If you yearn to grow some of your own food but you are living in an apartment or condo, with absolutely no yard at your disposal, don’t despair. There are many food-bearing plants you can grow in even the smallest of spaces! I’ll share 20 of the plants that work best and give you practical tips on how to make them thrive!
Growing food in your apartment or on your balcony is an awesome way to live a greener life. Here are the 4 keys to growing a successful apartment garden:
- take into consideration what your growing conditions actually are,
- select the right kinds of plants (20 great choices listed below!),
- be realistic about how much you produce you’ll get,
- be patient (but I’ll share the quickest growing foods if patience isn’t your strong suit!).
How to Grow Food Year ‘Round Even in a Small Space
I’ve seen lots of posts and articles that give you a quick list of fruit or vegetable bearing plants that you can grow in a pot in your apartment or on a balcony. Unfortunately, I’ve seen many of those lists start out with Avocados, and often assure you that all you need to grow an avocado plant is an avocado seed. While that’s true (and is true for pretty much all plants) this doesn’t really give you the whole picture.
For example, if you want to grow actual food it’s helpful to know that while the avocado pit is fun to sprout and it only takes 2-6 weeks for that to happen. The avocado tree actually needs to be 10-15 years old before it will produce any avocados and even then it will need the right conditions, which are unlikely to be found in the average apartment.
So if you want an avocado plant, that’s great. They are pretty and I’ve had my share over the years. But they are not the best choice if you actually want to grow food that you’ll be able to enjoy in the near future.
Below I’ve got a list of 20 veggies and fruits that grow relatively quickly and that you’ll be able to harvest and eat before you decide to move to a different apartment.
But first, before you decide what plants to grow – I KNOW, that’s the best part, right?!? Consider what your potential “garden spot” looks like.
Sun – How much & what to do if you don’t have enough.
Most fruits and veggies require full sun. What does that mean? About 6-8 hours of direct sun.
This is where most problems come in for people who live in an apartment and want to grow veggies. If you’re in a north-facing apartment, you’re not going to get any direct sun. If your apartment is on the 3rd floor and you’ve got an 8 story building across the street from you, that’s going to block most of the sun. If you have a roof on your balcony that will cut out some of the sun when it’s full summer and the sun is high in the sky.
So really pay attention on a sunny day to see how much sun you actually get in your “garden spot” and remember that seasonally that may change a bit.
So, what if you find you only have 2 or 3 hours of sun on your window sill or on your balcony – or even less than that? Should you just throw in the trowel?
No, absolutely not! I’ve got plants on the list below that will grow even in somewhat shady areas. You just need to set your expectations correctly.
Alternate Light Sources
If you don’t have a balcony and will be growing everything inside, then getting a grow light can really make a big difference in what you can grow and how well it does.
There are fancy shmancy shelf set-ups that can cost hundreds of dollars. But you don’t need to go that route if that’s out of your budget. You can get a full spectrum LED grow light panel for under $30 through Amazon. It uses very little power so it won’t add much to your electricity usage and it doesn’t generate a lot of heat. Growing your veggies under lights like this can make all the difference in the health of the plant and the amount of produce you get.
Best Soil for Apartment Gardens
When you’re growing plants in containers, rather than right in the ground, it’s important to be sure the soil will hold moisture, but will also drain well. If that seems like a contradiction, I hear ya. How is it supposed to do both? I’m not a soil specialist, so I rely on people who are.
The best way to be sure that your container garden soils will drain well yet hold moisture is to include mineral aggregates, like perlite or vermiculite. These keep the soil from compacting tightly and allow the water we put on top to move through the whole pot.
To hold moisture you want to have organic material like peat moss or sphagnum moss. That way not all of the water just runs out the bottom of the pot. This part of the soil will absorb the water and release it as the plant starts to dry out.
BUT, before you start to worry that this is all just too complicated. I can give you my easy solution. Just buy a good potting mix or potting soil for your containers. These mixes have the right ingredients to help your plants do great. You can easily find them in your local garden center. But if you prefer to have them delivered, (they can be heavy), you can order them from Amazon. FoxFarm has a great selection of organic potting mixes.
Using good soil will make a big difference in the health of your plants.
After sun and soil, keeping your plants watered is a key part of how healthy and happy they will be in your apartment garden. If they are outside on a balcony in the hot sun and wind they will likely dry out really quickly. Be prepared to water every day.
