Grow Stems and Roots in Containers

Often expensive to buy or difficult to find in stores, planting these delicacies at home is sure to repay your efforts.

Rhubarb Stalk

Rhubarb Stalk

Rhubarb plants with long green or reddish acidic leafstalks grow in basal clumps. The stems, and only the stems, are edible when cooked. The leaves are poisonous.

Photo by: DK - Simple Steps to Success: Fruits and Vegetables in Pots © 2012 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Simple Steps to Success: Fruits and Vegetables in Pots , 2012 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Rhubarb plants with long green or reddish acidic leafstalks grow in basal clumps. The stems, and only the stems, are edible when cooked. The leaves are poisonous.

Slightly weird and wonderful, these quirky crops look appealing in containers and have their own distinctive flavors. 


Eaten as a fruit, but officially a vegetable, rhubarb is a big deep-rooted perennial that will grow in a large pot for several years. Its blush stems and green sculptural leaves make an impressive architectural feature, too. Plant young rhubarb plants or ”crowns” in early winter or early spring. Pots require good drainage to prevent plants rotting, but the large leaves also need a steady supply of water, so mix well-rotted manure with the compost when planting, and keep pots moist. In early spring, apply an all-purpose granular fertilizer and renew the top layer of compost. 

How to Plant:

  1. Choose a large pot, at least 12in (30cm) wide, with drainage holes, and cover the base with broken clay pot pieces. Fill with compost mixed with rotted manure; add water-retaining crystals to help keep the compost moist.
  2. Make a hole in the compost and plant the rhubarb; ensure the crown, where new shoots emerge, is not buried. Keep well watered. Each spring, refresh the top layer of compost and add some granular fertilizer at the recommended rate.
  3. To force rhubarb for pale pink, sweet stems, exclude light completely by placing a bucket, or terra-cotta forcing pot, over the plant at any time from late winter until early spring. Blanched stems will be ready about a month later.

Aftercare and Harvesting 

Pick stems from spring until early summer by twisting and pulling at the base rather than cutting them off, but do not harvest them in the first year to allow plants to bulk up. Tender, pale pink, forced stems are an early spring delicacy and are produced by excluding light from the plant. Forcing exhausts plants, however, so give them a rest every other year.

Celery Root

The odd appearance of this knobbly, swollen root belies its rather sophisticated mild celery flavor. The fact that it needs a long growing season and a continuous supply of water to reach a good size means that it is not the easiest plant to grow in pots, but adventurous gardeners and gourmets should find a space to try. Sow indoors in compartmentalized trays on the surface of the compost in early spring, or buy young plants later in the season. Pot up into larger containers and harden off to plant out in late spring or early summer. Plant in a large pot, with about 10in (25cm) between plants. 

Aftercare and Harvesting

Water regularly, and do not allow the compost to dry out in hot weather. Feed plants weekly with a fertilizer for root crops, and remove the oldest leaves when the celery root starts to swell at the base of the stems. Lift the roots from fall and through winter, and eat the celery-flavored leaves too. 

Tip: Buy healthy young celery root plants in late spring, since they can be difficult and time-consuming to grow from seed and you will only need a few to fill a container. 


Beautiful to look at, good to eat, and easy to grow, kohlrabi is the perfect crop for a small container garden. Plants are grown for their swollen stems, which have crunchy, sweet, white flesh and purple, green, or white skins. Sow small quantities every two or three weeks from early spring until late summer, either directly into large pots or into compartmentalized trays or small plastic pots outdoors to fill spaces later in the season. Sow seed about ½in (1cm) deep, and thin or plant out 4–8in (10–20cm) apart, depending on the size of kohlrabi you require. Water in well and place the final container in full sun. 

Aftercare and Harvesting 

Keep the compost moist by watering regularly to promote fast growth. Protect early sowings with cloches if the nights are cold, since this may cause plants to bolt. Kohlrabi is ready to harvest in as little as ten weeks; pick when the swollen stems are about the size of tennis balls, before the flesh becomes woody. They also tolerate light frosts, the purple types being the hardiest, and late crops can often be picked through fall and into winter. To harvest, simply pull the stems from the compost. Both the swollen stems, which have a mild turnip taste, and the leaves can be eaten raw in salads, or stir-fried or steamed. 

Tip: Decorative and delicious, kohlrabi are trouble-free—just protect them from slug damage—and their swollen stems make fascinating specimens for pots.

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