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Top 10 crops for pots

Strawberry 'Montana' in a container from Thompson & Morgan

Strawberry 'Montana' looks fantastic and grows well in containers
Image: Strawberry 'Montana' from Thompson & Morgan

Turn your courtyard or balcony into a productive space by growing your favourite vegetable and fruit plants in containers. Even without a huge garden, it’s easier to savour the flavour of healthy, home grown fruit and veg than you might think. Here’s what you need to consider, along with ten crops that thrive in containers, window boxes and hanging baskets. 

Planning a container garden

Mint growing in container

Growing perennial crops like mint ensures years of edible leaves
Image: Paul Maguire/Shutterstock

When you’re planning your container garden, here are some of the most important things to bear in mind:

  • Size. Go for compact crops that produce good yields. 
  • Speed. Fast-growing crops like salad leaves and radishes give a quick return so you can keep replanting your container through the year. Slow-growing crops are also worthwhile, especially pricey asparagus, but bear in mind the crowns take several years to establish.
  • Cost. Think about the expensive fruit and veg you regularly buy from the supermarket. Costly things like blueberries can be grown cheaply in containers.
  • Maintenance. Hardy perennials that fruit once a year may require less maintenance than quick return annual crops. Consider how much time you have for watering, feeding and planting. 

Which fruit and vegetables can I grow in containers?

Here are some of the best fruit and veg to try growing in containers on your patio, courtyard or balcony:

1. Potatoes

Potato 'Swift' from T&M

Go for a first early variety like potato 'Swift' for patio bags
Image: Potato 'Swift' from Thompson & Morgan

Humble spuds are easy to grow in containers. Early and second early potatoes are ideally suited, producing lots of small, tender, ‘new’ potatoes. If storage is an issue, you don’t even need solid containers. Plant the tubers in reusable patio bags between March and May, and harvest them after just 10 to 13 weeks. Read our article on how to grow potatoes in bags for specific tips and growing advice.

2. Peas

Pea 'Purple Magnolia' from T&M

Tasty and ornamental purple peas look good on patios
Image: Pea 'Purple Magnolia' from Thompson & Morgan

Peas are quick-growing and suited to cool conditions. If you sow your pea seeds in March, you can start harvesting crops from early summer. Compact shelling pea ‘Kelvedon Wonder’ reaches just 50cm tall and is perfect for containers. Or try the purple Mangetout 'Shiraz' for its attractive and anthocyanin rich pods. You’ll need to support your peas with short bamboo canes and pick the juicy pods regularly to encourage more to grow. 

3. Tomatoes

Tomato 'Red Profusion' from T&M

Tomato 'Red Profusion' is a fantastic container variety
Image: Tomato 'Red Profusion' from Thompson & Morgan

Tomato plants like ‘Tumbling Tom Red’ and ‘Red Profusion’ were bred to be small, low-maintenance and high yielding. These tasty cherry varieties trail happily from containers until they ripen in late summer. Cordon plants can also be grown in containers, but will need a support cane. Try a vigorous grafted tomato plant like ‘Gardeners Delight’ for disease resistance, or a large salad type like tomato ‘Crimson Crush’. Read our article on how to grow tomatoes for more advice. 

4. Salad Leaves

Lettuce Leaves Crunchy Blend from T&M

Leaf seeds give you a quick return
Image: Lettuce Leaves Crunchy Blend from Thompson & Morgan

Salad seeds are super quick croppers, and do well in shaded containers. Choose 'cut and come again' blends like ‘Colourfully Mild Mix’ that are ready within 25 days of sowing. Salad leaf ‘Four Colour Mizuma Mixed’ adds a peppery heat to salads. Easy to grow, salad leaves can be direct sown in almost any container including margarine tubs and old washing up bowls, provided you add drainage holes.

