attainable sustainable book cover
Check out my book!

Best How-to Book of 2020 — American Society of Journalists and Authors

Start a Container Garden in Your Urban Back Yard

May contain affiliate links. Please see my privacy policy and affiliate disclosure.

Container vegetable gardening is a great solution for people who have limited yard space. It’s also a way to bypass poor soil conditions. Here’s what you need to know to choose the right containers for your urban garden. 

Be sure to check out these easy vegetable crops, too — many work well in container gardens!

heads of lettuce in a galvanized vegetable garden container

This is a guest post from Tiffany at Don’t Waste the Crumbs.

The Edible Front Yard Garden

Does your homeowners association prevent you from growing food in the front yard? What if they never even KNEW? My ebook, The Edible Front Yard Garden will show you how!

Plant a 5-Gallon Garden

5-gallon garden logo


Limited on space? Don’t let that keep you from growing some of your own food! In my 5-Gallon Garden course, I’ll show you how to grow food in the space you have! Learn more about it here.

Sometimes it feels like my home doesn’t want me to have a garden. We rent a townhouse (so no permanent structures) in California (with severe drought) and have a backyard comprised of sand (i.e. no soil). We solved the last two issues by re-using house water for the garden and employing dozens of ways to naturally fertilize store-bought dirt for free.

Growing a vegetable garden in a rented, urban setting though, requires a bit of resourcefulness. How can we have a bountiful garden to off-set our small grocery budget when we can’t even dig up the yard? Enter garden containers!

Growing Vegetables in Pots for Beginners

A container garden was the first thought to come to mind, but we felt limited to a small handful of plants that grow well in containers. Fortunately, we were wrong! With a bit of creativity, you can have a flourishing garden in all sorts of containers. The key to growing vegetables in containers is knowing which containers are best for which plants.

Growing vegetables in pots for beginners: Choosing the *right containers for your urban container garden can make your limited space productive.

Large vegetable container – 18″  to 22″

This is what most people think of when they think of vegetable container gardening. These large planters are best for single vegetables that need a lot of root space, cages, or a trellis.

Best Plants for Big Containers:

Big containers are also great for planting multiple varieties of smaller vegetables that don’t need the entire pot to grow. You can often plant 2-3 “medium” plants and 4-6 “small” plants together in a large container. (See “medium containers” and small containers” below for specific plant recommendations.)

Tip: Kris has had great success with large grow bags for her vegetable container gardening.

small garden ideas: grow bags

Medium Garden Containers – 10″  to 18″

A bit less cumbersome than big containers, medium-sized pots and are perfect for compact vegetables or those of the bush variety.

Best Plants for Medium Containers:

Small Containers – 6″  to 10″

Although they don’t seem to offer much growing room, small garden containers are ideal for vegetables that don’t require much space, as well as some herbs:

Best Plants for Small Containers:

lettuce growing in containers hanging against a green wall

A hanging container garden

When you can’t plant at ground level, consider planting above! Some plants actually do better when they’re not lying on the ground and with vertical gardening you can utilize the space, freeing up the ground surface for plants that need it. A hanging vegetable container garden helps combat pests, too.

Tip: Hanging doesn’t have to mean high. Use longer ropes so the plants are within reach.

Best Plants for Hanging Containers:

Growing vegetables in pots for beginners: Choosing the *right containers for your urban garden can make your limited space productive.

Window boxes

Despite the name, window boxes don’t have to sit just by a window and they can hold more than just flowers. Some boxes fit over railings or can be hung on the side of a fence, turning those lost areas into a little container garden to grow vegetables. Plants that tend to keep to themselves, don’t need much root space, and/or grow up are best for window boxes.

Best Plants for Window Boxes:

  • Beets
  • Strawberries
  • Green beans
  • Radishes
  • Green onion
  • Celery
  • Herbs

Related: How to: Growing Blueberries in Containers

vegetable container gardening in a wooden raised bed with tomato plants

Raised garden beds

The biggest “container” of the bunch, raised garden beds are an easy way to work around the limitation that are problematic for many renters: no-permanent structures. You can build a raised bed for under $15 and it’s perfect for plants that like to roam.

