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5 Tips for Gardening In a Small Space

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My childhood is filled with memories of pushing dirt over new seeds in my mother’s garden or trailing behind my grandmother with a basket of garden green beans in Michigan. When I finally got a place of my own, it was an upstairs apartment in the city. I wasn’t ambitious enough to grow more than a houseplant. Now that I have a yard of my own I have been researching the topic of gardening and discovered that gardening in a small space can definitely be done.                

For me, and possibly for you, gardening is more than just a hobby. It’s a way to get active, soak up some sun, add fresh herbs or vegetables to your dinner table, and learn a new life skill.

It’s also a legacy. Something you can pass down to your children, as my family did with me.

If space is limited, then here are a few basic tips to get you started.


Go with the right sunlight.

If you have a garden in a small space, then it’s likely in the shade at least part-time. That doesn’t eliminate your chances of success, but it may limit your selection of plants and vegetation. It’s a wide variety, so don’t despair!

Examples of rockstar shade plants include ferns, forget-me-nots, and impatiens. Vegetables have a few more stipulations. Here are some guidelines as to which veggies will do well in the shade, according to Gardening In Small Spaces - An Illustrated Encyclopedia to Gardening.

Veggies that require full sun - anything that’s grown for its seeds or fruit:

  • Corn

  • Tomatoes

  • Squash

  • Cucumbers

  • Peppers

Veggies that can be grown in partial shade - anything that’s grown for its leaves or roots:

  • Cabbage

  • Carrots

  • Kale

  • Lettuce

  • Herbs

  • Radishes


Go with simple.

Are you thinking about growing a few things out on the porch?

When I approached my #1 gardening guru - my mother - about all the ideas I had for my new backyard and all the vegetables I wanted to plant, she did me a huge favor. She gave me this advice:

“Start simple. It’s your first season. Try two large pots on your back porch to get a feel for it.”

Potted plants are a common place to start, but here are several other options:

  • Garden planter bags

  • Windowboxes

  • Tubs

  • Urns

Keep a few things in mind:

Always start with commercial planting mix no matter which container you choose.

Container gardens must have a suitable method for draining. Typically this is a hole in the bottom of the pot.

Growing vegetables? The American Horticultural Society published these findings in Container Gardening - Illustrated Encyclopedia of Gardening:

  • For onions, carrots, beets, and zucchini, use 24” x 36” boxes, 8 inches deep.

  • For pole beans, cucumbers, and peas, use a 12” x 48” box, 8 inches deep.

  • For peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes, use single 4- or 5-gallon containers.


Go inside.

Are you interested in something like an herb garden? Try this awesome DIY project with recycled pasta sauce jars or mason jars in a sunny spot in your home. This is a wonderful project for kids and can make a great Mother’s Day gift.  

DIY Repurposed Glass Jars Into Adorable Herb Garden:

Caution: Poorly drained indoor planters can increase the mold spore count in your house. If someone in your home has sensitivities to mold, be aware of this potential health risk.


Go up.  

Another great method for maximizing your space is to go vertical. Some classic ideas are hanging plants or windowboxes. Here are a few other suggestions:

  • Trellis - A climbing array of clematis or roses can brighten up the side of any house.

  • DIY Vertical Garden - Get really creative with some small pots while making the most of your limited space. Check out this video for instructions:


Go experiment.

The best way to develop your green thumb is to quite literally dig in. No matter how much space you have, there are enough ideas out there to fit something in your own lifestyle. Some great first steps in your experiment are:

  • Choosing which plants to purchase

  • Deciding whether to plant seeds or starter plants. According to my mother, you’ll typically need to plant seeds early and plant starters after the frost, unless they’re an early type of crop. Some plants are heartier than others.

  • Researching what’s in season

  • Establishing your garden’s location

  • Developing a routine

Before my grandmother passed away, she mailed me a letter that contained two packets of seeds. In her letter, she urged me to continue her legacy and teach my own kids to garden. With today’s fast-paced life, screens in every room, preservatives in so many of our foods, and many other manmade problems, I’ve determined that gardening is one way to unplug from it all and do something healthy, creative, and fun - no matter how small it is.

Have you ever considered gardening in a small space? Let us know what you grew in the comments below!

-- Laura Harris


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