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For many people living in small spaces, container gardening is your only option if you would like to grow your own food. Not having access to ground soil limits your choices somewhat, but probably not as much as you might think. You can still grow many flowers, herbs, fruits, and vegetables in pots on your balcony, though you might need to provide them a bit more attention and car then if you had planted them in the earth.

Planning a container garden

Rainbow chard seedlings [CC License via Lori Hutchinson]

Rainbow chard seedlings [CC License via Lori Hutchinson]

Your two primary concerns when planning what to grow should be:

  • How often you’ll be able to water your plants (some plants will require once or twice daily watering)
  • What kind and how much sunlight your balcony or window gets.

In general, the more sunlight you receive, the more options you have for what to plant. You can always make shade if it’s too sunny; you can’t create more sunshine. If you get fewer than six hours of sunlight daily, you will probably need to supplement your garden with grow lights in order to help your plants thrive.

Ideal plants for balcony gardens

Where there’s a will, there’s a way, but some vegetables and fruits are significantly easier to grow within the limitations of container gardens. If there is a fruit or vegetable not on the list below, it can probably still be grown, but you must be ready to make a much bigger commitment (which may involve specialty potting soils, regular application of fertilizer, testing the soil’s pH levels, etc.). We would advise at least beginning with the plants of least resistance.

Best container vegetables

Tiny growing tomatoes [CC License via idovermani]

Tiny growing tomatoes [CC License via idovermani]

Root vegetables such as carrotsonions, and garlic, and fruiting vegetables such as eggplants, peppers, and broccoli, are some of the easiest vegetables to grow on your balcony. Root crops need medium amounts of sun to thrive; above-ground vegetables generally need as much full sunlight as possible.
In particular, tomatoes (which are technically a fruit, but we’re calling them a vegetable here) are one of the most useful and most popular of the container-grown vegetables. They are fairly adaptable but will die quickly in cold weather, so be prepared to bring them inside or otherwise protect them if the weather gets unseasonably cool.

Best container fruits

Fruits in general are a little more difficult to grow in containers. Many fruits grow on trees, which would take up too much space on a balcony to be practical, and many others take years, or even decades, to produce edible fruit. These two restrictions eliminate certain fruits from our list, but there are dwarf versions of many popular fruit trees available for sale that are also mature enough to produce fruit.

Dwarf citrus tree [CC License via Chiot's Run]

Dwarf citrus tree [CC License via Chiot’s Run]

Dwarf lemon, lime, and orange trees are among the most popular miniature fruit trees, but be warned that they can take many months to produce fruit. You will also need a winter survival plan for them if your climate has cold winters. You will need to mulch your trees to protect their roots at the very least, and you may need to clear a space in your home to bring them inside if the temperature drops too low.

Apart from fruit trees, strawberries are by far one of the most popular container-grown fruits. They need soil with a lot of organic material in it, lots of fertilizer, and continual watering through a well-drained container.

With an understanding of each plant’s needs and a willingness to work in your garden regularly, you can produce fruits and vegetables that may be smaller than those you would find in a grocery store, but they will be just as high, if not higher, than a store’s quality.

If you’re also interested in growing garden herbs, check out our post about the best types of herbs to grow in containers.

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top photo: CC License via suzettesuzette
Best plants to grow indoors from Greatist | Compilation of tomato container gardening tips from Thrifty Fun | Tips for growing strawberries in pots in this "How I Did It" article | Container gardening in general: this Gardening Guides article.

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