt in the summer heat, so it’s best to reserve your plantings for the spring or fall.
A single kale plant grows about 1-2 feet tall and wide and provides practically endless harvests of nutrient-dense leaves all season long. You can plant kale in early spring and enjoy it for many months to come.
Be sure that you harvest kale leaves by snapping the lower leaves at the base and leaving the upper central buds to keep producing. This can also encourage the plant to stay bushy and compact.
- Best Container Varieties: ‘Provider,’ ‘Amethyst,’ ‘Contender,’ or ‘Royal Burgundy’
- Minimum Container Size: 1 gallon or a large railing planter
Green beans willingly grow as miniature bushes in the ground or containers. It’s so pleasant to walk out your back door to a lush bean plant filled with dangling pods ready for fresh eating or your favorite recipes. Purple green beans add an ornamental touch!
Beans can grow in a large window box or a 15” pot. A larger pot can accommodate several bean plants spaced about 6” apart. Compared to pole beans, bush beans tolerate a more shallow container. Just 6-8” of soil is enough for their stout root zone.
- Best Container Varieties: ‘Space,’ ‘Kolibri,’ ‘Auruch,’ ‘Sunagel,’ or ‘Hammerhead’
- Minimum Container Size: 1 quart
This frost-hardy green is ideal for filling your container garden in the spring, fall, and winter when other crops have died off. You can grow a lot of spinach in a small space by using the “cut and come again” method. This means you plant spinach at a rate of 3-5 seeds per inch in rows 2” apart. You can also scatter seeds across the entire surface of a rounded pot.
When the spinach leaves are about 5-8” tall (roughly 3-5 weeks depending on the weather), use scissors or a sharp knife to cut the leaves a couple of inches above the soil.
As long as you leave the central growing tips intact, the spinach will grow back within the next few weeks and you can make another cut.
Alternatively, grow individual spinach plants in separate smaller containers to get larger leaves. These can be picked from the bottom just like chard or kale. Avoid sowing spinach in the summer because it won’t germinate in hot soils and may bolt in warm weather.
- Best Container Varieties: ‘Bright Lights,’ ‘Heart of Gold,’ ‘Ruby Red,’ or ‘Rhubarb Supreme’
- Minimum Container Size: 3-5 gallon pot
Thanks to its shallow roots (similar to a beetroot), rainbow chard will gladly grow in a pot that is about 8” deep. Plant a single chard plant per container to ensure that it has plenty of space to grow to its full glory.
Chard continuously produces from spring to fall. The lower leaves can be harvested regularly by snapping their vibrantly colored stems from the base. Ensure there are plenty of drainage holes in the base of the pot so the roots of your chard don’t rot.
- Best Container Varieties: ‘Garlic Chives’ or ‘Common Chives’
- Minimum Container Size: 1 gallon
Perennial chives are a unique container pot because they will come back every year in growing zones 3-10. As opposed to their scallion cousins (green onions), chives are actually a clumping perennial that produces slender, onion-flavored leaves that look a bit like grass from a distance.
Chives grow extremely well in pots and are easy to care for. They don’t mind the partial sun of a windowsill. When harvesting, grab a bundle of just what you need and use sheers to cut the chives a couple of inches above the base. With proper watering, they will regenerate very quickly!
They also produce gorgeous purple pin-cushion flowers throughout the summer. These blossoms are edible and flavorful. Crumble them up for a colorful garnish on any savory dish.
- Best Container Varieties: ‘Nabechan,’ ‘Parade’, or any onion variety sown close together
- Minimum Container Size: 1 quart
Also known as green onions, scallions are another onion-family crop that thrives in a container. These slender baby onions are super easy to plant and don’t require much effort to yield. You can grow a clump of scallions in a fairly small container (or even a glass jar with water in it).
The quickest way to start scallions is with onion “sets” (pre-established bulbs). However, seeds are also a great option for producing an abundance of green onions.
