10 Container Gardening Tips and Top Varieties for Small Spaces

A sunny corner, a pot of good soil, and seeds is all you need to grow your own dinner. Here are our best tips for growing a productive container garden.


For landless green-thumbs, hungry urban gardeners, or those whose yards double as deer playgrounds: container gardening is the way to grow. We offer a multitude of varieties that thrive in pots on sunny windowsills and porches. Meet our top picks of petite plants that pack a punch, then read on to learn our best tips for container gardening:

1. Organic Metta Lettuce.

Metta Lettuce MixNearly all the greens in our catalog will grow well in containers, but Metta Lettuce Mix will maximize the salad offerings of a small space. This mix of colors and textures is meant for baby leaf lettuce and lends itself perfectly to multiple cuttings and succession sowing all season long.

2. Organic Blue Jade Dwarf Sweet Corn. 

blue jade

We are smitten with Blue Jade Dwarf Sweet Corn! Not only is this darling dwarf variety small enough for container planting and produces 2-3 ears (about half the size of a standard sweet corn) per plant, but - best of all - it’s the tastiest sweet corn we’ve ever tried.

3. Organic Basil Bouquet. 

basil bouquet

All culinary herbs we offer will thrive in pots (although some perennials may need to be protected over winter) and the Basil Bouquet is an especially great mix to start your container herb garden. The 5 diverse basils in this seed mix will please all the senses, providing 1) powerful cooking herbs, 2) garden aromatherapy, 3) a feast for the pollinators, 4) and unique, fragrant cutting flowers.

4. Organic Matchbox Pepper.

This compact bushy pepper is terrific for containers! Its tiny, spicy fruits in greens, yellows, and reds completely cover the sprawling, low-growing plants, which have deep green, semi-glossy leaves. It only takes one match to light a fire: just one of these little peppers will lend a fruity and flavorful heat to any dish.

5. Mexican Sour Gherkins


When space is limited, these itty bitty bite-size cucumbers offer a vertical solution. With a simple trellis, Mexican Sour Gherkins will grow up as sprawling, small-leaved vines, then fill with unique refreshing fruits that are both sweet and tangy.

6. Organic Tiny Tim Tomato.

Tiny Tim Tomato is happiest in containers. Each petite plant produces copious quantities of cherry-sized sweet-tart-tangy fruits. The tiny one-inch, red tomatoes are ready early and excel in sunny window boxes, picnic table centerpieces, and pots on city stoops.

7. Organic Tokyo Market Turnip.

This sweet, crunchy, fast-growing turnip isn’t afraid of the cold nor the heat. Perfect for fresh snacking and producing harvestable greens in less than a month, this little turnip can be sown all season long. Sprinkle seeds wherever you have a patch of open soil in between other container plantings.

8. Organic Tom Thumb Peas.

Bred specifically for container culture, these petite peas need no trellis as they don't get taller than a foot before growing tiny, sweet shelling pods. 

9. Glorious Gleam Nasturtiums.


Glorious Gleam Nasturtiums make smart use of a small space. They will trail down the side of a container and along the ground, producing beautiful and edible flowers along the way. 

10. Organic Teddy Bear Sunflower.

Teddy Bear Sunflower Plant 2

This sunflower is as cute and diminutive as its namesake: it grows plush golden pillow-like blooms at the end of stubby stems no taller than two feet. 

10 Container Gardening Tips

Don't limit yourself to the varieties above! Gardening is about experimenting. We've heard from people growing so many unconventional varieties successfully in containers. Here's how:



1. The bigger the plant, the bigger the pot. Choose larger containers for varieties that will grow tall, bushy, or bear heavy fruit.

2. More days to maturity, more room to grow. Crops that take a long time to get ready for harvest (like tomatoes or winter squash) or ones that will be harvested many times in a season (like kale or perennial herbs) need bigger pots.

3. No crowding. You can plant a bit closer than normal when growing in a pot, but overcrowding leads to weak, spindly plants. One tomato plant in a big pot will produce more tomatoes than 4 tomato plants in the same pot.


4. Pots are thirsty. They dry out quickly. Try not to let your container garden dry out completely between watering, but don’t water so much that plants are constantly saturated (this can cause rot and mold) - sticking to a watering schedule helps. 

5. Have drainage. Many containers come with built-in drainage: holes in the bottom, or a permeable materials (like our Root Pouches). 


6. Container plants need lots of sun too! If you have part-shade, stick to herbs and greens.

7. Rooftops can be windy. If growing in containers on the roof, consider setting up some kind of windbreak, like lattice, that won’t cast shade and place pots close together so they brace against each other. 


8. Use a light potting mix, but be sure to mix in nutrient rich compost.

9. Fruiting plants (like tomatoes, melons) need more soil and more nutrients than greens and herbs.


10. Succession sow. To get the most food out of a limited space, plant seeds in staggered succession. Learn more how to make a succession plan for endless summer salads here. Be sure to add compost and nutrients between sowings to keep the soil healthy and productive. 

