Short on bed space or just need some extra flexibility? These unexpected veggies, fruits, herbs, and ornamentals thrive in pots and barrels -- in your yard, on your balcony, and beyond. Some plants even flower better when they are (believe it or not!) root-bound.

By The Horticult
March 15, 2016
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Some species of fruiting fig trees flourish in pots. When placed on a sunny windowsill or outside in warm weather, miniatures like this Ficus carica 'Petite Negra' (available at Logee's) will produce fruits at less than a foot tall. Be sure to keep in mind that plants in containers need water more often than plants in the ground.

Water Lilies

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Patios can have ponds, too. Create a water garden in a half whiskey barrel, and grow compact water lilies like this Nymphaea 'Midnight,' whose pint-size pads and blossoms create instant interest.

Create a Container Garden


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You might expect berry plants to burst out of their confines with Hulk-like power. But with the right variety and the right amount of sun (ideally six or more hours a day), you can grow blueberries, strawberries, or raspberries on your porch, balcony, or patio. Mulberry trees also make great container plants. BrazelBerries are well known for their planter-friendly hybrids, like this Pink Icing blueberry.

Image: BrazelBerries

Sweet Potatoes

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When it comes to ultra-flavorful sweet potatoes, pots aren't just for cooking. Gardening Know How has an excellent tutorial on growing these beloved root veggies in containers. Plant a bush variety (distinguished by shorter vines) in sandy, well-draining soil amended with compost, making sure to space slips 12 inches apart in a clay pot or whiskey barrel with drainage holes. Another plus? The vines' showy foliage!

Image: The Horticult



Add some crunch to that potato salad with fresh celery (Apium graveolens), whose shallow root system can tolerate pots as small as 8 inches. Place in bright, indirect light, and be sure to keep the soil moist. If you're growing in an unglazed terra-cotta pot, remember that these containers dry out faster than glazed varieties.

Pro tip: Don't discard your celery leaves -- they taste fabulous in pesto!


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Take your garden on a beer crawl. Hops' rhizomes can be grown in a pot at least 20 inches in diameter or in a barrel with several drainage holes. Place in full to part sun, and use potting soil amended with perlite. Train vines to a trellis, and be sure to water and fertilize diligently.

Image: The Horticult

Epiphyllums (aka Orchid Cactus)

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These arresting rainforest cacti (that's right, cacti in the rainforest!) actually bloom better when they're root-bound. True to their succulent status, epiphyllums have shallow root systems, so they can be planted closely together in hanging or elevated containers. Give the plants bright, filtered light, plus soil and pots with good drainage. Keep soil moist while taking care not to overwater.

Also, buds fall off easily. So when your plant is approaching bloom time, be sure not to move it!

Meyer Lemon

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This citrus isn't just a food-lover's favorite, it's also a plant that can be grown in containers. Place your Meyer lemon plant (whose shrubby habit can be pruned into a tree form) in a large pot with good drainage. Keep in full sun. Maintain moisture and be sure to bring inside if temperatures dip below 50 degrees.

Meanwhile, you can find the Meyer lemon tree of your dreams at Brighter Blooms.

Japanese Maples

japanese maple tree

Many Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) are slow growers that do well as container plants. Place your tree in a large container with loam-base compost to ensure good drainage, and feed in spring and early summer. Repotting might be necessary every few years; do so in mid-spring or very early autumn.

Ornamental Grasses

Potted Grasses

Pulled up your lawn in the name of #droughttolerant gardening? Potted ornamental grasses -- like the purple fountaingrass (Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum') shown here -- can act like punctuation marks in your garden or create an unexpected meadowy mood on your balcony. It's a great way to bring blades of grass to eye level while maintaining a clean look.

Best Container Garden Plans


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