If you’re a gardener in rural Ohio, chances are, you have enough space to grow whatever fruits and vegetables your heart desires. Even so, I’ve found that some veggies do just as well in containers—and they’ll make a great decorative accent for your porch or patio while saving you some space in the garden. Here are three of my favorite edible container plants!
With broad-leafed, attractive foliage and colorful fruits, eggplants are perfect for container gardening. One eggplant will fit in a 12 to 14-inch container or you can plant up to three in a 20-inch container. If you are growing eggplants for decorative purposes, try a dwarf variety such as “Fairy Tale,” “Orlando,” “Bambino” or “Bride Asian.” Standard eggplants will do just as well in pots, but they bear larger yields and may require staking or trellising to support the heavy fruits.
The nice thing about eggplants is that they’re very easy to start from seed. Simply wait for the soil to warm to 60 degrees, or start your eggplants indoors six to eight weeks before the last frost date. Young plants can move outside when nighttime temperatures are around 70 degrees.
Eggplants, particularly those grown in pots, don’t require much maintenance, but they will need plenty of water during hot weather. If watering becomes an issue, try mulching the potting soil with wood chips or straw to help prevent evaporation on hot days.
This is one of my all-time favorite container plants. Even if you don’t plan on harvesting this member of the cabbage family, the tidy rosettes of huge green leaves make a great display. If you do want to harvest collard greens, one plant should produce at least two pounds of edible foliage.
Any collard variety will do well as a container plant. When selecting a variety, the choice comes down to aesthetics. “Champion” and “Flash” have smooth, dark green leaves while “Georgia” has blue-green leaves with crumpled edges.
One collard plant will fit in a 12-inch pot. However, the top-heavy nature of these plants gives them a tendency to blow over in the wind, so you may prefer using a larger container. Even though these plants are a Southern delicacy, they perform beautifully in Ohio’s climate. They’re super sturdy, too, tolerant of both hot weather and light frosts, both of which are common in our wild climate. In fact, leaves harvested after a frost are the best to eat because they lose much of their bitter flavor.
Another advantage to collards as container plants is that they are not demanding when it comes to water requirements. They should be watered regularly, but the soil should also be well drained to prevent bacterial rot.
Tomatillos are both decorative and delicious. Think salsa verde! Long, thick vines and fruits wrapped in interesting papery husks make the tomatillo a focal point in most container gardens. Always plant at least two tomatillos so that they will cross-pollinate and bear fruit.
Since these plants can grow up to three or four feet, two tomatillos will need a 24 to 30-inch pot. For traditional green tomatillos, try “Toma Verde.” The “Purple” variety can add a unique splash of color to your container garden, with dark purple to black fruits.
Because of the trailing habit of this plant, some container gardeners will allow the tomatillo to spill over the edges of the pot. However, this often leads to broken stems once the plants reach peak production. To prevent this, it’s a good idea to use stakes, cages or a trellis to keep the tomatillos upright. Bear in mind that a mature tomatillo will produce a large amount of fruit. You will be able to make a lot of salsa verde and still have plenty of tomatillos left to share with friends and neighbors.
These three plants are just a sample of some of the great fruits and vegetables that you can grow in containers. In fact, most vegetables will do well in containers. The trick is in learning the correct container size and water requirements. Even if you have a large garden, container gardens are the perfect way to experiment with interesting new vegetable varieties, especially if you don’t want or need huge yields.