Grow Nutritious Foods in Container

Photo courtesy of Richard Masoner.

Unfortunately, not all of us have the real estate to build an outdoor garden. This does not necessarily limit your ability to grow fresh and nutritious foods for your household. Even if you live in a studio apartment, a container garden can be a rewarding source of fresh fruits and vegetables. Who doesn’t love to watch a tiny seed grow into prolific fruition?

Below you will find 7 of our favorite fruits and vegetables that adapt well to indoor living:

1. Blueberries

First, you’ll want to choose the right variety. A smaller plant, such as the Top Hat or Sunshine Blue subspecies, will likely do better in a container, since the plant only grows to be 2 or 3 feet tall. Give the bush a deep pot to provide plenty of space for its roots. Some other factors to consider for growing blueberries include:

  • Sun and water needs – Blueberries like 6 – 8 hours of direct sunlight each day so a location on a balcony or very close to a large window is best. The plant will need regular watering so that the soil never dries completely.
  • Feeding – Fertilize with acid-based plant food once a month during the growing season, but be careful not to give your blueberries any nitrogen in nitrate form.
  • Soil – This fruit needs acidic soil with a PH balance of 4.5 to 5.5. A mix of 50/50 peat moss and well-draining soil is ideal.
  • Environment – Although you’ll need to check the specific temperature needs of your variety, most blueberries can weather temperate to hot climates, and they don’t suffer overmuch from a mild winter. The lower temperatures of winter help them to go dormant and prepare for the following spring, so it could be a good idea to keep them in a garage or enclosed patio over the winter so that they can rest. Again, check the needs of your particular variety to find out the lowest and highest temperatures that your plant can weather.

2. Tomatoes

This hardy plant is wonderful to keep indoors because it can continue to provide a steady supply of fruit all year long if protected from harsh temperature changes. It does require a steady trellis or cage to provide support for the climbing vine, so a tomato plant will need a little more space than the average houseplant.  A large, well-draining container of 18 inches deep or more will provide most tomato plants with the space they need. The other basic needs of tomatoes are:

  • Sun and water needs – Another plant that loves direct sunlight, make sure your tomatoes are receiving 6 – 8 hours of direct sunlight each day. Watering can be a little more tricky, and tomatoes are subject to over-watering (resulting in leaf curl, root rot, cracking of fruit, and even watery-tasting tomatoes). Keep the soil moist at all times during the germination and seedling stage. When the plants get bigger, water just until water runs freely through the bottom of the pot, then wait until the soil feels dry to the touch down to 1 inch below the surface for the next watering. How much water this will be depends on the heat, humidity, and sun.
  • Feeding – If your plant is actively growing or producing, keep it well-fed with organic fertilizers every week.
  • Soil – Tomatoes prefer a soil rich in nutrients, such as a potting mix that is already premixed with slow-release fertilizer.
  • Environment – Keep your plants at a temperature between 60º – 75º F for optimum production. If they are exposed to temperatures too far above or below this range, their production may drop off.

3. Carrots

Carrots may be planted only 4 inches apart, so you can fit several rows in a rectangular pot. Provide them with a container that is 10 inches deep or more so that they have room to grow to a good length.

  • Sun and water needs – Be sure to provide your carrots with 6 – 8 hours a day of direct sunlight. Keep the soil moist at all times during the germination and seedling stage. Once the plant grows to be a few inches high, water thoroughly every few days to ensure that the soil does not dry out completely.
  • Feeding – The best fertilizers for carrots are the liquid foliar variety, to be applied every three weeks.
  • Soil – Any well-draining potting soil will do.
  • Environment – Carrots are a cool-weather vegetable; it’s best to plant them in early spring as soon as the soil reaches 50º so that they have time to mature before temperatures reach extreme highs. You can also plant them in the fall, around 3 months before the first frost, but be sure to keep seedlings sheltered from the summer heat.

4. Apple or Citrus Trees

For indoor fruit trees, use dwarf or columnar varieties that do not grow to a large size. This will require space for a 10-15 gallon planter and at least 6 ft of headroom. Of course, it will take years for the tree to grow to its potential size, but if you’d like to avoid re-potting, a large planter is best. Remember to choose a planter with drainage holes and, if possible, feet to provide air and extra drainage. Indoor trees need careful pruning and root pruning periodically to maintain health and desirable growth patterns. The only potential downside to growing fruit trees is that you usually need two of each, preferably of different subspecies, in order for the trees to produce fruit. Be sure to check on this before you buy your trees!

  • Sun and water needs – Fruit trees need loads of sun; keep them on a balcony or patio if possible. Depending on the type of tree you have, most fruit trees like to be watered well and often. Keep the soil from ever drying completely at the root level.
  • Feeding – Use an all-purpose fertilizer once a month during growing season.
  • Soil – Trees like light, well-draining soils. First, line the bottom of the planter with gravel and then use an airy potting mix.
  • Environment – Trees are hardy in general; keep your potted fruit trees sheltered from extreme hot and cold temperatures, and they will survive in most climates.

5. Spinach

One of nature’s most nutritious leafy greens is also one of the easiest to grow in a container. Wide, shallow containers are best for spinach, so you can fit in several plants, 3 – 5 inches apart.

  • Sun and water needs – Spinach loves sunlight, but if you live in a hot climate, make sure your plants have partial shade during the hottest hours of the day. Keep soil moist but never soggy.
  • Feeding – Feed spinach plenty of nitrogen-rich fertilizer every two to three weeks.
  • Soil – Rich potting mix with a neutral pH and loamy texture is best.
  • Environment – Spinach can withstand temperatures from 40º all the way up to 90º, but move it to the shade if the temperature rises above 80º.

6. Cherries

Cherry trees are ideal because they can thrive with a shallow root system. Choose a self-pollinating variety if you do not have room for two potted cherry trees. The container should be around 15 gallons and at least 18in deep. Make sure it has drainage holes.

  • Sun and water needs – To produce tasty fruit, give your cherry tree full sun – as much as possible. Give it a good, deep watering several times a week. It should never be very dry or too soggy.
  • Feeding – An organic, low-nitrogen fertilizer like seaweed works well. It is only needed once or twice a year.
  • Soil – Line the bottom of the container with gravel before filling with a well-draining potting mix.
  • Environment – Cherries can thrive in most temperate climates. They yield more fruit if they are exposed to a few months of colder temperatures that allow them to go dormant each year.

7. Peppers

Although caring for peppers may change slightly between varieties, in general these plants are hardy and longer-lived than most vegetables. Whether it be a bell pepper or a jalapeno, the plant will need a deep, well-draining container to grow to its full size. With proper care, peppers can live and produce for years.

  • Sun and water needs – Lots of sun will give you larger, juicy peppers. If you live in an extremely hot climate, provide dappled shade during the hottest hours of the day. Keep the soil slightly moist; it should never dry out completely.
  • Feeding – Any multipurpose, low-nitrogen fertilizer can be applied every 15 days.
  • Soil – A rich, organic soil with a light texture and good drainage will serve your peppers well.
  • Environment – In general, peppers enjoy a warmer climate. They cannot tolerate temperatures of less than 50º, but can withstand heat up to 95º or more, if provided with some shade.

Ready to take your green thumb even farther? Read more about gardening and household ideas on the Living Clean blog:

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