Crops for Urban Growing: 8 Edible Plants For Urban Gardens

Urban edible gardening lets your yard do double duty of beauty and practicality. Have fun combining edible plants with ornamentals.

A lush vegetable garden in woven stick containers
(Image credit: fotolinchen / Getty Images)

Wondering about urban edible gardening or which edible plants are best for urban gardeners? Multitasking has a bad rap, but in some cases it can work out well. What gardener wouldn’t want to make their yard beautiful and, at the same time, grow delicious, healthy food?

Edible landscaping is a thing, growing crops in a home garden. Space can sometimes be a problem, but that’s a challenge that can be solved with container gardening and vertical design.

Which Fruit and Vegetables Are Good for Urban Gardens?

Not every crop is perfect for small, residential spaces. But that’s not a surprise, since every garden has its own, limitations. You always have to select plants based on the size, sun exposure, soil type and weather. When you are selecting crops for urban gardens, you’ll have to take all of those issues into account. The plants have to be suited to the site.

Take a close look and determine how much sun your site gets - whether there is bright sun, low light or shade - and how long your growing season will be.

Finally, since these crops should also serve to make your yard pretty, select edible plants with ornamental value, like fruit trees, herbs, and edible flowers.

Eight Edible Plants for Urban Gardens of Any Size and Shape

Which edible plants to choose for your urban garden? Keep in mind the factors we mentioned above. Only select vegetable plants and fruiting shrubs that will mature during the growing season in your region, and if you select perennials, be certain that they will be happy in your hardiness zone.

To benefit the most from your edible crops, it’s also a good idea to plant prolific crops, plants that offer many veggies and crops over a long harvest season. A good design will pair companion plants that look great together and benefit each other in some way.

Vegetable For Urban Raised Beds

1. Swiss Chard

Beta vulgaris var. Cicla
USDA zones 3-10

Swiss chard care is easy! The beautiful ruffled leaves grow from a crown and come in deep, lovely colors with contrasting ribs and veins. And it tastes just as lovely. Plant in early spring or late summer in full sun. You can harvest it leaf by leaf all season long, making it one of the best plants for urban gardens. Easy to grow, easy to eat!

2. Beans

Phaseolus vulgaris, Phaseolus coccineus
USDA zones 3-10 or 11

Green beans are incredibly productive and grow well in a raised bed. They require little maintenance and also can replace nitrogen in the soil. If you only have a small space, choose bush beans that stay under 3 feet tall. If your space is narrow but tall enough, try growing pole beans vertically. They can grow to between 8 and 12 feet high, but stay relatively slender.

Beans are the crop that just keeps on giving, as new pods develop. They require well-draining loam and a full sun location. Some species start producing after 60 days, but some cultivars (Lazy Housewife) can be eaten young as snap beans.

Looking for plants to grow beneath the beans? Nasturtium, summer savory, and rosemary work well since they keep down beetles that can damage beans.

3. Cherry Tomatoes

Solanum lycopersicum
USDA zones 3-11

Growing cherry tomatoes in containers is perfect for when space is limited. Cherry tomatoes can grow in pots on the patio or in window boxes, and they can be moved around during the day to keep them in the sun. Pick an indeterminate variety if you have room for a tall vine (use a tomato cage!) since these vegetables ripen fruit all summer long. They are one of the best edible plants for vertical gardens. Determinants are more compact when space is limited but fruit earlier than regular tomatoes. Use a large pot to allow for their roots.

4. Beets

Beta vulgaris
USDA zones 2-11

Beet roots are a deep, gorgeous red unless they are the golden variety, fast-growing and delicious. But the reason they work so well for an urban garden is that they offer not just the beet root but also beet greens that can be harvested and cooked every single time you thin the plants, as well as at the same time you harvest the root. Container grown beets can be cropped in spring, then again in summer or fall, to be harvested some 8 weeks later. They like full or partial sun and acidic soil. For small containers, try Mini Ball beet variety.

Looking for a companion plant for your beets? Look no further than garlic. It coexists happily with beets and its strong “fragrance” will deter beet pests like aphids and armyworms.

Fruiting Shrubs & Trees for Containers.

5. Blueberries

Vaccinium spp.
USDA zones 3-10

Who doesn’t love blueberries, whether in oatmeal or to toss into muffins? It is very easy to grow blueberries in pots - easier in some ways, since they require well-draining acidic soil and not every garden offers that. They also require full sun. Know before you grow: blueberries may take several years to establish, but once they start fruiting, they will be a reliable part of your urban crop. Pick one of the new hybrids called “half-high”, like North Country or Top Hat, which are perfect for container growing.

6. Meyer Lemons

Citrus × lemon 'Meyer'
USDA zones 8-11

This compact hybrid is a mix between a lemon tree and a mandarin orange. The Meyer lemon tree thrives in containers where it typically stays under 7 feet (2 m) tall. It is perfect for a sunny patio in warm climates, since it is low maintenance yet offers year round fruit, once it establishes. In cooler climates, Meyer lemon container trees can be moved in and out.

The plant does need a sunny location and well-draining soil, but won’t need to be watered as often as the juicy fruit might make you think. Wait until the top 2 inches (5 cm) of soil are bone dry. Look for blossoms in spring and fall once the tree starts blooming.

Herbs & Edible Flowers for Urban Gardens

7. Nasturtiums

Tropaeolum spp.
USDA 8-11

Growing nasturtiums rewards you with bright, tough, flowering plants that can be perennials or self-seeding annuals. You can find bush or vining varieties, then use the pretty orange flowers in salads. Plant them in well-draining soil in a sunny location and they will basically take care of themselves. If you like the taste of watercress, plant the Peach Melba cultivar. The yellow flowers with wine-colored spots taste like watercress and are perfect for containers.

8. Rosemary

Salvia rosmarinus
USDA zones 8-19

Potted rosemary is a great plant for an urban garden since it produces lovely indigo flowers, has a delightful aroma, and can be used all year long in whatever quantities your cooking requires. Very drought tolerant, this perennial herb can grow to 6 feet tall in the wild, holding onto its deep green, aromatic needles all year long.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which Edible Plants Are Good For Urban Rooftops?

Urban rooftops are often, but not always, sunny. If access is difficult, pick plants that don’t require much water, like rosemary. Otherwise, any edible plants that match your hardiness zone and the sun exposure of your roof will be good candidates.

What are the Most Resilient Edible Plants to Grow?

If you are looking for resilient edible plants, go for natives. These are plants that already are accustomed to the climate and know how to fight off insect pests.

Teo Spengler

Teo Spengler has been gardening for 30 years. She is a docent at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Her passion is trees, 250 of which she has planted on her land in France.