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How to grow vegetables without a backyard

Don't let your lack of a yard stop you from having a garden.

Kay Fochtmann / EyeEm

Living in apartment, I long for a backyard where I can have sprawling planter beds, fruit trees and giant pots of flowers. I don't have to put those dreams on hold entirely, though.

With a container garden, I can make use of what little outdoor space I have to grow fruits, vegetables and herbs. Whether you have a few feet of balcony space or a several inches on your counter, you can create a container garden, too.

Read more: Grow a better garden with our summer gardening guide.

Get started with container gardening

Container gardening, simply put, is growing plants in containers or pots, rather than in the ground. If your yard is nothing more than a concrete slab, or you don't have one at all, container gardening helps you overcome that.

There are big advantages to container gardening: they require less water, you can move plants around to meet their sunlight needs, and you can control pests and avoid soil-borne issues, like fungus and bacteria. They are also flexible, allowing you to add plants and rearrange pots as you want.

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Just a little bit of counter space is all you need to grow herbs.

Sarah Mitroff / CNET

Sunlight is crucial

Before you buy plants, take stock of the lighting conditions you have. Does your balcony, patio or windowsill get several hours of sun everyday?

Most fruits and vegetables will need at least 6 hours of sunlight to produce. Leafy greens, root plants (like scallions or radishes) and herbs can get away with 3 to 4 hours.

What grows well in a container garden?

Now it's time to consider how much space you have for your container garden. Some plants require large pots and ample room to grow, while others can easily be confined to a countertop.

If you have a balcony, patio or other outdoor space

Here, you're only limited by how much room you have. Pick plants that grow well in your hardiness zone and you'll be rewarded with fresh fruits and vegetables.

Here's what grows best outdoors:

  • Large and tall plants like tomatoes, peppers, melons and squash.
  • Plants that spread, like strawberries, beans and cucumbers.
  • Small fruit trees, including apple, lemon or even avocado.
Lemon tree (Citrus Limon) in terracotta pot, 'Much Ado About Nothing' garden, RHS Hampton Court Flower Show 2010, designed by Sue Thomas

With the right amount of space, you can grow fruit trees in a container garden.

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If you only have indoor space, or a few inches of countertop space

Even without any outdoor space, you can still successfully cultivate a home garden. Many plants do OK inside, provided they have access to the right amount of light.

These plants can thrive indoors:

  • All manner of lettuce and leafy greens.
  • Root plants like green onions, carrots and ginger.
  • Mushrooms.
  • Basil, cilantro, parsley, mint, chives and most any other herbs.

More container gardening tips

If you need to move your plants around a lot to account for sun, use plastic pots. They hold onto moisture better than terracotta pots, are much lighter, and won't crack easily.

You can start your garden from seeds, but you'll find it's easier to buy already established plants. This is especially true for any kind of fruit tree, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and basil.

Large plants, like tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash will need large pots they can grow into. Some vegetables, like tomatoes and green beans, will need trellises or cages to help support them as they grow.

With a little bit of space, a few containers, and the right plants, you'll have everything you need to create a mini farmer's market at home.

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Get the tips you need to grow a beautiful, healthy garden with CNET's gardening guide.

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