So you’ve been bit by the gardening bug, but you have a tiny plot. Don’t worry — even a small garden can yield big harvests. Before you start planting, though, think carefully about your garden’s layout. A well-designed space is critical in a small garden. To get you started, visit some of the sites below for helpful advice on small garden design:
Vegetable Garden Plans from Better Homes and Gardens offers 14 vegetable garden designs, ranging from a child’s garden to an Italian garden. Most plans are for gardens 7 feet by 7 feet or smaller.
Small Gardens from Garden Design offers a look at the renovation of chef James Beard’s New York City garden. Read about the winners of the 2011 Greenest Block in Brooklyn for other great small garden ideas.
Plan Your Garden Layout from the University of Illinois Extension. Here you’ll find expert advice on deciding on a garden size and selecting the appropriate crops.
Block Style Layout in Raised Vegetable Garden from the Colorado State University Extension. Visit this site for true inspiration. Neat rows of red leaf lettuce are nestled against spinach and Swiss chard, eking every last inch of space from the raised bed and managing to look gorgeous at the same time!
Short on Space? Grow Veggies Anyway! From Sunset Magazine. Go here to learn more about raised beds, container gardens and creative solutions.
Small Vegetable Garden Design from Garden Guides. Visit Garden Guides for a basic overview of small garden design.
More Tips for the Small Garden
Think vertical. You’ve probably grown peas or beans on trellises, but what about other crops? A trellis or pole takes up less space than a tomato cage and keeps the unruly plants tidy. Cucumbers are healthier and easier to harvest when grown on a trellis or fence. In both cases, gently secure the vines with a strip of fabric. Larger cucurbits like summer squash and zucchini can be trellised as well, but pick the fruits when they’re small. Otherwise, they’ll tear away from the plants, causing damage.
Choose compact varieties. Seed producers understand that gardeners have limited space. To solve this problem, they’ve developed compact bush varieties for almost any crop you want to grow. Try bush varieties of cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini and summer squash—the biggest space hogs in your garden.
Grow some container crops. If your gardening ambitions are bigger than the space in your vegetable garden, plant a few crops in containers. Almost any crop can be grown in a container, but compact bush varieties do best. Try tomatoes, peppers, bush beans, lettuce or broccoli. Moisture and nutrients leach more quickly from containers so water them frequently and fertilize every other week with a balanced fertilizer.
Use raised beds. Not only do raised beds stay neat and tidy, but you can grow plants more closely together because the soil is rich and fertile. Even two or three raised beds can yield enough produce for a family of four. Make the beds no more than 3 feet wide so you can reach into them without stepping on the soil. Leave paths at least 18 inches wide between each bed.
Try succession planting. Succession plantings stretch your vegetable garden’s harvest well beyond the typical July to September time frame and you can grow two or three times the produce in the same amount of space. Succession planting is the practice of planting new crops as the previous ones are waning. For example, plant radishes or lettuce in early spring. Then, pop a few summer squash seeds in the soil in early summer, just before you harvest the lettuce and radishes. Then, at the end of the summer, plant some spinach and lettuce in the same spot for a fall crop. The mature plants help keep weeds down and also shade the soil so it stays a bit moister. One note of caution: growing so many plants in the same spot year after year can deplete the soil. Rebuild it annually with plenty of compost and manure.
While you might not grow enough produce to put away for the winter, small gardens have many benefits over large plots. For one thing, they are a breeze to take care of. You’ll spend less than an hour a week keeping your garden in tip-top shape, and you’ll still have room in the yard for a perennial garden or a quiet sitting area.
Other Small Vegetable Garden Ideas and Resources:
Small Plot Vegetable Gardening from the Iowa State University Extension
Small Garden Spaces from Washington State University Extension
This YouTube video covers how to grow vegetables efficiently in a small space.