These small garden ideas will help you get the most bang for your vegetable gardening buck! You can harvest fresh produce even if you’re limited in space in your urban garden.
You can even grow small fruit trees when you’re limited on space.
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Small Garden Ideas for Urban Spaces
Consider terracing your small garden space
If your only open space is awkward and steep, terracing allows you easier access to care for your vegetable plants and for harvesting, but it also prevents erosion and helps to retain water in your growing area. This method is used extensively in vineyards, allowing growers to turn hillsides into a growing area. Basically, it’s a method of adding a series of “steps” up a hillside, creating flat areas situated between rises, similar to what you see above.
You can adopt this method in the home garden by creating a garden bed at the lowest level, then using boards or concrete blocks to retain the next level, and so on.
When we moved into our old house, the very steep front yard was filled with pineapple plants (undeniably cool, I know). It was probably an easy way for the previous resident to use the awkward space, but we wanted more productivity from the only sunny spot in the yard. The pineapples ripened over the course of several months, and as they did, we pulled out the plants and shared them with friends and neighbors. We still have some pineapple plants, tucked here and there, but large-ish plants that bear only a single fruit over a long growing season just wasn’t the best use of a small space. Terracing allowed us to plant several “levels” of productive crops.
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Transform unexpected spaces
For me, it was the driveway. The concrete drive was situated in the sunniest spot on our lot. Instead of battling the shade and poor soil conditions that existed in other parts of the awkward yard, we imported some soil to create raised beds.
This allowed us to start growing in good soil immediately. I used grow bags and planters made from stacked banana stumps. The banana stumps only last a season, but worked for our purposes. You could to the same with logs.
Try container gardening
Planting in raised beds or containers allows you to turn a condominium patio or apartment terrace into a producing small space garden. You can tuck a container full of pretty vegetables on a porch, hang some from an arbor or pergola, or line them up in a side yard if it’s sunny enough.
Container gardens offer a bit of instant gratification, too. Fill them with good soil, plant your seeds or seedlings, water, and you’ve got a little garden! Container gardening also allows you to extend the season. You can move pots around as the seasons change to catch the most sun. And you can bring pots inside if frost is threatening before your crop is ready to harvest.
Check out this small garden for inspiration!
One of the best small garden ideas: Grow vertically
Creating trellises is easy, and it allows you to train certain plants to grow up rather than out.
This leaves precious square footage for more plants. If you have chickens, you might be able to grow some veggies on the outside of their enclosure. Or you might try growing from the top down with hanging containers. Here’s how to grow upside-down tomatoes and here’s how to grow lettuce in containers.
Try square foot gardening
With a focus on getting as much mileage as possible out of a small garden bed, this planting method utilizes a special planting mix to assure the best production. It’s one of the most popular small garden ideas going. While I’ve definitely used my garden beds to grow plants close together, I’ve not used Mel’s mix.
Choose vegetable plants with high yields for your small garden
If you’re limited on garden space, it makes sense to choose plants that are great producers. These crops are great options — consider them as you sort through all of your small garden ideas, trying to get the most from your space.
Growing squash in an urban garden
We’ve all heard stories about people running away from a gardening neighbor bringing yet more zucchini to the door. Squash does take up a fair amount of space in the garden, but it’s also prolific. If you’ve got a neighbor who grows and shares squash, you might want to save that space for something else. If not, you will be pleasantly surprised at the abundance a single seed can produce.
Choose a small variety like Patty Pan to take up less space in your small garden plot. Another option is to grow your zucchini plant inside a tomato cage to force it to grow more upright.
Caged and supported, a tomato plant takes up roughly a 2′ x 2′ piece of ground. One will produce a steady flow of ripe red fruit during the summer months. As I estimated in an earlier post, a single tomato plant can bear 20-30 pounds of fruit. [How to grow tomatoes]
A happy green bean plant will awe you with how many pods you can pull off during the season. Six bush bean plants can produce a colander full of beans every few days. Or, save space and grow pole beans vertically.
Unless you like your food fiery, you probably only need one hot pepper plant for fresh use. A jalapeño pepper produces fruit all season long, so you’ll be able to spice up your meals throughout the summer. You might need two plants if you plan to preserve homemade salsa for the pantry.
Bell peppers, on the other hand? I’ve not had enough success with them to invite them back to my garden, with one exception. Gypsy bell (a hybrid) is a smaller sweet pepper that is prolific and has a shorter growing season.
Greens like lettuce and spinach are easy to grow and will keep your salad bowl full. Container-grown lettuce is a perfect addition to an urban garden when there’s a shortage of space, especially if you hang it. Those with warmer weather to contend with will do well with Swiss chard, which will produce new leaves all summer long. And remember to save the tops from your beets and radishes – they’re edible, too! [How to harvest lettuce to make it last]
A single Japanese long eggplant takes up roughly 15 square inches, but continually produces fruit throughout the growing season, making it a great addition to an urban garden. Varieties that put out larger fruit take up a bit more space.
If you’d like to grow cucumbers, growing them vertically is one of the best small garden ideas you can adopt. It will save space on the ground for more crops. But no matter how you grow them, a healthy cucumber plant will produce high yields over a long period.
Originally published June 2016; this post has been updated.