After moving house sixteen times, I’ve learned to adapt my gardens to all sorts of spaces – large and small. This is a handy list of plants I’ve found to grow well in containers plus the depth of soil they need.

Some of my edible container gardens

Some of my edible container gardens


If you have difficult soil like sand, clay or rocks; limited space or funds, then I suggest you try growing at least some of your food in containers. Pots offer loads of benefits.


“Growing your own veggies is the first step to self-sufficiency.” – Clive Blazey, The Diggers Club


In Fast Food! DIY Instant Veggie Garden: Part 1, I shared a quick way to grow in recycled polystyrene (Styrofoam) boxes.

I must confess I discovered just how productive these small space gardens could be, by accident …


Veggie seedlings in punnet ready for planting | Photo: The Micro Gardener

One day I bought home some organic seedlings (with good intentions to plant them the same day), but then … a dozen things happened and they sat forlornly by the door waiting for my attention.


Next thing, it was time to make dinner and I decided my little seedlings would have to wait till the next day to be planted!  In our hot climate, I knew they’d fry outside so I gave them a little extra water and looking for a cool solution, popped them in the fridge to keep them fresh! I figured we keep veggies fresh in the fridge so why not seedlings?

It might have saved my plant babies, but you know what they say about “out of sight – out of mind”! … Next day, they were totally forgotten because they weren’t visible!  By the third day I wondered what was in the newspaper in the fridge and unwrapped them, feeling a pang of guilt for my poor little seedlings still waiting for their new home.  So out I went to find a place to put them in my garden.

In my haste to buy new seedlings, I hadn’t realised the garden bed needed far too much time spent on it before I could plant them. So I needed another temporary alternative!  I spied the poly box and quickly filled it with my ready-to-go homemade potting mix.


Polystyrene box used as one of my plant nurseries | Photo: The Micro Gardener

I had 12 seedlings and knew it was better to get them into the potting mix and a healthy growing environment for a few days as a temporary nursery, until I was able to get the garden bed prepared and transplant them.


Well, you can probably guess … life happened in the meantime … and that first poly box became the permanent home to a dozen very healthy lettuces and herbs by default!  They  were all very shallow rooted edibles that were light feeders. The herbs didn’t take up too much ‘personal space’ so it was a very efficient system for growing a high yield in a small box.

They say “old habits die hard” and in my case, although I have often intended to have a garden bed ready for seedling babies when they need planting, it isn’t always the case!


Two of my Instant Veggie Gardens with delicious leafy greens | Photo: The Micro Gardener

So my backstop Instant Veggie Gardens have become a specialty and I have worked out a very efficient quick system for planting, fertilising and maintenance to successfully grow a wide variety of vegetables and herbs.


If you haven’t tried this yet, I’d encourage you to give it a go!


Edibles to Grow in Container Gardens

I’ve suggested a few crops you can easily grow in these micro gardens. What you choose to grow depends on your climate zone, weather, aspect and personal taste andt this list is by no means exhaustive!


Deb Morgan's Veg Gift Boxes

In shallow boxes (15-20cm deep) you can grow a wide range of food crops but some edibles need the deeper 30cm boxes. These delicious, healthy veggie gardens were grown by Deb Morgan, a Micro Gardener subscriber. Deb was inspired to make these incredible edible Christmas gifts for some VERY lucky friends! Thanks for sharing your idea Deb with The Micro Gardener Community.


The plants are grouped according to a variety of needs and tastes to help you ‘shop’ for your favourite combination and include the minimum depth you need for each plant.


First up: Easy to Grow Herbs*:


Purple basil with lemon basil | Photo: The Micro Gardener

Basil – such as sweet, mini Greek and lemon varieties grow in shallow soil (7cm/3in)


  • Oregano (7cm/3in)
  • Chives; Spring Onions; Chervil and Pot Marjoram (10cm/4in)
  • Mints – Peppermint, Chocolate, Spearmint, Applemint etc (15cm/6in)
  • Savoury, Nasturtium  and Thyme – all varieties (15cm/6in)
  • Calendula/Pot Marigold – edible flowers & leaves (15cm/6in)
  • Rocket/Arugula (15-20cm/6-8in)
  • Coriander/Cilantro (20cm/8in to accommodate tap root)
  • Lemon Balm (20cm/8in)
  • Sage and Rosemary (20cm/8in) – both must be pruned hard
  • Dill and French Tarragon (25cm/10in)


Curly leaf parsley | Photo: The Micro Gardener

Parsley – if space is limited choose curly leafed variety rather than the giant Italian parsley (20cm/8in)


Leafy Greens:

  • Lettuces – all varieties (10cm/4in)
  • Silverbeet and Mizuna (15cm/6in)
  • Rocket/Arugula (15-20cm/6-8in)
  • Chard/Spinach/Warrigal greens/New Zealand spinach (20cm/8in)


Mustard & Asian greens seedlings - the surplus are ready to transplant into a new box. | Photo: The Micro Gardener

Try growing Asian greens for stir fries and salads (e.g. baby bok choy, tatsoi – use like spinach or lettuce, and pak choy (15-20cm/6-8in). Mustard greens grow in 20-25cm/8-10in.


‘Cut-and-Come-Again’ Greens

These are high yield fast growing greens you harvest by snipping with scissors.


