The 12-Inch Farm: 10 Foods You Can Grow in Containers

Edible plants can be every bit as pretty as traditional ornamental plants. To get the greatest enjoyment from these ornamental edibles, pot them up in large containers and keep them close to your kitchen door or deck. One advantage of keeping your edibles nearby is that you will have a better chance of protecting them from birds and other marauders. Another advantage is that you'll get to witness the plants' beautiful development up close. On fruit-bearing plants, such as blueberries, figs, and lemons, buds unfold into flowers, flowers turn into fruit, and the fruit ripens—displaying a rainbow of colors under your watchful eye. For plants like lettuce or kale, it’s all about leafy texture. Here are some of my favorite edible plants for containers.

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  1. Strawberry

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    Strawberry plants are compact and adapt well to containers. That said, they need lots of warmth and sunshine—at least six to eight hours a day—as well as well-drained soil. With shallow roots and a relatively small root ball, strawberry plants are perfect for pots designed with little cupped opening around the sides, such as the one pictured. 

    Dorian Winslow

  2. Lemon

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    Unless you live in a very warm climate, your lemon tree should be brought indoors in the winter and then returned outdoors once temperatures stay reliably above 40 degrees. It’s fun to watch flowers turn into tiny green fruits that keep growing and eventually turn yellow. Your lemon tree will attract honey bees and hummingbirds, too.

    Dorian Winslow

  3. Nasturtium

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    Nasturtium grows in either bushy or trailing form. Both boast showy, edible flowers. Pluck a brightly colored flower or leaf for your salad, adding not only a dash of color but also a peppery flavor (similar to the taste of watercress). A prolific bloomer, nasturtium is a tender perennial that likes lots of sunshine.

    Dorian Winslow

  4. Eggplant

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    This hybrid is called ‘Millionaire’ eggplant. A sun-loving plant that’s perfect for containers, it produces long, skinny fruit that grows quickly and can be harvested starting in midsummer. In the meantime, enjoy its large, purple-veined leaves and bright purple flowers that yield to black, shiny, delicious eggplants.

    Dorian Winslow

  5. Fig

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    The common fig plant must overwinter indoors (you can keep it in your basement, if it's not too warm). Let it defoliate and go dormant, then transfer the plant to a warmer environment come late March. That gives it a head start on spring. The common fig bears fruit twice per year—in summer and again in early fall. When ripe, it turns red or mahogany.

    Dorian Winslow

  6. Blueberry

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    You can keep a blueberry bush in a large ceramic container outside year-round. In the winter, the plant goes dormant but as temperatures warm in early spring, the plant returns to life. And so long as the blueberry bush is close by, you don’t have to cover it with netting to prevent birds from stealing the fruit (their favorite pastime).

    Dorian Winslow

  7. Cherry Tomatoes

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    After starting a cherry tomato plant from seed, pot it in a container on the deck or patio for a summer's worth of enjoyment. It's going to require full sun and a trellis to support its fruit-bearing weight, but in no time it will grow tall and exhibit lots of yellow flowers that ultimately become plump red beauties. 

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  8. Kale

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    Kale leaves are so interesting-looking. They’re a natural for containers near your kitchen. For added color, mix kale with other leafy edible plants like Swiss chard. It's worth mentioning that kale is considered one of the healthiest vegetables available, rich in sulphur-containing phytonutrients and antioxidant vitamins A, C, and K.

    Dorian Winslow

  9. Lettuces

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    In early spring, you can start lettuce from seed. Alternatively, buy small plugs at the garden center and pot them, mixing varieties to create a salad mix that is both tasty and attractive. As the lettuce plants mature, pinch off leaves for sandwiches and side salads. They produce more leaves quickly, so you'll have a continuous supply of crisp, fresh greens.

    Dorian Winslow

  10. Chives

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    A perennial with pseudo architectural appeal, chives can grow indoors all winter, sending up pretty little ball-shaped blossoms. For best results, however, keep the plant on a sunny windowsill or under a grow light.

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  11. For More...

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    Author's Note: Dorian Winslow is president of Womanswork, a purveyor of gardening gear and supplies. 


    For more summer gardening, consider:


    10 Plants for Where the Sun Don't Shine


    6 Pro Tips for Successful Container Gardening


    10 Common Garden Problems—and How to Fix Them

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