If you’re growing in a heated apartment in the middle of winter your plants will definitely notice the lack of humidity and need more water as well. Misting or using a humidifier can be helpful.
Small containers with larger plants will dry out quickly as well because there is a limited amount of soil in the pot to hold the water.
You’ll start to get a feel for how often you need to water as you get more experience with your “garden spot.” Just keep an eye on your plants and lift an edge of the pot to see how light it is or poke a finger into the soil regularly to be sure your plants aren’t drying out or being over watered.
Picking the Right Containers
Choosing the right containers can make a difference in the success of your garden as well. You don’t have to get all fancy. A coffee can with holes poked in the bottom, set on small stones (to allow drainage) placed in a saucer can work just fine – depending on the can it might be really cute, too.
You can find self-watering pots or make your own to ensure your plants get the right amount of water.
One key thing I’ve noticed with my container gardening efforts. Clay pots dry out much more quickly and they are a lot heavier, especially when you fill them with soil and a big tomato plant.
Nowadays I stick with mostly plastic pots because they are lightweight and I don’t need to water as much.
One thing I haven’t tried yet are the fabric plant bags. These have the advantage of not only being lightweight, but also being somewhat foldable for storage. If you haven’t seen these you can check out what I’m talking about here on Amazon.
You can grow pretty much anything in them and they come in a variety of sizes. The one I linked to above that is made for potatoes is particularly intriguing to me as there is a flap on the side you can open to harvest the potatoes without having to dig up the plant. The reviews are pretty good, so I may have to try this at some point.
An important thing to keep in mind as you are choosing plants and planters and deciding how many you’re going to use – soil + pots + water can add up to A LOT of weight. If you are living in an older building with a somewhat “antique” shall we say balcony, be careful about how much weight you’re expecting it to handle. The same goes for a rooftop garden.
One last thing that you may have to be more concerned about on your balcony garden is how windy it is. If you are 19 stories up (like I was in one condo I lived in) you might have a lot of wind which will not only dry out your plants a lot faster. It might break stems or tip planters over. It’s just something to be aware of and plan accordingly.
Having taken care of all those important considerations it’s time to get to the fun part – figuring out what you want to plant!
Here’s a quick planting guide you can download for handy reference. (The downloadable size is easier to read.)
20 Veggies You Can Grow in Your Apartment
There are many plants you can grow in your apartment or on your balcony. Not every plant will be suitable for every situation. But everyone will be able to grow something from this list no matter how small your space!
1. Sprouts – Seriously you have to start with these. Sprouts are the most forgiving, easiest, and fastest food plant to grow. If you are impatient and want to grow food fast – sprouts are the answer for you. They are ready in only 5-6 days from start to finish! No kidding.
You don’t need any dirt and they don’t even need any direct sun. Light isn’t important at all for the first 3 days of the sprouting process. Sprouts are a terrific choice for anyone who wants to grow their own food. You’d be surprised how many sprouts you can produce for very little money.
Not crazy about alfalfa sprouts? Don’t worry. There are a bunch of other types of sprouts you might like for example,
- black sunflower
My favorite thing to grow is a spicy mix of sprouts that has fenugreek, radish, and alfalfa seeds in it.
You can spout in a simple jar with cheesecloth over the end, but I really love this 4 tray sprouting system you can get on Amazon that easily allows you to ensure you have a continuous crop of whatever sprouts you love. It’s under $20 takes up almost no space, and trust me, if you sprout regularly it will pay for itself many times over in the first few months of using it.
You can watch a quick “how-to” video I made about sprouting here.
2. Microgreens – Microgreens are similar to sprouts, but they are allowed to develop a bit more before you eat them. While sprouts don’t have any true leaves, just their cotyledons (remember when you grew that sunflower seed in grade school?), Microgreens are allowed to grow longer until they develop their first set of true leaves. This can take 1-3 weeks depending on the type of plant.
Microgreens can be grown in soil and will need sunlight or a growing light to do well. An awesome thing about microgreens is how nutrient-dense they are.
Just about any plant can be grown as a microgreen. Some of the most popular are:
- swiss chard.
