Choosing What to Grow in a Small Yard

| 11/29/2013 10:19:00 AM

Tags: container gardening, Ohio, Melodie Metje,

When you have a small yard, pots are a great way Swiss chardto extend your garden and harvest. You read that you can grow anything in pots. And you can. So, how do you decide what is best to plant in the ground and what is best for your pots?

Deciding what to grow can be exhilarating and overwhelming. The varieties are endless, the options infinite. Where do you begin when you are deciding what to grow for the first time or for the tenth time?

First, grow what you love to eat! Make a list of your favorite veggies. The caution for a new gardener, start small. From your list of favs, pick your top 5-7 to start with.

So, if I were to share the easiest to get started with, what would I grow my first spring season? I would start with plants and grow lettuce, spinach, kale, cabbage, collards, mustard greens, Swiss chard. If I loved beets, carrots, radishes, peas and turnips, I would plant these as seeds. If I liked to cook with onions and use chives, I would get Egyptian walking onions because they are perennials and can be harvested year round and love their home in a pot.

If you are just starting out and have limited space, look for descriptions like “patio”, “compact”, “great for pots”, “container”, etc. Here are some recommendations for your garden.

  • Beets - any. You can plant these around a beautifully colored swiss chard.
  • Cabbage - Golden Cross 45 day cabbage did really well for us in pots this year and has a short enough time to maturity. I would plant one cabbage per pot. You can add pansies for color in spring and fall or petunias for summer color.
  • Carrots - get the short ones like Atlas and Parisian.
  • Swiss Chard - I love all the colors to choose from (see picture above). Perpetual Chard is not as beautiful, but is particularly hardy. 
  • Collards - any. These will produce all winter.
  • Kale - look for “dwarf” in the description, but any will work if you plan on continuously harvesting the lower leaves. Many kales will survive all winter.
  • Lettuce - any as you can harvest the lower leaves and the plant will continue
  • Egyptian walking onion in a pot to produce. Look for descriptions like “cold hardy”, “early winter”, “overwintering”, “winter-hardy”, “cold tolerant”, “bred for winter production” for spring, fall and winter lettuces.  Choose varieties with the words "slow to bolt" and "heat resistant" in the descriptions. 
  • Onions - I grow Egyptian walking onions in a pot. You can use the bulb for cooking and the tops as chives. Chives and garlic chives are also great for small spaces or pots.
  • Peas - Look for “compact” varieties for growing in pots, like Green Arrow, Sugar Ann, Cascadia or provide a support for them to grow onto.
  • Radishes - I would stick with the round types like Runder Schwarzer Winter or Rudoph.
  • Turnips - any.  I plant in a circle with lettuce in the center in cool seasons.  

You can add in warm season crops like tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini, and peppers as the cool season crops wrap up the spring season.  Just look for "compact", "patio" and "bush" varieties.

3/16/2014 3:50:56 PM

Great question! Compost is a great amendment. If you are getting lots of greenery and no fruits, it could be your tomatoes are getting too much nitrogen (which cow manure has in spades). Nitrogen is great for green leafy growth, but not so great for stimulating fruiting. You really only want to fertilize when you plant and again when the plant flowers. To help with flowering, fruiting and blossom end rot, be sure to get a fertilizer with plenty of phosphorous and calcium. For more tips on tomatoes, you can read a couple of blogs on tomato tips: or

12/1/2013 2:06:51 PM

Thanks for the great article. Question: I use sq foot gardening & filled my boxes with purchased compost, cow manure, etc. The amt & quality of tomatoes I get from it is poor. (I only grow tomatoes) I am currently growing clover in the boxes to help the soil. What am I doing wrong?

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