Cut & come again lettuces | Photo: The Micro Gardener

Pick and pluck, loose leaf varieties allow you to harvest as they grow, without waiting for a whole lettuce to mature


  • Leaf lettuces (non-hearting) – there are varieties that grow all year round (10cm/4in)
  • Tatsoi (10-15cm/4-6in)
  • Rocket/Arugula; Cress; Mizuna; Chervil; Endive (15-20cm/6-8in)
  • Chinese Cabbage and Chards (20cm/8in)
  • Mustard greens (20-25cm/8-10in)


Succession planted micro gardens | Photo: The Micro Gardener

So many leafy greens can be grown in a compact space – here are 4 of my micro gardens succession planted for a continuous supply of salad and veggie ingredients for the kitchen.


Shady Characters

Shade lovers are great alternatives if you have limited sunlight such as on your balcony or verandah. These can still grow well in lightly or partially shaded areas. Growth won’t be as fast, but you’ll still enjoy a harvest.


Rainbow chard harvest often for more leaves | Photo: The Micro Gardener

Try growing Chard – Rainbow, Ruby & Swiss varieties (20cm/8in)


  • Lettuce – there are varieties that grow all year round and Chervil (10cm/4in)
  • Asian greens – bok choy, tatsoi, pak choy etc (10-15cm/4-6in)
  • Spinach and Garlic (15cm/6in)
  • Leeks (20cm/8in)


Super Fast Salad Ingredients

These are quick growing crops you can get on your table in just a few weeks – great for impatient adults and children!


Radish bunch

Try crunchy Radish – grows well in just 10cm/4in of space


  • Lettuce (10cm/4in)
  • Rocket/Arugula  and Sorrel (15cm/6in)
  • Microgreens are the shoots of salad greens and herbs so will grow in even the shallowest container.


Sun Lovers

These edibles need 5-6 hrs sunlight to produce a good yield.


Snow peas climbing a hand made bamboo tepee | Photo: The Micro Gardener

Peas can be grown on a trellis or tepee in these box gardens for maximum production in a small space. I plant 4/box (20cm/8in deep) – one in each corner with a 4-legged bamboo tepee.


  • Beans – dwarf/bush varieties (15cm/6in); French/runner varieties (20cm/8in). Use a tepee or other vertical structure
  • Capsicum/Peppers/Chilli; Eggplant/Aubergine and Peas (20cm/8in)
  • Okra and Cucumber (25cm/10in)


Poly box gardens with my shallots, coriander, tomatoes and basil | Photo: The Micro Gardener

Tomato (Determinate cherry varieties) will thrive in 30-45cm/12-18in but I’ve also grown them successfully in just 20cm of soil! In these boxes I grew shallots, coriander, tomatoes and basil


Tall and Skinny Flavours

These crops will grow in as little as 15-20cm depth or even shallower if the potting mix you use has all the nutrients they need for healthy growth.


“Planting a garden with food potential is one of the most valuable things we can do.” – Isabell Shipard, Author



Grow your own lemon grass and save money. A fantastic solution for balconies and all gardens to save you buying in bulk. Give your plants regular ‘haircuts’  and just ‘chop and drop’ as mulch!


My young Lemon Grass in a box garden | Photo: The Micro Gardener

Both Lemon Grass (pictured) and Citronella make fantastic mulches as well as having many other uses and will grow in boxes 25cm/10in deep. This is an easy option for renters with just a few pots to keep you with a regular supply of mulch – both are multifunctional plants.


Medicinal Plants

Home pharmacy herbs and plants are handy for minor aches, pains, stings, burns and everyday ailments.


Comfrey is not only a wonderful medicinal plant, but can also activate your compost and be used to make compost tea.

Comfrey grows well from root cuttings in a 20cm/8in deep box. If you want to contain it but still have the benefits of its many uses in your garden, try growing in a box.





Strawberry berry delicious!

Of course our favourite strawberries had to make it onto this list! They grow well in a depth of 20cm/8in.


  • Pineapple (30cm/12in) – these are a VERY slow growing crop that might be hard to justify if you have really limited space but the home grown flavour for pineapple lovers may be worth the wait!


Plants that Love Wet Feet

  • Water Chestnuts (30cm/12in)
  • Water Celery (10cm/4in)


Root Crops

  • Beetroot (15cm/6in)
  • Turnip and Onion (20cm/8in)
  • Carrot (short, round and miniature varieties) and Potato (30cm/1ft)
  • Sweet Potato (30cm/1ft)
  • Arrowroot, Ginger, Galangal and Turmeric (30cm/1ft)


Sweet potatoes grow well in a box - leaf tips can be eaten as a green by steaming lightly. | Photo: The Micro Gardener

Sweet Potatoes growing in a 30cm/1ft box – nipping off the runners will produce more tubers and steamed leaf tips make a wonderful seasonal addition to stir fries.


There are many mini crop varieties including deeper rooted cabbage and cauliflower that are normally ‘container challenged’! Check your seed catalogue or supplier for those suitable for your climate.

What do you grow in your container gardens?


  • Starting Your Own Box Garden – this is Jackie French’s variation on my instant veggie box garden showing you how to sow densely and then thin out for transplanting.

Related: Fast Food! DIY Instant Veggie Garden: Part 1; Micro Gardening; The Benefits of Container Gardening; Getting a Small Kitchen Garden Started; Choose the Healthiest Seedlings & Tips for Growing a Garden in Pots.


© Copyright Anne Gibson, The Micro Gardener 2010-2013 – http://www.themicrogardener.com. All rights reserved.

5/5 - (2 votes)