10 Edible Plants You Can Grow in the Smallest Outdoor Spaces (or Even a Windowsill)
If you’ve gotten into houseplants in the past year, you might be looking to expand your newfound green thumb skills into outdoor growing — especially outdoor growing of edible plants (an extra satisfying rendition of “I grew this”). But it can feel intimidating! For one, you obviously have a lot less control over the climate outside than inside. Plus, scrolling through Pinterest and Instagram, it can feel like you need a whole acre of land to make your outdoor plant parent dreams come true.
Here’s the truth, though: You can do a lot of gardening in just a little space. In fact, there are plenty of outdoor edible plants that need only a modestly sized container to get growing. You just have to know what to look for. Here, some top picks for the growing season that will allow you to harvest your bounty from a space as small as a windowsill.
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Note: For all the options below, you’ll want to use a well-draining, high-quality potting mix rather than garden soil, which get too compacted and retain too much moisture. Make sure to also get a pot that provides drainage.
Some tomato plants can get unwieldy, so it’s important to read tags carefully. Indeterminate tomatoes will grow huge vines that can stretch to 10 or 15 feet — not ideal for small spaces! Instead, look for determinate tomatoes, which stay more compact and bushy. Better yet, go for tomatoes that specify they’re container-friendly. These will be smaller in size, so you won’t have to prune back a jungle, but will still yield a sizable harvest.
For a slicer tomato, try this patio-friendly tomato plant from Ferry-Morse.
If you want something smaller for snacking, try Burpee’s Baby Boomer cherry tomato variety.
And if you have barely any room at all, PanAmerican Seed’s Kitchen Mini tomato plant is petite enough to fit on a tabletop or windowsill.
From not-so-spicy jalapeños to keep-a-bottle-of-milk-close-by scorchers, hot peppers are a great candidate for container gardening since they stay relatively compact.
If space is extra tight, try a hanging variety like Ball Seed’s Pot-a-Peno, pictured above. You’ll be able to plant it in a hanging basket so it takes up no floor or table space. Another hanging basket option: the Cheyenne pepper from Ferry-Morse.
Many sweet pepper plants, such as bell peppers, can become enormous, with some reaching 6 feet in height. Look for those that note they are container-friendly so that they don’t overtake your patio or balcony.
This sweet pepper plant from Ferry-Morse will only grow about two feet tall, making it a fit for container gardening — and the teeny peppers it produces emerge earlier than bell peppers and are ready to eat at any stage of ripeness (great if you’re impatient).
If you’ve seen strawberry plants in person, it was likely in a giant field where the bushy plants stretched across rows. But container-friendly varieties can stay nice and compact, and are even candidates for hanging pots (in case you have more overhead space than floor space available).
New varieties from Bushel and Berry are designed for hanging pots, with beautiful pink, red, and white blossoms that make them pretty to look at even before they yield a harvest.
Herbs can deal with tiny spaces without issue — even as small as a window box or windowsill if that’s all you have room for. Since herbs often have different light and moisture requirements, small pots are especially helpful, since they’ll allow you to control care of each of your plants. Here are some great options for containers:
- Mint: It’s super easy to grow, and almost impossible to kill. (Really: Experts advise never planting this directly in the ground because it’s prone to take over.) Varieties range from classic peppermint to chocolate mint and even pineapple mint and orange mint for a bit of zing.
- Thyme: This plant is beginner-friendly, and can even survive the winter if you live in the southern US. Lemon thyme is a versatile variety that looks pretty in a pot, too.
- Basil: Genovese and Italian basils are your best bet if you love pesto and pizza; for Thai dishes, look for Thai basil. This one from PanAmerican Seed is a tower variety that grows taller rather than wider — meaning it requires relatively little square footage but takes advantage of vertical space to give you lots more edible goodness.
- Cilantro: If you feel like your store-bought cilantro wilts before you can use it all up, a cilantro plant is a great option for container growing. The Cruiser varietal from Ferry-Morse is a great option due to its high yield and resistance to bolting (going to seed).
Dwarf varieties will stay small enough for container gardening, and can be trimmed back if they start to grow wild. The roots of blackberries are also perennial in many zones, meaning you’ll see this plant return again after winter.
If you’re a berry lover, try this variety from Bushel and Berry, which can produce two harvests per season.
Lettuce is easy to grow from seed, but generally prefers cool weather to summer heat. That’s good news if you’d like to do a little balcony gardening but get a late start — you’ll be able to plant this veggie as a fall crop (and next year, early spring). Seeds are readily available and super affordable. Look for loose-leaf blends like this one from Burpee, which tend to fare better in containers than head lettuces. Since you can easily grow lettuce from seed without having to start seeds indoors, it’s a super affordable plant to add to your roster at less than $10 for 1000 seeds.