You might think raising vegetables without a large backyard would be a challenge, but growing food on a sunny deck or patio (or even a balcony) can be as productive as planting an in-ground garden—and in some ways, it’s easier! Having fresh produce in a container garden right outside your door just ready for the picking makes ingredient gathering a breeze, you don’t have a drag a hose across the yard when it’s time to water, and dirt-dwelling plant enemies like voles, snails, and slugs are less likely to be an issue. Plus, a deck filled with beautiful edibles makes the perfect place to relax and admire your success.
When planning your deck container garden, take a good look at the existing structure to see what elements you can incorporate into your garden. Does the deck have railings to support window boxes? Is there an overhang appropriate for hanging baskets? Are the stairs wide enough for pots? What material is your deck—will it need protection from water draining from the pots?
Also think about what you want to grow. While you can grow just about anything in a container (as long as it’s large enough), there are many Bonnie Plants® varieties are ideal for smaller container gardens, like Red Robin cherry tomatoes and Burpless Bush cucumbers. Why Bonnie? We have over a century’s worth of experience growing strong, vigorous young plants for home gardeners, plus with our over 70 growing stations spread out across the country, your plants never have to travel far to get to you.
How to Grow Food on a Deck: Types of Containers
Once you’ve analyzed your deck structure and space, it’s time to get creative. Think about your personal design preferences. Do you prefer colorful, eclectic elements or subtle containers where the plants are the focal point? Are you an environmentally-conscious sort who wants to upcycle old containers to grow your food? Consider, too, your budget. Sure, a half-dozen matching ceramic pots look great, but so does a variety of way-cheaper thrift-store containers in the same color family. As long as you select containers that are safe for food growing and make sure to add drainage holes, you can be as creative as you’d like!
Start with simple window boxes on your deck or balcony railings. Window boxes provide the perfect home for many herbs, as well as lettuce, spinach, arugula, and any crops with shallow roots. Add some edible flowers, like pansies or trailing nasturtiums, and you’ve created both a lovely addition to your deck and a perfect start to your food-growing journey.
If your neighbors like to peek at your deck and you’d prefer privacy, create a living screen with vertical vegetables. Place a large, rectangular container filled with Miracle-Gro® Potting Mix (it provides just the right soil environment for strong root growth) in the area where you want to create the screen. Add a tall trellis to the container. Plant vining cucumbers, peas, or pole beans along the base of the trellis. As the vines grow, help the plant weave itself into the openings in the trellis. Not only will your living wall create a beautiful privacy screen, but it will provide delicious dinner ingredients, too. You can also create fun vertical structures by stacking rectangular containers on a ladder or hanging an existing fence with fabric wall pockets filled with herbs like parsley, chives, and thyme.
Overhangs also offer a great opportunity to grow food in hanging baskets. Lettuce or strawberries, both beloved by slugs and snails, grow beautifully when out of crawling pests’ reach. Cascading cherry tomatoes, such as Tumbling Tom, grow well in hanging baskets too.
Of course, a lovely grouping of plant containers always adds aesthetic impact on decks and the steps leading up to them. You’ll find loads of options: ceramic, terracotta, plastic, wood, self-watering, fiberglass—the list goes on. Know, though, that some materials (like terracotta and ceramic) may crack if exposed to freezing temperatures, so if you plan to grow food year-round, select containers that can withstand the cold.
You don’t need to spend a fortune to grow food on your deck or balcony, either. Look around to find materials for upcycled containers. Turn an old wooden CD storage unit or bookshelf into a raised bed by laying it flat and adding potting mix. Drill holes in the bottom of a galvanized trough, fill it with soil, and you have a perfect large container for tomatoes or a mix of smaller plants. Make a privacy screen with stacked, staggered wooden wine crates and fill with soil and edibles. Move a bookshelf against an outside wall and add containers of herbs. Drill holes in the bottoms of old coffee cans, add a hole on the top edge of each can, attach the cans with zip ties to the deck railing—and you have a kitschy upcycled food growing station. Have an old burlap feed sack? Line it with a heavy-duty trash bag with holes poked in the bottom, fill it with potting mix, and plant away.
With containers, size matters. In general, the larger the container, the less work it’ll require. Small containers dry out quickly and need frequent watering—sometimes twice a day in high heat. Larger containers still need water, but they contain more soil to retain moisture, so you won’t have to do it as much. Also, if the plants you’re growing require support (like stakes or a tomato cage) you’ll need a large container to anchor them. Of course, you can also take advantage of existing structures on your deck, like slats in the railing, to use for plant support. Simply use garden twine to tie the plant to the structure.
If you have space, you’ll also find many options for small raised beds or elevated gardens, available commercially, that fit well on a deck or patio.
And don’t forget to feed your plants. Because containers need frequent watering (even daily when it’s hot outside), they tend to lose nutrients quickly. Use Miracle-Gro® Water Soluble Plant Food Vegetables and Herbs to keep your crops well-fed and productive. You can feed at the same time you water—no extra time required.
Save Time with Patio Ready Plants
The absolute easiest way to grow food on your deck or balcony is to start with one of Bonnie Plants’ Patio Ready options, which provide everything you need to start your own food garden—already planted up and ready to go. Just select your favorite caged plants, combo containers (think BBQ Herbs or Salad Greens), or hanging baskets, place them on your deck or patio, and you’re good to grow. True, you’ll still need to water, feed your plants, and harvest the crops, but we can show you how to do all that with our free Homegrown with Bonnie Plants app. No matter what kind of container you’re growing in, we’ll be like a garden expert in your pocket, helping you care for your container garden so it produces the best possible harvest.
So make your plans, check out your deck space, and let your imagination run wild. Soon you’ll be eating delicious, deck-grown food. Enjoy!