3. Herbs – Growing pots of herbs on a windowsill is not anything new. It’s great to have fresh basil or fresh parsley so handy you can pick it fresh right while you are cooking. Chives, mint, and parsley will all tolerate less than full sun so they are great choices for a sunny window sill that doesn’t get sun all day. Not only can you cook with herbs. Herbs add a delicious burst of flavor to green salads.
4. Lettuce – Baby Leaf lettuce is an awesome choice for container gardens on your balcony. Just about any type of leaf lettuce (as opposed to the kind of lettuce that grows in heads like iceberg) will work as baby leaf lettuce. You just sow the seeds very thickly and harvest the leaves when they are young.
This is a great choice for growing lettuce if you’re short on patience. From the time you seed to the time you can start harvesting can be as little as 3-4 weeks.
Choose a “cut and come again” variety and you’ll be able to cut the lettuce 1-2 inches above the soil with a pair of scissors when you are ready to use it and the lettuce will automatically start to grow again.
Between that method and seeding in succession (plant one planter box full of lettuce the first week, plant the second box a week later, etc.) you’ll be able to keep yourself in lettuce for quite a while!
Just check your local garden center for seed packets of baby lettuce mixes with “cut and come again” varieties included. Something like this seed blend is what you are looking for.
5. Radishes – Radish seeds sprout and grow quickly. You can eat them as spouts or microgreens but if you let them grow about 4 weeks you’ll get the full radish. (Don’t let them get too big or they can get kind of pithy or woody). Delicious on salads or by themselves with a little salt. I think radishes are generally undervalued as a vegetable.
Radishes don’t necessarily need a lot of depth of soil, depending on the kind you plant, but if you want them to grow to full size they’ll need some space. Plant seeds about 1 inch apart and when you thin them to 2 inches apart you’ll be able to use the “thinnings” as microgreens in your salads. Plant new seeds every week or two to keep a steady supply going if radishes are your thing!
Radishes like a constant amount of moisture in the soil, so bear that in mind and check them frequently to be sure they aren’t drying out too much.
5. Spinach – Spinach can be great to grow in containers. Choose smaller varieties like Baby’s Leaf Hybrid or Melody. It will take about 40 days from seed to harvest, but if you plant seeds about 1 inch apart and then thin the plants when they are about 2 inches tall, you’ll be able to use the “thinnings as microgreens. So you’ll actually be able to enjoy some of your spinach faster.
Spinach likes cooler weather and tends to “bolt” in the heat of the summer. This is something to pay attention to if you’ve got a “box-like” balcony that holds a lot of heat. The great thing about having your spinach in a container is that you can move it into the shade when temps get warmer (above 80 degrees) and keep your spinach happier longer! Spinach likes moisture so be sure to check plants regularly and water as needed.
6. Kale – Considered a “super-food” for its health benefits, kale is becoming more and more popular. If you like Kale, there’s no reason you can’t grow some on your balcony. Each plant needs about 6 square inches of space so you can put a couple of plants in a bigger pot. Or tuck some Kale in with your other plants. Just be aware that kale doesn’t grow well with beans, tomatoes or strawberries.
If you are planting in cooler weather it will want at least 6 hours of sun. If it’s hot, you can move it to a spot where it will get partial shade to help keep it cool. Water regularly and harvest the leaves from the bottom of the stem (outside leaves) up, leaving at least 4 leaves at the top so the plant can keep growing. If you are starting from seed Kale can take up to 90 days from seed or 55 days from transplanting. So this will take a bit more patience.
7. Carrots – I love the look of carrot tops. Something about their fine leaves is very appealing to me. If you choose a finger-sized or baby carrot such as Adelaide you can harvest in about 50 days. With a root vegetable like this, you’ll want to consider the depth of your pot as well. You’ll want one at least 12 inches deep.
8. Strawberries – Strawberries are so fun to grow in pots. I’m sure you’ve seen the pots just full of strawberries in pictures on Pinterest. These are plants you’ll want to buy, rather than start from seed as it takes a year for the plants to get established before they put out berries the following summer.
Follow the instructions on your plants and/or watch a good tutorial so that you’re not disappointed by your actual harvest.
One thing to keep in mind that strawberry plants may be small but they need their root space because they have a fairly shallow root system. You’ll also want to keep them well watered.
Strawberries like it between 70 and 85 degrees. So again, if your balcony is closed in and becomes an oven in mid-summer, you might want to give them partial shade to help keep them cooler. A light-colored pot will also help keep the roots cool.
