Small Space Gardens

Anything can be grown in small spaces. The trick is figuring out how much will fit with existing limitations. and in some cases how to modify choices to grow vertically.


Small properties, apartments, and rentals often offer very limited opportunities for gardening. Growing annual flowers in containers is common of course, but perennials and vegetables can also be grown in containers. But also think creatively about rooftop gardens, table gardens, wall pocket gardens, large patio box gardens and boulevard gardens. Trellises and pillar frames allow for vertical growth taking up only a very small footprint. They can be used in the ground as well as in large containers.

Nutrient rich soil is always important, but it is absolutely essential if you are growing in containers. Dense plantings, in other words a lot of plants in a little space, can quickly deplete the immediate soil of nutrients as well as moisture. Nutrients are especially important when growing fruits and vegetables. So the first thing you need to do is amend your soil to add appropriate nutrients and to hold moisture but still allow for good drainage. If you are growing in containers, mix your own potting soil for the best results.

Understanding the space needs and growth patterns of specific plants will guide your space planning. For most plants, think about one foot squares (hence square foot gardening!) instead of planting rows. How many of your selected plants will a one foot by one foot square accommodate? For many of the vegetables we like to grow, one square foot will hold one tomato plant, pepper plant, broccoli, cabbage. A square foot allows for spinach or lettuce, four chard or four greens of most types. Onions, radishes and carrots will be comfortable with about 16 per square foot.

Some of our favorite vegetables to grow can be a little more space gobbling. A standard bush tomato plant will fully consume the square foot if not more, but you could grow indeterminate tomatoes like a vine using tall vertical supports or even on a trellis. I know from experience that you need to be diligent about tying indeterminate vines to the supports as they grow and eventually tip pruning may be necessary to keep height in check. If you don't, the vines will be all over your garden. The same choices can be made for bush beans versus pole beans. And of course any vining fruit or vegetable can be grown on a trellis, pillar frame or fence.

In many cases, choices will have to be made based on the space available. Seek out compact varieties. If you really want to grow beans or peas one square foot of space will not produce much of a crop. You may need two or three square feet of trellising to make it worthwhile. And don't forget that you need room to reach the harvest as well. And you don't want vertical plants to cast shade on shorter plants so think ahead for that too. Rambling watermelons, squash and zucchini will not be possible even if you are supremely creative and handy enough to create appropriate supports.

Each variety of bush or vine plant will have different branching habits and mature heights. Study potential selection descriptions carefully to make the best choices for your space. Adjustments may need to be made each year for your favorites. And don't forget about succession planting! Some crops can be seeded every couple of weeks or so, resulting in continual production. Or harvest spring onions and then plant Swiss Chard.

Planting perennials in small spaces will require the same kind of research and planning. Perennials hardy for your zone will prefer to be planted in the ground. Growing perennials in containers will require some extra care of course, so be sure to read the how to. I find annuals pretty easy to tuck into small spaces or containers just about anywhere. There are tiny low growing annuals, spreading or vining, and of course if you are looking for dramatic vertical accents with a small footprint try sunflowers.

Sharon DwyerComment