Gardening in Small Spaces

Even a small space can offer excellent gardening opportunities, you just need to be creative. This is a guide about gardening in small spaces.


January 31, 2011 Flag
7 found this helpful

Space is at a premium for most gardeners, but especially for people living in large urban areas. A few may have limited access to a small backyard plot, but most consider themselves lucky if they have a small balcony or rooftop terrace on which to grow plants. If you live in a large city, you can still grow own edibles and flowers, you just have to get a little creative. Here are some tips for making the most of the little space you have.

Rule #1: Ask For Permission

If you live in a condominium or a town home, be sure you receive approval from your co-op board or HOA, (or if you rent, your landlord) before planting or modifying your balcony or patio space in any way. Most have very specific rules in place regarding gardening and landscaping - for example weight loads for balconies, and what type of alterations, if any, can be made to exterior walls.

Build Beds Out of Boxes

A small corner on a balcony can usually accommodate several 2 x 2 foot wooden boxes (6-inches deep) for growing vegetables and flowers. Fill them with a light weight potting soil and make an attractive display by stacking them at different heights using concrete blocks. For climbing plants, attach a vertical frame to the side of the boxes and tack on some netting.


Capitalize On the Sun

Vegetables require plenty of sunlight - at least 6 hours or more a day. What you can grow depends on how your outdoor space is orientated to the sun. Crops like tomatoes, peppers, and beans will be happiest in a warm, light-filled exposure to the south or west. Lettuce and root vegetables need less sun and can be grown in northern and eastern exposures, where sunlight is more limited. To maximize the amount of sun your plants receive, try using mirrors, light colored paint, and shiny accessories in the space to help capture and reflect the light.

Compost in Your Kitchen

Kitchen compost pails are the perfect way to recycle food scraps in apartments, small homes, and condominiums, because they allow you to produce compost directly in an airtight pail, which eliminates the odors. Larger systems could be placed on a rooftop, or - if the law allows - on a fire escape for shared use by several neighbors. For the more adventurous types, a shallow 2 x 2 foot box located in a broom closet is adequate space for vermicomposting (composting with worms). Worm boxes placed outdoors in colder climates need to be well insulated.


Consider Your Neighbors

Be sure to consider your neighbors (and their pets) when planning your garden space. More than likely your garden will be considered a welcome addition, providing that your plants don't block any scenic views and your container garden doesn't "rain" down on your neighbor's balcony every time you water your plants.

Get Creative with Containers

The latest trend in gardening is to mix flowers and vegetable crops within the same container. This is great news for gardeners with limited space, and easy to do as long as you choose plants that have similar overall growing requirements (e.g. both need full sun). When designing containers, the traditional concept of thriller (a "look-at-me" plant), fillers (middle level plants that fill in the gaps), and spillers (the trailing elements) still applies. Look for dwarf varieties of vegetables that are specially bred to grow in containers.

Plant for Pollution Tolerance

Trees and plants growing near busy city streets need to be able to endure constant exposure to soot, salt, car exhaust, and other toxins. They must also be able to withstand heat from the pavement, drought-like conditions, and tolerate growing in acidic soils. Tree species like oak, ash, elm, ginkgo, linden, and gray birch, are considered more "pollution-tolerant". For flowers, native species are usually more adaptable to sparse conditions. If you want to plant roses, choose some of the heartier Rugosa varieties. Keep the foliage of your trees and plants clean and healthy by occasionally spraying them with water or wiping their leaves clean with a damp sponge.

Plant Fruit Trees in Pots

A few well-placed dwarf varieties of apple, plum, pear, and cherry trees can make an attractive backdrop while giving you a delicious harvest. These small, attractive trees reach a height of 5 to 7 feet and bear fruit quickly. Figs, citrus, and soft fruits like strawberries and blueberries also do well in containers. Check the pollination requirements of each fruit. You may need more than one variety unless the tree is self-fertilizing. Make sure you use planters with wheels to make moving and rotating heavy pots easier.

Utilize Railings and Window Boxes

If your railings wide and flat, simply set a railing box on top of it and bolt it securely into place. Holders are also available for hanging standard size boxes on metal railings. Hang them on the outside of your railings to save balcony space. Hang them on the inside if you're worried about things falling to the ground. Use window boxes to grow dwarf vegetables like tomatoes or peppers and your favorite herbs. Some easy-care choices are sage, chives, thyme, oregano, and basil. If you're above the first floor, be sure to put a drip tray or saucer underneath your pots and planters to prevent any excess water from dripping down below.

Join a Community Garden

Few things are more rewarding than access to a steady supply of delicious fresh vegetables that you have grown yourself. No space of your own? Then consider joining a community garden. It's not as hard as you think and offers you opportunities to meet like-minded people that share similar interests. To find a community garden near you, or to find out how to start a community garden in your community, visit the American Community Garden Association

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February 6, 20110 found this helpful

Tip: succulents are very easy to grow, to propagate (just put a leaf in soil!) & they need very little water. In my apt. bldg. I have put pots on the side of the entry staircase with mixed succulents. I was the first to try to revive the old beds on the side of the bldg. We did so well that the management now employs a gardener, (who over prunes,) but

the roses are lovely. (P.S. didn't ask for permission at first, they were just glad that the areas didn't look so ratty!)

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April 6, 20130 found this helpful

I have over half an acre and I am forced to grow in containers due to a highly invasive Bermuda grass. Your article covers some subjects I hadn't considered before. Thank you.

I'd like to offer a couple of tips concerning the use of food scraps for composting. It's a great idea. Don't forget to include coffee grounds! I've read a lot on the subject. It seems that the grounds offer little nutrition to the soil, but they do lighten up the soil and make it so very workable.

