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.
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January 11, 2017 Flag

If you have a fence and no yard space, these hanging pots are the answer! I bought mine from the Lillian Vernon catalogue, but I imagine places like eBay and Amazon have them too. I wish I had taken the picture after they were all planted, but you get the idea. These pots were all yellow when I got them and I spray painted them. They all have drain holes, but I choose to just put pots into them.

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January 31, 2011 Flag

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.
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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.

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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 http://acga.localharvest.org/

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August 6, 2010 Flag

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

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.

Vertical Planting Pouches

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March 26, 2009 Flag

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."

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August 10, 2006 Flag

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

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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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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January 5, 2001 Flag

When I put my plants in the ground I lay them on their sides and put the dirt all the way up and over the roots and bottom leaves. Pat the dirt down good. It grows more roots and builds up the plant.

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Questions

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May 6, 2009 Flag

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.

Does anyone know if this is possible? Not sure if it is possible to drill holes for drainage. Could there be layer system like in living roofs that could work? Please help!

Hardiness Zone: 7a

By cacunnin from Washington DC

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May 8, 20090 found this helpful

I have been growing on my driveway for years everything's in pots or containers of some sort.

This year I have started using Homemade Earth boxes made out of storage containers . Just Google how to make Earth boxes.

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May 13, 20090 found this helpful

You could build a raised bed over it and put small drainage in the wood that you use. Just make sure you use treated wood. You wouldn't want to do all that work and it rot! You could google raised beds and get some really good ideas! Hope this helps!

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May 19, 20090 found this helpful

I am a retired Landscape Architect. Several years ago, we designed a garden on top of a concrete parking area. We created railroad tie boxes of different heights and sizes. Cascading plants on the edges of these boxes softened the edges and topped the ties on the ones high enough to sit on with redwood to protect "sitters" from the tie chemicals. The effect after a couple of years was quite nice.

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May 27, 2009 Flag

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.

Hardiness Zone: 6a

By easylikesunday from Philadelphia, PA

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May 27, 20090 found this helpful

I think I would construct a teepee made from bamboo poles (or other poles, if you can salvage them) and plant scarlet runner beans at the bases of each. The plants will grow up the poles and the teepee can be a nice resting area for the kids. The beans make pretty flowers, and the dried beans (which are pretty purple and black) could be cooked in the fall (saving some for the next planting). Jack Be Little pumpkins will also grow vertically, and give you many little pumpkins for the classrooms in the fall.

Many crops will grow on structures. This lets you plant other things below. For instance, you can plant leaf lettuce under a hoop of wire fencing that you are growing beans on. The shade from the beans as they grow will keep the sun and heat from causing the lettuce to bolt as quickly.

When you have limited space, think vertical! Borrow a square foot gardening book from the library for more ideas on growing in small spaces!

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May 27, 20090 found this helpful

To tie it to an education/nutritional lesson, I would make sure that what you plant can be eaten raw and preferably off the plant. Cherry toms, peas, lettuces. You could try some small pumpkins which would be ready for the kids in the fall. You could also add in a few herbs. Mints would be good in that it would engage the kids to smell and taste.

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May 28, 20090 found this helpful

It's nice to share the bounty with nature's critters. Growing sunflowers is quite impressive and the seeds can be toasted or shared with the animals.

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March 24, 2010 Flag

Has anyone ever tried "vertical gardening"? I am very excited to try this. I have a small balcony and love gardening and this sounds like the answer to my problem.

By Sweet_tammy from Parry Sound, ON

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March 24, 20100 found this helpful

Vertical gardening is exactly what it sounds like: gardening vertically rather than horizontally, as we normally do.

It's ideal for those with limited space who garden in a small yard or on a terrace, deck or patio, but it also can be used effectively by any gardener who is interested in experiencing different types of gardening.

You can use fences, walls, trellises, arbors, pergolas and many different types of containers to garden vertically. As you add lush, draping plants, you can't help but appreciate the sense of artistry that vertical gardening can bring to the landscape.

A vertical garden creates privacy and helps hide unattractive views. It also can cool off your landscape and help shade your property. It allows you to grow more plants with less space while offering excellent air circulation for those plants. You'll be able to enjoy your tomatoes and cantaloupes ripening at eye level.

And plants suited for vertical gardening tend to have less disease because some pests don't climb vertically. Another bonus: You won't have to weed vertical gardens as frequently because you'll be using less soil.

Vertical gardening also allows people with disabilities or those who can't bend or kneel to continue gardening.

Structures

Ready to get started? Here are several structures that are ideal for vertical gardening:

Fences. These are a great way to make use of upward-growing plants, especially climbers and those that have tendrils. And if your fence is unsightly, vertical gardening is a great way to hide it.

Trellises. These structures stand alone and can be made of wood, metal, stone, bricks, plastic or even PVC.

Arbors or pergolas. There are many styles and materials from which to choose, and these structures can either stand alone or be attached to your house. My rule of thumb is that all outside gardening structures should complement the style of your home.

Miscellaneous. Poles, cages, string or large stakes all can work to support your vertical plantings. Also, containers are the foundation for several combinations of vertical gardening. Some unusual objects upon which plants can drape or be trained to grow upward are barrels, old window frames and bed frames or even old kitchen stools.

Lots of plants work well in a vertical garden, including the following:

Vegetables. Tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, beans, winter squash and gourds are perfect choices. Some of these plants will entwine themselves around your structure of choice, while others will need to be tied to it for support. Another ideal vegetable is corn because it needs a lot of vertical space to flourish. One of the benefits of growing corn is that you can plant other veggies along with it, such as beans and zucchini, and use the corn stalks as a supporting structure. You'll get double the harvest, and it will look beautiful.

Vines. A vertical flowering vine can add beauty to your landscape. Plus, it will attract birds and butterflies to your garden for you to enjoy. Morning glory, clematis, climbing rose, honeysuckle vine, sweet potato vine and cardinal climber are good choices.

Fruits. The larger fruits -- melons and pumpkins -- can be trained to grow vertically and can be supported with old pantyhose, strips of cloth or, depending on the size of the fruit, heavy rope. Tie them loosely to avoid damaging the vines. Grapes and kiwi fruit also grow well vertically. Good luck.

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July 12, 2013 Flag

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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August 5, 2011 Flag

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

By Mary from Lewiston, NY

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