9. Beans – Green beans can easily be planted in pots. If you’re in a hurry (is it just me that always wants my veggies as fast as possible?!?) then bush beans are probably the way to go. Some varieties are ready to harvest as early as 48 or 50 days. So that’s pretty fast.
For bush beans, you’ll be able to plant seeds 2-3 inches apart in a 2 gallon (or bigger) container. The only drawback is that bush beans tend to all come in at once. So if you want to freeze or can, or just eat all your beans at once, they are a great option.
If you have a little more patience (or a little longer growing season) and want to try growing a plant vertically, try a variety of pole bean like Blue Lake. These take about 63 days to mature, but you can pick them throughout the season and they’ll keep giving you more beans.
They grow about 6 feet tall depending on your conditions. You will definitely need a trellis, or poles or something for them to climb on. You may be able to train them to cover your balcony rail. Just remember that that might end up shading your other plants too much!)
9. Tomatoes – Go with a bush variety of cherry tomatoes for the quickest and longest yield without taking up a huge amount of space. The best I’ve found is Tumbler. It matures in 50 days producing tasty little cherry tomatoes. It’s compact and easy to grow.
Having said that, give your tomato enough space. A 5-gallon pot is the minimum you’ll want to use and if you can go bigger your plant will be happier and able to produce more fruit. WIN!
10. Cucumbers – Yes! You can even grow cucumbers in a pot. Cucumbers have a pretty deep root system so you’ll want a pot at least 16 inches deep. The more soil depth you have the bigger your harvest can be. So don’t skimp on these pots either. A 20″ diameter pot can grow 4-6 cucumber plants! That’s a lot of cucumbers!
You may want to choose a bush variety that’s smaller in size so that it doesn’t take up your whole patio. Or you can grow vining cucumbers up a trellis.
Cucumbers require at least 6 hours of full sun and regular fertilizing. Again, containers are likely to dry out more quickly than the ground would so be sure to check the soil regularly and if it’s Keep the soil moist enough so that the top inch or two feels moist. You can do a quick check every day but sticking your finger in. If it’s dry an inch or so down then a good slow watering until you see water coming out of the bottom of the pot is in order.
11. Potatoes – Who doesn’t love them! You may think it is easier to just go buy a bag of potatoes, and it definitely is! But while you won’t likely be able to provide yourself with a year’s worth of potatoes from your balcony garden you can grow some awesome potatoes in pots. And “new potatoes” that you harvest young are like no other potato. They are just delicious!
Yukon Gold is a great variety to grow in a container. The plant size is relatively small and the yield is decent and they mature in about 75 days.
You can grow potatoes in 5-gallon buckets with holes drilled in the bottom for drainage. Rubbermaid bins and plastic garbage cans will work (again remember to drill the drainage holes. You can even use burlap sacks.
You’ll want to start with a few inches of soil and plant your seed potatoes in that. Three or four seed potatoes per 5-gallon bucket should work. You don’t want them too crowded. Place the pot where plants will get 6-8 hours of sun.
As the stems grow you’ll keep adding soil or mulch each week to keep the lower stems in darkness. Water near the roots, rather than over the top of the plant. After about 2 1/2 months you’ll be able to stick your finger gently near the stem and find new potatoes! Pick some to eat right away and leave some to grow larger if you like.
Important tip: Don’t let the pot get overly hot like it might if it’s close to a wall that absorbs a lot of sun.
12. Green Onions – Love ’em! They add so much to a salad, or baked potato, or bowl of chili, or…but I digress. You can grow these in pots. I’d avoid starting them from seed. They work better if you start them from sets.
OR, be super thrifty, buy some at the grocery store, wash them but don’t cut off the roots. Use the green tops in your cooking as you normally would and then plant the little bulb with about 2 inches of the stem left on. They don’t need deep soil. 6-8 inches deep is good. Space them about 1 1/2 inches apart. They need a minimum of 4 hours of sun and will grow just fine in a sunny window.
You pick them the whole onion when it gets bigger or you can just trim the green tops and use those as needed and the onion plant will just keep growing the greens again.
