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You don’t need acres of land and the sweat of your brow to grow vegetables — a few big pots can yield a bountiful and delicious harvest. Gardening in containers keeps produce off the ground, making diseases less likely, and if a plant is wilting in the sun, you can simply move it into the shade. Grow your favorites, or try some of the new, compact varieties specifically bred for the container garden.
Best Edible Plants for a Container Garden
Blueberries » Yes, blueberries. Standard bushes can grow 6 feet tall, but smaller varieties top out at 2 to 3 feet. One thing blueberries need to thrive is acidic soil—use a soil mix especially for blueberries, azaleas, or rhododendrons. Try dwarf varieties “Jelly Bean” (Raintree), “Sunshine Blue” (Peaceful Valley), or “Top Hat” (Burpee).
Cucumbers » Grow cukes in a pot? Absolutely. Cucumbers take off in the warm soil of a container. Try bush varieties, which get about 2 to 3 feet tall (a tomato cage works well as a trellis). Varieties include “Spacemaster” (Botanical Interests), “Patio Snacker” (Territorial Seed), and “Arkansas Little Leaf” (Sow True Seed).
Hot peppers » Attractive and edible, hot peppers are the perfect ornamental for a patio or deck. Wear gloves when handling the fruits and don’t rub your eyes—pepper juice burns. Varieties include “Chinese 5-Color” (Baker Creek), “Cayenetta” (Territorial Seed), and Thai hot pepper (Botanical Interests).
Mint » Iced tea and mint juleps are just a snip away—in a pot on the patio. Mint prefers moist, rich soil; growing it in a pot keeps its rambunctious nature under control. Besides pepper- and spearmint, there are lemon, pineapple, and chocolate mint, all readily available at garden centers.
Raspberries » In the garden, raspberries grow on canes up to 8 feet tall; container varieties stay 4 feet and under. Varieties include red “Raspberry Shortcake” (Raintree) and purple “Glencoe” (Burpee)—both thornless—and the thorny but luscious “Fall Gold” (Peaceful Valley).
What You Container Plants Want
Room for roots » Almost anything can be a pot in your container garden, as long as it’s large, has drainage holes, and isn’t made from (or once held) anything toxic. Start at 12 to 14 inches in diameter and 14 inches deep for a single plant, and go up from there. Planters on wheels or plant caddies make heavy containers easier to move.
The right soil » Not garden soil, which is too dense, but a porous organic potting mix made for large containers. Look for mixes made with coir (coconut-husk fiber) and amended with compost or other organic matter, which provides good drainage while conserving moisture.
Plenty of water » Potting mix dries out quickly: Water consistently, and never let containers dry out completely. If it’s hot or hasn’t rained, you might need to water once or even twice a day. Water until it runs out of the drainage holes. Don’t let a pot stand in water. In arid climates, drip irrigation is a time- and water-saver.
Enough light » Blueberries, raspberries, hot peppers, and cucumbers need eight hours of sunlight a day for an appreciable yield. Mint can get by with less. Also, make sure there is good air circulation around the pots—smart advice for any plant growing in a container.
Faithful feeding » Most potting soils contain few nutrients, so fertilizing plants is a must. Use a diluted, water-soluble fertilizer like seaweed emulsion, according to the directions on the label.