When adding food scraps, be sure that you never include any animal products. No meat, bones, grease, eggs, etc. You wouldn't want your flower and vegetable containers invaded with rats, raccoons and flies.

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August 6, 2010 Flag
8 found this helpful

Some corners of the garden seem to be in a state of perpetual darkness. Cast into shade by a nearby building, shed, or even the shadow of your own house, these areas present a unique and difficult gardening challenge.

How to Bring Light Into Shady Garden Spaces

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May 12, 2008 Flag
1 found this helpful

Vertical Planting Pouches

Vertical Planting Pouches

Have you seen the pouches at the gardening centers that have small opening in them and appear to be made from heavy plastic? You plant flowers in the openings and when it gets filled out you have a virtual waterfall of plants.

I made some of these that look exactly like them. They are made from tarps. I sewed them on my sewing machine. I used the grommet to attach my handle, but you could sew it on as well. They are approximately 17 inches high and 7 inches across. You can square off the bottom if you wish (like it is on a brown paper bag). By making your own, you can make it the size you want and put in as many plants as you wish. These are shown with no cuts because I am trying to decide what plants to put in. But to make the openings, just take a utility knife and make an X for the openings.

By Elaine from IA

May 13, 20080 found this helpful

I have seen the upside down hanging tomatoe planters on tv & was thinking they would be easy to make my own as well.I would use an old shower curtain or vinal table cloth or other.

It seems the tomatoe start would be held inside the bag with an opening just large enough for it to be slipped inside & the bag then filled with the dirt & potting soil.Hang it & then (hopefully) enjoy !

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May 14, 20080 found this helpful

Years ago I tried using the plastic tubes they sell in at the hardware store for down spouts off your eaves. It works awesome because they are in a roll so you can cut off what length you like. Tie or staple the bottom and fasten a hanger. Fill with soil. Cut x holes for seed or plants. Water and wait to grow. They are quite strong and there is no sewing.

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May 15, 20080 found this helpful

I haven't heard of these pouches; how do they work? I don't have a green thumb at all, so any help would be appreciated in knowing if these pouches would be lots easier than trying to plant an entire flower bed!!!

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May 26, 20080 found this helpful

July 12, 2013 Flag
1 found this helpful

Photo Description
I created a garden out of a parking lot using coffee grounds from Starbucks and coffee chaff from Coffee Bean International. This is my window view as I work from home.

Photo Location
St Johns neighborhood, Portland OR.

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July 15, 20130 found this helpful

How beautiful! You took a few square feet that had been overlooked and neglected and made a wonderful space! I'm sure you have made a lot of people smile when seeing this!

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September 2, 20130 found this helpful

Thank you for your kind comment, TeresaKay.

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March 26, 2009 Flag
1 found this helpful

I grew up on a small farm where we raised practically everything we ate. I've always liked to have some fresh produce growing somewhere. We have downsized to our retirement home and try as I might, I haven't been able to find a suitable place to plant very much of a "Victory Garden."

Yesterday as I was cleaning up around outside, I saw my window boxes which I had taken down for the winter. My frugal, farm girl mind kicked in with this idea. Instead of spending money on the annuals I usually fill them with, I'm going to plant vegetable seeds for plants which will thrive in that kind of container. I've already bought radish, lettuce, and chive seeds (three packs for $1.00!). Since I'll be able to bring them inside at night if the temperature drops, I'm going to get those started right away.

I'm also planning to plant some cucumbers in them because they will be pretty, trailing over the sides. Tomato and pepper plants can be tucked into spots between shrubbery in the back yard. I will again plant potatoes in my very large round pots. Last year I cut the eyes off some potatoes that had sprouted in my vegetable bin, planted them in a big pot and had a nice crop from something I would have just put into the garbage disposer. My grandchildren had a virtual treasure hunt digging them out.

I'm so excited about this project and can't wait to get started. I was going to wait to submit this idea after I had the boxes full and growing and could submit a photo, but I wanted it to be published in time for others to do the same if they like the idea. Why pay for and plant those annual ornamental vines when you can plant something fresh and edible?

By Sandy from Elon, NC

March 26, 20090 found this helpful

And I have a question about cucumbers, could I plant them in a large hanging pot and they grow down like that? I'm also just getting into gardening (got a few containers with tomatoes and bell peppers started).

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March 26, 20090 found this helpful

go to : and scroll down to see vertical gardens and look at those wonderful grow towers. I was so eager to try something like that I could hardly contain myself. Any number of ways to do it I believe.

Water from top I think.

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March 26, 20090 found this helpful

You cut a sprouted potato into a few pieces so there are a couple of sprouts per piece, or use single small potatoes.

Let air dry after you've cut them overnight.

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March 29, 20090 found this helpful

August 10, 2006 Flag
1 found this helpful

No matter how small your garden plot is, intensive gardening will maximize the productivity of your available space. Intensive gardening does this by utilizing season-extending tools and specific planting techniques.

plant rows

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May 14, 2013 Flag
3 found this helpful

Short on space? Want to grow herbs or salad foods? Then grow food upwards! Yep, this season I have done this using recycled materials and here's how. I used parts of a pallet (wooden slated base which building products are delivered on in the UK) to make a rectangular frame, secured in the corners with screws to provide some strength.

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August 5, 2011 Flag
4 found this helpful

This is our front door moveable garden, in my garden.

By Mary from Lewiston, NY

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May 6, 2009 Flag
0 found this helpful

In my backyard we have a concrete slab that is about a 1/2 inch thick, that was used for a basketball area. Now, I would like to grow a garden on top.

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May 27, 2009 Flag
0 found this helpful

I'm starting a gardening project with grades Pre-K to 4. We have a very small section of land. I would like ideas. Thank you.

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April 26, 2006 Flag

If you are looking for high-producing crops to use in a small yard, here are some suggestions . . .

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