5. Courgette

Courgette 'All Green Bush' from T&M

Harvest courgette 'All Green Bush' when the fruits are small and tender
Image: Courgette 'All Green Bush' from Thompson & Morgan

Courgettes are prolific croppers and thrive in containers. Some grow larger than others, so choose a compact variety like 'Midnight' to grow in pots. Courgette plants need a sunny position and like having their roots moist, especially during fruiting. Try growing the round, ball-like courgette 'Eclipse' or brightly coloured yellow courgette ‘Orelia’ for something a little different.

6. Strawberries

Strawberry 'Just Add Cream' from T&M

Strawberries can be grown in hanging baskets
Image: Strawberry 'Just Add Cream' from Thompson & Morgan

Strawberry plants look great in hanging baskets or containers. Go for an everbearing variety like ‘Anais’ which produces fruit from June through to September, or Strawberry ‘Just Add Cream’ which has beautiful pink flowers and fragrant, sweet fruits. Hardy perennials, strawberry plants keep producing a new crop every summer. For more information, read our full article on growing berries in pots and containers.

7. Patio fruit trees

Fig 'Little Miss Figgy' from T&M

Choose a large container for your fig 'Little Miss Figgy'
Image: Fig 'Little Miss Figgy' from Thompson & Morgan

Patio fruit trees are compact varieties that have been skillfully grafted onto dwarf rootstock to limit their size. Try a self-fertile cherry ‘Hartland’ for sweet dessert fruits, or enjoy the structural foliage of fig ‘Little Miss Figgy’ which can produce two crops a year. If you only have space for one container tree, then try a family apple or pear tree - both have three different varieties grafted onto the main stem. For more, read our article on the best fruit trees for small gardens.

8. Runner beans and climbing beans

Runner bean 'Hestia' from T&M

Dwarf runner bean 'Hestia' doesn't need any support
Image: Runner bean 'Hestia' from Thompson & Morgan

Runner bean and climbing bean plants are fantastic space savers in a small garden and ideal for containers. They climb rampantly up bamboo canes or trellis, making eye-catching vertical displays. Climbing bean ‘Cobra’ and climbing bean 'Colourful Collection' grow to 1.8m and produce stringless crunchy beans from September into autumn. If you want something a little more compact, dwarf runner bean ‘Hestia’ grows to 45cm tall and requires no support. 

9. Herbs

Parsley (flat leaved) from T&M

Parsley is a versatile herb
Image: Parsley (flat leaved) from Thompson & Morgan

Tender herbs like basil are best placed in a sunny spot outdoors during the summer months, while hardy perennial herbs like mint and thyme will return year after year and thrive in partial shade. Plant up containers with the herbs you use the most. For more information about growing herbs, both annual and perennial, read our comprehensive article.

10. Chilli peppers

Chilli pepper 'Mamba Red' from T&M

Chilli pepper 'Mamba Red' is a great colourful patio plant
Image: Chilli pepper 'Mamba Red' from Thompson & Morgan

Whether you prefer them very mild or extremely spicy, there’s a chilli plant for every palate. And if you can give them a sunny spot, they absolutely thrive in containers. Just one plant, like the super hot ‘Carolina Reaper’, produces vast numbers of fiery fruits. For more information, read our article on how to grow chilli peppers from seed, including tips for harvesting and storing your pods.

We hope we’ve inspired you to fill your outdoor space with pots of fruits and vegetables. Share your container garden with us using the #YourTMGarden on Twitter or Instagram. If you want ornamental plants to plant in your pots and containers alongside your edibles, head to our patio hub page.

Sue Sanderson T&M horticulturalist

Written by: Sue Sanderson

Plants and gardens have always been a big part of my life. I can remember helping my Dad to prick out seedlings, even before I could see over the top of the potting bench. As an adult, I trained at Writtle College where I received my degree, BSc. (Hons) Horticulture. After working in a specialist plantsman's nursery, and later, as a consulting arboriculturalist, I joined Thompson & Morgan in 2008. Initially looking after the grounds and coordinating the plant trials, I now support the web team offering horticultural advice online.

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