Best Plants for Garden Beds:

  • Zucchini
  • Squash
  • Pumpkin
  • Watermelon
  • Tomatoes

Tip: Maximize the space within your garden bed with urban square foot gardening.

General tips for choosing a container for a vegetable garden

  • Err on the large side; the bigger the pot the better. More pot means a better yield.
  • Be sure your container has a drainage hole – especially important if you’re recycling containers that might not already have a drainage hole.
  • Instead of wondering what to plant in your container, start with what you want to grow and find a container that works.
  • Ask friends what works for them – you can learn a lot from their experience!

It might take a bit of creativity to grow a container garden, but with a little bit of planning you can still have an amazing harvest!

lettuce in a galvanized container garden


Tiffany is passionate about feeding her family real food and living healthier lives, without going broke in the process! She shares her enthusiasm for affording real food on a budget, and documents her baby-sized strides at Don’t Waste the Crumbs.

Originally published in June 2015; this post has been updated.

Click to save or share!

Meet the Author

Kris Bordessa

Kris Bordessa founded Attainable Sustainable as a resource for revitalizing vintage skills. Her book, Attainable Sustainable: The Lost Art of Self-Reliant Living (National Geographic) offers a collection of projects and recipes to help readers who are working their way to a more fulfilling DIY lifestyle. She's a certified Master Food Preserver and longtime gardener who loves to turn the harvest into pantry staples.

8 comments… add one
  • Judith House May 21, 2018, 4:07 am

    Is there a printable link to this article?

    • Kris Bordessa May 22, 2018, 3:11 pm

      I’m having trouble with that function. Hopefully it will be restored soon!

  • Dirah May 14, 2017, 8:51 pm

    Please check out Larry Hall on FaceBook and Youtube for watering ideas in Ca. I live in Martinez, CA and will be using his watering system next year.

  • Anni Oct 27, 2016, 12:54 am

    Hi Tiffany! You can plant tomatoes in a hanging container as well! love your tips!

  • Mpumi Feb 1, 2016, 8:22 pm

    I’m very grateful for having stumbled upon this site. We live in one of those Joburg town complexes where yards are quite small. A few years ago I boldly started planting veggies in front of my kitchen. The yield of potatoes, tomatoes, spinach, lettuce and carrots was amazing. I created more space by sacrificing two trees that were hugging the wall and not serving any purpose as the rest of our garden is bushy enough. We tried sweet potatoes and, as inexperienced as I am, it never occurred to me that I’d be faced with a widely crawling plant like that. I panicked and decided to discontinue the sweet potatoes but the harvest left me speechless. Such huge produce! I then planted squash on the same area not knowing that it also crawls. We harvested in December and it was with such pride that we had veggies from our own little garden on our Xmas dinner table. This thing continued to grow and crawl as we continued to get summer rains. Unbeknown to me, it was no longer the squash that was fiercely growing but the sweet potato. My helper who knows a lot about gardening explained to me that the sweet potato never really goes away. So with the rains and richness of the soil it just came back to life. I don’t have enough space to allow that crawling so i’m going to have to seek advice on how to stop it altogether.
    As for the pots, i’ve hoarded these plants for years standing empty in my yard against the wall not really knowing what to plant in them. Thanks to this article, I now know what to plant in them. I love gardening.

    • Angel May 16, 2020, 12:55 pm

      You can have a lovely hanging plant with the sweet potato.

  • Chris Jan 10, 2016, 3:59 pm

    Even if you have a lot of garden space, container gardening is something to consider. Containers are really easy to keep weed free. You do need to make sure they don’t dry out in summer heat.

    When you are overwhelmed by the weeding required in a big garden, a few containers of easy to harvest greens or herbs might just be the ticket to keep your enthusiasm up for the long season.

  • Kathy Nov 24, 2015, 1:00 pm

    Container gardening is an absolute win – bigger pots for those with more space, small pots for those trying to make a little change in their house or apartment.

Leave a Comment