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Water-Wise Crops for Container Gardening

Spinach plant

Spinach plantCrops that are relatively drought tolerant are best for containers or gardens where water is not easily accessible. Water-wise crops are a good choice for balconies, rooftops, and patios.

All crops need water to grow—especially when first planted and until they are well-established. The best course is to keep the soil just moist—not too wet and not dry whenever possible.

Water pots less than 8 inches (20 cm) in diameter from above; use a 1-quart kitchen measuring cup. Large pots can be watered with a plastic pail, watering can, or a gentle stream from a hose.

Let the soil in a pot or container dry out to 1 inch (2.5 cm) deep before watering again. Infrequent watering is better than watering too often but never let the soil in a container go completely dry.

If you have a large number of pots, a drip irrigation system that hooks up to a faucet or spigot may be the most efficient course.

Water-wise crops include:

  • Artichokes
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Chard
  • Garlic
  • Herbs—bay, lemon verbena, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme
  • Kale
  • Peas
  • Scallions
  • Spinach

Where water is scarce or not easily accessible, avoid these very thirsty crops: potatoes, strawberries, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers, and zucchini.


Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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