Be sure that you space scallions about ½ to 1” apart and mound the soil around the base as they grow. This will give you nice white-blanched stalks that are far superior to those found at the supermarket.
- Best Container Varieties: ‘Sora,’ ‘Rover,’ ‘French Breakfast,’ or ‘Easter Egg’
- Minimum Container Size: 1 quart to 1 gallon pot
Radishes are notorious as the easiest vegetables you can grow. This beginner-friendly root will grow in any container. I’ve even seen them grow to golf-ball size in a seed-starting tray! Each root only requires about 1 square inch of growing space.
Radishes are shallow-rooted and mature in as little as 30 days. In a gallon pot, you can plant about a dozen radishes spaced about ¾ to 1” apart. Sow at any time during the season and make sure that the container drains freely. To avoid pithy or tough radishes, harvest when the roots reach a couple of inches in diameter.
- Best Container Varieties: ‘Miz America,’ ‘Mizuna,’ ‘Green Wave,’ ‘Ruby Streaks,’ or any other mustard
- Minimum Container Size: ½ gallon to 1 gallon pot or long window planter
Known for their spicy or peppery flavor, mustard greens are a kale relative that can grow just about anywhere. In fact, you may notice yellow wildflowers along the road that are actually wild mustards. With that type of resilience, you can trust that mustard greens will eagerly grow in pots.
Baby greens are the most tender and least spicy. From early spring to midsummer, sow seeds about 2” apart across the surface of any size container.
They can be planted densely like baby lettuce mix. Do a “cut and come again” harvest by chopping the leaves about an inch above the soil surface. This will leave the growing tips to produce another round of greens.
For extra spicy, full-size greens, sow one mustard plant per quart container. Expect the plant to grow as large as you’ll let it and harvest its leaves the same way as you would chard or kale.
- Best Container Varieties: Any variety of greens
- Minimum Container Size: 1 quart
A popular container choice, microgreens are almost exclusively grown in containers because they are harvested at such an early stage. Many gourmet restaurants grow microgreens right on a shelf in the kitchen.
There are special microgreen growing trays that provide the best sanitation and drainage. However, you can also densely sow leafy greens in practically any container and harvest at the cotyledon (slender baby leaf) stage.
Technically, any leafy crop can be grown as a microgreen. Some of the most popular include kale, radish, watercress, broccoli, chard, and arugula.
Dense planting and quick harvest are key. Thickly broadcast the seeds on the soil surface, lightly press them into the soil, and keep them moist but never soggy. Cut the greens in as little as 10 days!
- Best Container Varieties: ‘Georgia,’ ‘Champion,’ or ‘Flash’
- Minimum Container Size: 3-5 gallon pot
Collard greens are popular in southern cooking, but their incredible nutrient density should earn them a space in any garden. These greens are easy to grow and great for cool-weather container gardens.
Give each chard plant about a square foot of space. Plant in early spring or about 3 months before the first expected frost. Collard leaves can be harvested just like kale or chard by snapping off lower stems as needed. You can also follow the baby leaf lettuce instructions for a quick, tender collard harvest.
- Best Container Varieties: ‘Hakurei’ or ‘Tokyo’
- Minimum Container Size: 1 quart
Most people don’t think about roots when creating a container garden, but turnips do surprisingly well in a pot. If the idea of mashed purple-top turnips sounds gross to you, I highly recommend trying the sweet, tender Japanese type called ‘Hakurei.’
Also known as salad turnips, these pearly white roots are crisp and sugary enough to snack on straight out of the pot.
Like radishes, turnip plants can grow in as little as 1 square inch of space. Plant as many seeds as you can fit in any size container, ensuring that there is at least 1-2” between each plant.
Nearly any veggie crop can be grown in a pot as long as you choose a dwarf variety or a large container or grow bag.
The only crops you should avoid are those that require massive amounts of space or prefer to ramble, such as:
- Winter squash
Before planting in a pot, check the standard spacing of any given crop. Then, calculate the diameter of your container based on how much space the plant needs in each direction.