Kitchen Garden Plants: Vegetables for Containers and Small Spaces

Which vegetables can be grown in a kitchen garden or potager?

March 27, 2019
Cherry Tomatoes

‘Baby Boomer’ Cherry Tomatoes

Burpee Seeds

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Kitchen gardens—grown for eating and cooking—are often grown in smaller spaces and containers. So, keep an eye out for plants bred for small spaces! Here is a short list, including cherry tomatoes, Little Gem lettuce, peppers, eggplant, and more.

Many dwarf-sized plants bear diminutive fruit as well but will make up for the smaller size in the great quantity they produce, while others manage to bear full-sized fruits on a much smaller scale than normal plants. Either way you will enjoy a good harvest while saving precious garden space.

What is a Kitchen Garden

A kitchen garden is simply a space dedicated to growing edible plants that you’ll use in the kitchen! Kitchen gardens are also known as potager gardens, which comes from the French term for this style of garden, jardin potagerLearn more about kitchen gardens.

Before you pick out your plants, make sure your garden site receives plenty of sun and that your soil drains nicely (without pooling after rain). If the soil doesn’t drain well, even after you add compost and organic amendments, consider raised beds.

Finally, if you lack a gardening space, starting a kitchen garden in containers on a patio, balcony, or rooftop works well. Some of us just prefer container gardening!

Kitchen Garden Plants

Cherry Tomatoes

Cherry tomatoes are a must-have for your small-space garden. These tiny treasures can be grown one plant per 12-inch pot or in hanging baskets.

  • How about this for a name? ‘Baby Boomer’ cherry tomatoes are perfect for the patio. Wildly prolific, each determinate bush unleashes a bumper crop of 300 one-inch one-ounce little sweeties bursting with great big flavor. GROWING TIP: Plants call for caging.
  • ‘Patio Choice’ (see below image) gives you the choice of red or yellow fruiting plants. Yellow fruits are 1 inch across and the plants are 18 inches tall. Red fruits are a little larger.

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‘Patio Choice’ Yellow Cherry Tomatoes

  • ‘Sweet ‘n’ Neat’ bears clusters of 1-inch red cherry tomatoes on a plant that grows to be only 10 inches tall. Starts bearing fruit in only 48 days from transplanting.
  • For an even larger cherry, try ‘Totem’. Its red fruits are 2 ½ inches across and each 18- to 30-inch tall plant can bear up to 10 lbs. of them!

Bush Tomato Varieties

You are not restricted to growing only cherry-size tomatoes. There are plenty of bush varieties that don’t take up a lot of room but still bear large fruits. Plant one in a 5-gallon or larger pot.

  • ‘Atlas’ is a hybrid beefsteak that grows only 2 to 3 feet tall but bears gorgeous 1-pound fruits 65 days from transplanting. It is good for container growing or put it right in the ground. Give it a wire cage for support and stand back!
  • Look for anything with “bush” in its name. We grow ‘Bush Blue Ribbon’, ‘Bush Early Girl’ and ‘Bush Goliath’ in large nursery pots every year, positioning them around the edge of the driveway to take advantage of the day-long sun there. All three grow to a manageable size that can be corralled in a regular tomato cage and bear early, medium-sized tomatoes.

Lettuce

Lettuce is the most practical container plant. They don’t need a lot of root space so a 6- to 8-inch deep pot works great or plant them around the edge of a larger container, leaving room in the middle for a pepper or tomato. Leaf lettuces can be harvested as a cut-and-come-again crop by snipping off the outer leaves as needed and letting the rest of the plant continue to grow.

Choose a variety of colors and textures for an interesting salad mix.

  • If you want to harvest whole heads, look for ‘Little Gem’, a mini-romaine that forms a single-serving sized 4-inch wide head in only 35 days. The small green heads are perfect for individual salads, and its firm upright habit makes it great for sandwiches as well. 