13. Arugula – While it looks like a kind of lettuce, this peppery green has a distinctive flavor that can really make a salad or wrap. Try it paired with egg salad on rye if you’ve never had it. It’s delicious. Like the leaf lettuces mentioned above, it’s ready in about 4 weeks from when you first sow the seeds. It does great in cooler weather and if you’re in a hot season or climate, or your balcony is hot, it’s a good idea to give it partial shade.
This is another plant where you just harvest some of the leaves and let the rest of the plant keep growing. Sowing arugula seed every 2-3 weeks will keep you harvesting this tasty green all season.
14. Broccoli Rabe – This delicious cruciferous plant looks like broccoli but is more closely related to the turnip or mustard plant. It’s awesome because it can be harvested as soon as 45 days after planting. This plant is eaten while it’s “heads” are still immature and is great in Italian cooking.
It’s a cool-season crop so you can plant it early and be sure it has full sun. Or plant it later in the summer so that it matures in the fall. If you have a short growing season and are just doing the best you can (as so many of us are) you might find your Broccoli Rabe needs a little shade in the hot afternoons if it’s in full sun.
15. Bell Peppers – With bell peppers you’ll want to be sure you’ve got a lot of sun (at least 6 hours a day) and a lot of warmth. You can plant 2 pepper plants in a 10-12 inch wide pot that’s about 12 inches deep.
They will take about 60 days to mature and be green bell peppers. If you like yellow or red ones you’ll have to be a bit more patient and wait longer for that.
Bell pepper plants may grow better with some support, like a wire tomato cage or you can insert a stick into the soil near the stem and tie the plant to it with a soft piece of fabric. It’s best to keep peppers out of the wind. You want to be sure your bell peppers don’t dry out. Water at the base (rather than over the leaves) to avoid problems with fungus. Mulching the plant will help conserve water.
16. Chili Peppers – You can often find chili pepper plants that are compact and those will do great in pots. For the smaller plants, a 3-gallon size planter will work well. If you have a little bit bigger of a variety choose a 5-gallon size planter.
Chili peppers originated in Mexico so they like it HOT with full sun. This is another plant that wants moist soil and doesn’t like to dry out. Water the soil rather than watering from the top. This will help avoid problems with funguses. If your chili plant looks leggy, pinch it back to encourage a busier bush. Some peppers are ready to harvest as early as 60 days after planting.
Tip: The longer you leave chili peppers on the plant the hotter they will get. But even if you like ’em hot, be sure to pick peppers so your plant will keep producing.
17. Zucchini or Summer Squash – These will grow very well in a container on your balcony if you have the space and the sun. It’s important to choose bush varieties, that will be marked on the seed packet or the starter plant. You’ll want a pot 18″ inches in diameter or larger.
You can harvest as early as 60 days after planting. Zucchini and summer squash need a good amount of water so be sure they get about 1-2 inches each week. When they are putting out “fruit” you’ll want to start fertilizing every 10-14 days. Don’t wait too long to harvest your squash. 7-8 inch long is a good size. These plants will keep producing if you keep picking.
Edible flowers are fun to grow and beautiful as well.
18. Chive Flowers – Chives are a great herb that does well in less than full sun. If you let them grow until they flower you can sprinkle chive flowers over salads and other foods to add a nice pop of color and a burst of flavor as well.
19. Nasturtiums – These pretty orange and yellow flowers are part of the mustard and cabbage family. Their flowers and leaves are both edible. You can even pickle the seeds. I haven’t tried this, but apparently they are a little bit like capers.
20. Pansies – Great for growing in the cooler months and grow in full to partial sun. When you clip off the flowers the plant will work to make more. So using these pretty posies for edible flowers on fruit salads, or with a scoop of sorbet will actually keep your plant blooming longer.
So many choices! How to choose the best plants for you!
You have a limited amount of real estate when you’re gardening in an apartment, so that’s a key thing to keep in mind when you are choosing what to grow on your balcony or in your sunny window.
If you are growing inside it’s unlikely you’ll decide to plant a pot full of zucchini or cucumbers, although with grow lights this could work.
Try to be realistic. Sprouts, microgreens, green onions, arugula, and lettuces are likely to do well in a relatively small space and could work even if your whole “garden” is inside. You may need to boost the light and the humidity but it’s still possible to grow some seriously nice food all year ’round.
Thanks for reading and thanks for working to help keep our planet as healthy as possible! Growing some of your own food is a great place to start. You can make a difference!