Blog post continues below!

This blog is provided by the Hudson Valley Seed Library, a small group of dedicated growers and plant lovers working to provide good seed to gardeners and small farmers. Your purchases support our work. Thanks!

Matchbox Pepper

Matchbox Pepper

Tiny, spicy peppers are beautiful on the bush and dried.

3 Gallon Recycled Fabric Planter with Handles

3 Gallon Recycled Fabric Planter with Handles

Root Pouch Planter with Handles

Little Gem Lettuce Mix

Little Gem Lettuce Mix

Glimmering Lettuces Cute Enough to Eat

5 Gallon Recycled Fabric Planter with Handles

5 Gallon Recycled Fabric Planter with Handles

Root Pouch Planter with Handles

16 thoughts on “10 Container Gardening Tips and Top Varieties for Small Spaces ”

  • kay

    it is wonderful to think of gardening again. I am very interested in container gardening since my knees are not what they used to be. so I am looking around for some large inexpensive containers, any ideas?

    • SANDIE


      • rebecca

        I use the inner tub from dish washers. I strip off the case and most other parts,then block off major holes
        with left over parts. Then take the inner door liner and cut it to fit inside the tub. Then I build up support
        to about half way up in the tub and lay the door liner on it. I use cinder blocks for the support. Then fill any gaps with old newspaper and add your soil.
        I have 14 of these and raise tomatoes ,pole beans squash peppers sweet potatos ,and snap peas.

        • Lena Vaughan
          Lena Vaughan 01/12/2017 at 5:20 am

          I used pickle buckets from restaurants. They are very sturdy,have a handle and a nice lid. Any restaurant that does much business at all goes thru at least I a week and are glad to get rid of them.

  • Ken

    Sounds like a good solution to keep you gardening! Here's a great resource for container gardening ideas. Check our the gallery for container ideas- everything from juice boxes to kiddie pools: http://containergardening.about.com/

  • Barbara

    Kay, try local bakeries and diners for 5 gallon food-grade plastic containers. Drill a few holes in the bottom for drainage and I would recommend raising them up on pot feet or bricks to allow the water to freely flow out. You'll have large containers at very little or no cost.

  • Kerry

    Thanks for the shout out Ken! You really can grow a farm's worth of food in containers particularly a good method of growing if you have space issues or bad soil. I love grow boxes (Earthboxes are my favorite) and you can also make similar self-watering containers yourself. A less expensive and really effective way to grow is in straw bales (http://containergardening.about.com/od/vegetablesandherbs/ss/Straw_Bale_Gardening.htm).

    I totally loved your calendula last summer and all of your lettuces completely rocked. I want to try them all!

    • ken

      Thanks Kerry! Let me know if there are any of our varieties you want to trial in pots for us this year. Also, I'd love to see any pics you have of our seeds growing in your containers.

  • Ned

    Actually, adding gravel or sand to the bottom of a container is a bad idea, since it may push the "perched water table" up into the root zone. (The PWT is the horizontal wet zone in the pot where gravity pulls down & the water retention properties of the medium pulls up. It is dependent upon uniformity of particle size in the pot.) If you have huge pots, adding 1/4 to 1/3 of mulch to the bottom can be ok to save on potting soil, but for most pots the adding of pot shards or whatever on the bottom for "drainage" is a myth. And a detrimental one at that. If the PWT is hovering at the root zone, (and not below) the plant will either suffocate, or its roots will rot.

    • ken

      Thanks for the info. I had not heard that before and we've never had problems adding a single layer of gravel at the bottom. I'll make a note in the blog post for people to read your comment.

  • Kerry

    Hey Ken - Your newsletter actually inspired me to write a short piece about why you shouldn't put gravel in the bottoms of containers. The physics is a little beyond my pay grade, but there have been studies that have shown that it's a bad idea. I'm not sure why it's still the conventional wisdom.

    Here's the piece:

    So glad you put the tip about not crowding tomatoes. I don't get why people grow other things in their tomato pots. They are so difficult to keep hydrated and other plants in the same container will just make it harder to keep their moisture supply even - which is one of the the most important keys to growing tomatoes in containers.

  • Mitch

    Last year, I started composting my organic wastes. I want to use it on my container garden. What would the proportion be? Thanks Mitch

  • [...] Tips For Container Gardening [...]

  • Exotic Plant Nursery Sussex

    hey thanks for share this wonderful tips, nice post.

  • Rosetta Bowen

    Great post! Some great ideas for my sister. She has a lovely balcony that intends to turn into a small garden by adding few containers. Thank you for these lovely suggestions! Happy gardening!

  • Tiria

    I keep this article as a link on my desktop when I need some inspiration and a reminder that spring will come!


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