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‘Little Gem’ Lettuce

Eggplant

Eggplant is not only a delicious edible, but a pretty plant as well, with its purple flowers and velvety leaves. Plant one in a 2-gallon pot and grow it right out front alongside the ornamentals.

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‘Patio Baby’ Eggplant

  • ‘Patio Baby’ grows 18 to 24 inches tall and forms lots of lovely little 2- to 3-inch long tender purple fruits in 50 days.
  • ‘Fairy Tale’ has larger 2-inch wide by 4-inch long fruits that are lavender with white stripes. Forming clusters of 4-6 fruits in 50 days, they are as eye-catching as they are delicious. The plants reach between 18 and 24 inches tall.

Peppers

Whether you like your peppers hot or sweet, they make great container plants. Use any 8-inch or deeper pots you have, one plant per 2 gallons of soil.

  • ‘Tangerine Dream’ bears 3-inch long, sweet orange peppers on an 18-inch tall plant in 70 days. We grew this one last year for the first time and loved its flavor.
  • ‘Mini-Belle Mix’ offers multicolored little 1¼ by 1¼ inch sweet bell peppers that ripen to red, orange, or yellow in 60 days. Plants are only 24 inches tall.
  • ‘Sweet Heat’ bears mildly spicy 3- to 4-inch long fruits on a 12-inch tall plant in 56 days.
  • ‘Thai Hot’ is as pretty as it is prolific, dripping with bright red 3-inch long HOT peppers. The plants are only 16 inches tall and start to bear fruit in only 40 days.

Carrots

Who knew you could grow carrots in a container? Use a very deep one, 12 inches or more, if you are planning on long roots otherwise try these true baby carrots. They’ll need a 6- to 8-inch deep pot. (Once you have mastered carrots, give other root crops like radishes and beets a go.)

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‘Thumbelina’ carrots need no peeling.

  • ‘Adelaide’ grows only 3 to 4 inches long in 50 days.
  • ‘Little Finger’ reaches 3 to 5 inches long in 62 days.
  • ‘Parisian Market’ and ‘Thumbelina’ form round carrots in 50 to 70 days.

Squash and Cucumbers

Squash and cukes are usually out of the question for a small garden, but these varieties have been bred to stay bushy and not take over. Plant one each in a 5-gallon or larger container and encourage the vining types to grow up a trellis.

  • ‘Butterbaby’ is a mini butternut squash that bears 1- to 1½-lb. tan fruits on short vines in 100 days. Since the single-serving-size fruits are so lightweight, the vines can be grown on a trellis to save room.
  • ‘Honey Bear’ acorn squash is another small, single-serving-size winter squash that weighs only 1 to 1 ¼ lbs. each. The plants are compact and bushy and bear in 85 days.
  • ‘Pick-A-Bushel’ is a semi-bush cucumber with 2-foot long vines that can be encouraged to climb a trellis. Each plant bears between 18 and 20 3- to 5-inch pickling cukes in 50 days.

For slicing cucumbers, look for old standbys like:

  • ‘Spacemaster’ was developed at Cornell in 1980 and is still popular with home gardeners today. It bears 7- to 8-inch long cukes on 3-foot vines in 60 days.
  • ‘Salad Bush’ the 1998 AAS winning cuke bears 8-inch tender-skinned fruits on 24-inch vines.
  • ‘Fanfare’ is a 1994 AAS winner that bears 9-inch long cukes on 24- to 30-inch long vines in 63 days.

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‘Salad Bush’ cucumbers take up little space when grown in a container with a trellis.

These are just a few of the dwarf delights available for your kitchen garden this year. Don’t let a lack of space keep you from growing the foods you crave!

See more plant choice in our article, “Dwarf and Mini-Vegetables for Containers.”

About This Blog

Get inspired by Robin Sweetser’s backyard gardening tips and tricks. Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. She and her partner Tom have a small greenhouse business and also sell plants, cut flowers, and vegetables at their local Farmer’s Market.

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