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Garden Planters and Deciding What to Grow in Pots

No Garden? No Problem!

If you don’t have a yard, or only have a small yard, no problem! You can still grow food! Okay, so it may not replace your produce bill at the grocery store, but it will give you pleasure, satisfaction, fresh food, and you may be surprised at

Whether you have a dream of expanding into farming or homesteading, or just want to grow vegetables from your patio, there’s so much you can do and grow, even in small spaces. In fact we have numerous articles on this because it’s an important topic where space or ability to have a larger garden may not be an option.1)Growing Tomatoes in Containers2)How to Build Vertical Wall Gardens

But yes, it does require some planning and experimenting.

Planning Your Container Garden

So what to plant? Of course there are some plants that do better in containers than others, and we’ll get to that, but first some tips to help you determine the best plants for you to grow.3)Garden Planning Guides, Garden Apps and Video Tutorial

Greenhouse Gardening

Unless you’re in a tropical or subtropical climate, the ideal is to have a greenhouse for year round growing, (at least that’s our goal). Sure, these are not cheap, but it’s worth considering how much money this could save you over the years in food costs. And remember, the dollars you pay at the register is just one kind of monetary cost. There are other costs relative to freshness of food and the kinds of pesticides used. When you grow your own, you know where it comes from and what was put on it and into the soil that goes into creating the plant its bounty.

We look at our food as our medicine.

When you look at your food as medicine, as we do, and consider how much is spent—or might be spent—on medications, the cost of a greenhouse can actually be small—or at least reasonable—in comparison. Eating healthy organic food straight from your field, planter or greenhouse is the healthiest food on the planet and contributes to disease prevention for a long healthy life. Healthy food is cheaper than illness and medicine and contributes so much more to your life in health, wellness and longevity.

Healthy food is cheaper than illness and medicine.

Indoor Gardening

This will be so much easier if you have a greenhouse because you’ll have more space to grow in full daylight every day. However, if you don’t yet have one, here’s what you need to consider for growing indoors in your home.

But if you have an area near a window, you can start with one pot. No window? You can use a grow light.4)


  • How much natural light do you have?
  • Is it a southern facing window, (meaning you’ll get the maximum amount of daylight there)?
  • Will you need to supplement with grow lights?


How much space do you have in the areas with access to natural or grow lights? Calculate approximately how many large pots, planters or plant towers you could fit in that area. You might want to sketch it out or just place empty pots or plant trays and plant dollys on wheels, around where the potted plants will go. We rely on the dollys to make moving plants around so much easier, and prefer the ones that can double as a plant saucer, so two benefits in one.

The Reality

Okay, so you’re not going to like this…possibly, but it’s important to tell it like it is. Many newbies—and experienced gardeners alike—get excited about growing all kinds of things. Us included. It’s really easy to have visions of exotic plants… (we have a Meyer’s Lemon Tree as you will see shortly below), avocados, (something we also have), and even a pineapple plant (which we’ve had a few in years past).

Then, reality sets in. The reality is that a dwarf lemon tree may produce for a few months each year, beginning with one or two fruits in the beginning, and possibly increasing to a handful of fruits over the years. That means you need to water, mist and even shower it weekly, during half the year at least, for maybe the equivalent of one bag of lemons. Sigh.

Same thing with the avocados. We have two big avocado plants that have never yet borne fruit. We need to look into why. We thought it was not enough sun. They finally have enough sun this summer but still no sign of fruit.

We’ve also grown a few pineapple plants. It’s super cool to place a dried pineapple top into the soil and watch it grow. As a bromeliad, the pineapple flower is beautiful and then the fruit starts showing up. The problem is that it takes two full years for one pineapple plant to bear one pineapple fruit. Ours was beautiful and incredibly delicious. But… TWO YEARS?!? It just doesn’t make sense to allocate valuable growing space time and effort into something that produces so little.

Pineapple blossom.
The beautiful pineapple flower giving way to the budding pineapple fruit.
A pineapple plant… takes 2 years to fruit and takes up approximately 2 square feet of space.

So if you’re looking to grow toward producing your own food, it’s important to consider what can we grow in containers, indoors or out, that will produce the greatest yield for the time and space.

What Can We Grow for the Greatest Nutritional Yield in the Least Space and Time?

Grow Sprouts

If you have no garden space at all (or if it’s off season), we recommend starting with sprouts. Growing sprouts adds nutritious fresh greens for salads, omelets, sandwiches and even a topping for soups. Sprouts are an easy way to ease into the concept of growing your own food without much investment of time, resources or space.

You can grow sprouts year round for daily access to vital nutrient-rich food.

Why We’re Growing a Dwarf Meyer Lemon Tree in a Pot

Okay, so all that said, we are growing a dwarf citrus tree, in a container. We decided to do this for several reasons.

  • It was a birthday present from my husband (TIP: plant lovers always love plant gifts!)
  • It’s a reminder of our goal to have a greenhouse for year round growing
  • It gives us a chance to practice hands on lemon tree care
  • Starting to grow this now, is like starting seedlings indoors for the garden: it gives us a head start on growing season for more fruit
  • We’re prioritizing food production over ornamentals

Our Dwarf Meyer’s Lemon Tree came with three creamy white blossoms on it that are incredibly fragrant, reminiscent of gardenia or ginger. Now it has sturdy green fruit on it.

GA Meyer Lemon Flower 1
Dwarf Meyer’s Lemon Tree blossoms are wonderfully fragrant, reminiscent of gardenia aroma.

We’ve also written more about them here in this article.5)Meyer Lemon Trees – the Indoor Outdoor Fruit Tree

Baby lemons on a dwarf Meyer’s lemon tree. Meyer's Dwarf Lemon Tree - First lemon! Meyer’s Dwarf Lemon Tree – First lemon! Notice the moisture on the leaves; they love this., Meyer's Lemon Tree, Meyer’s Lemon Tree – one maturing fruit and one tiny fruit (circled in red) which is straining for more light. We have since repositioned it to a sunnier spot in our garden.

We drink lemon water every morning, so having fresh lemons from our own trees will be a real treat. One thing for sure about the potted citrus plants: they thrive in moist air and get parched in the usually dry air of a heated winter house. So if you’re going to keep plants indoors in the winter, they will be much happier with a humidifier misting in their midst.

TIP: place a humidifier near your indoor plants in winter to help keep them happy.

Deciding What to Grow

The first thing is to start simply and small. It’s best to ease into growing so that you don’t spend a lot of money on pots, seeds and plants, only to not have the time or knowledge to keep up with them.

We could do an article on which fruits and vegetables grow best in containers, but that won’t serve you, and here’s why.

If you have a yard garden, the best things for you to grow are obviously the things you buy and use the most. For container gardening, you start with that same premise and branch out from there.

Gardening for Beginners – Simple 3-Step Process for Determining What Foods to Grow

For this exercise, we’ll cast aside the concept of growing the most productive plants. Keeping in mind the paragraphs above that speak to how what you use most often may not be the most practical to grow, let’s consider this process for an ideal scenario: growing what you want to grow and having the space to do so, even if it’s in containers.

What do You Eat?

  1. Identify the top 10 produce items you tend to buy weekly.
  2. Of those ten, which 5 are the most expensive to buy?
  3. Of those five, which are the 1-3 easiest to grow in containers?

Now you have your plants to start with.

For example, our top 10 weekly produce expenditures are on (alphabetically):

  1. avocados
  2. bananas
  3. bell peppers (especially the colored ones)
  4. blueberries
  5. celery
  6. cucumbers
  7. kale
  8. lemons
  9. spring mix
  10. spinach

From the 10 above, the most expensive items based on price and our usage are:

  1. avocados
  2. bell peppers
  3. blueberries
  4. lemons
  5. spring mix

From the 5 above, the 4 easiest to grow in containers are

  1. avocados
  2. bell peppers
  3. lemons
  4. spring mix

So these are the three plants we’ll consider growing year round. Our avocados and lemons are in pots that we’ll bring inside in winter. Bell pepper plants are perennial, so we may experiment with potting a couple of our garden pepper plants as well as planting a new one from seeds and see how they do inside in a pot.

However, these are clearly not the most productive plants we could be growing from our list of five.

The plant that will produce the most over time that we can use weekly is spring mix.

Planters of lettuce mixes, spinach, arugula, kale and other salad greens can keep on producing. These can be consumed as sprouts and microgreens, or matured further into full leaves for salads. We like to have some of both.

Next we cover some of the containers to consider for container gardening.

Advantages of Container Gardening

Container gardening has many advantages. Being that most are portable you can move them to take advantage of microclimates around your home, seeking optimum lighting, as well as moving them out to a sunny balcony, deck or patio by warmer days, then back in at night. Another advantage is there’s less weeding and they can be placed at an easier height to work in. This is especially beneficial for people with back or knee troubles, and other limited mobility challenges. In these situations, we recommended a raised garden bed. It costs more upfront, but can be used year after year, while enjoying easy access to stress-free easy gardening.

Next, we cover several different types of container gardens, and a precautionary tip on what doesn’t work, next.

50 Plant Composting Plant Tower

This composting plant tower is a “Cadillac” of container gardens. It’s not for everyone but there are many cool features. The Plant Tower has the added feature of an inner composting core and compost tea capture tray. The idea is that you will actually be able to incorporate your own vermiculture ecosystem by adding worms right into this planter set up.

So you have the composting, growing, and “tea” fertilizer all built into one unit. (Notice the “tea” collection tray at the bottom for pulling out and using in your garden or other houseplants as well as the ones in this tower garden).

I thought it was already on casters, but it looks like you’d have to place it on your own plant dolly.

Still, we estimate that as much as we consume salad greens, this will pay for itself in 3-4 months in savings from buying salad greens.

However… we have mixed reviews on our Nancy Jane Stacking Planter tower, below, so if you’re considering any kind of vertical tower planter, this is important information.

A World of Caution on Plant Towers

Tower planters need high sun or lots of rotation. For this reason, we’ve found they work better as outdoor planters—rotation is still needed—as there will always be some plants that are in the shadow of the tower… excepting perhaps at high noon.

So when you plant, if you’re planting something like lettuce, kale, and spinach, place these on the same side of the planter as these can take more shade than some of the others.

Plant towers indoors can also work with grow lights in winter, just make sure they’re overhead grow lights.

A few tweaks and plant towers can be awesome. When space is an issue, grow up! ?


Nancy Janes Stacking Planters

We tested a smaller and much more economical container garden with just 9 spaces for our microgreens for salads. It started out well but did not continue growing strong indoors with just window light. Then in spring we moved it outside, but again, the “shadowing effect” of the height of the tower just didn’t do as well as a flat bed area, in our experience. Kale did the best of the microgreens we tried.

Here’s an image of the kind of 3-tiered, 9-pot Nancy Janes Stacking Planters. They also have a taller one that’s 5-tiered with 15 pots.

We’re not going to hang ours but you could. This should be a good container for growing strawberries.


Want to Grow More Food in Containers?

If you decide you want to grow unusual container plants anyway, this article has a list of popular ones you can get as dwarf trees, but you will need to have indoor space for them during the winter, unless you live in an area that doesn’t get cold.6)

For a list of vegetables you can grow in containers organized by pot size, you may find this article on growing vegetables in containers useful:

We hope you found this helpful. Please share your comments, questions and garden photos on the Gardens All Facebook Page and feel free to drop us a line.

We are an online gardening publication sharing all things garden related! Including urban farming, family gardening, homesteading, gardening for profits, and more. We’re all about growth!

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