The home garden in 2015 is all about growing food and saving space! To get you started thinking about how to make the most of limited garden and patio real estate, we thought we’d reprint this talk given by one of our horticulturists several years ago. And if you are just looking for good space-saving vegetable varieties to grow from seed, see the list at the end of the piece.
If space is a challenge in your garden but you still want a big, highly productive vegetable and herb crop, it’s time to get creative! Instead of thinking like a farmer — straight rows, well-spaced plants — start thinking like a garden designer! You’ll have fun and will probably come up with plenty of innovative ideas we didn’t even think of!
Here’s one you already know: use containers to maximize your space. And think in terms of stacked or tiered containers, with sun-loving plants placed above shady ones. Also, if sunlight is limited in your garden, wheeled containers can help you follow those rays for bigger, better production! Finally, consider collapsible containers (such as growing bags) so you can store them in less space over winter!
Next, go vertical in the garden wherever you can. Tomatoes aren’t the only veggie you can stake — make your cucumbers and peas climb the fence too, and even try some vining squash with good support.
To extend your harvest
season and make the most of limited space, select cut-and-come-again varieties. Because the plants don’t reach full size, they need less space. And you’ll prevent those giant all-at-once harvests that lead to waste! Veggies such as loose-leaf lettuce, spinach, chard, and mustard greens work well, as do arugula, broccoli raab, pak choi, and leaf celery. Many herbs are compact cut-and-come-again performers, including basil, mint, thyme, oregano, and parsley.
Many of us plant generously in spring but neglect to sow successively every few weeks. This extends your harvest and keeps your garden in rotation, with smaller new plants replacing larger old ones as the season progresses. Quick crops such as radish and lettuce can be sown every 7 to 14 days, while warm-season veggies such as cucumber and squash can go in once a month. And if your weather becomes too hot for seed-starting, sow the seeds indoors and transplant!
Many veggies don’t mind being crowded, and nearly all are improved by planting among flowers that “disguise” them from pests. (Members of the Aster family — Zinnia, Marigold, Calendula, and Chrysanthemum — are good friends to veggies, for example.) The guidelines for spacing vegetable plants are based on the farming model, with aisles between each row and space between each plant. Get a little daring, and if things become crowded, thin the seedlings and use them in soups and salads! The following crops don’t mind growing shoulder-to-shoulder in the garden or container: loose-leaf lettuce, carrots, spinach, radishes, and celery.
If you are short on full, direct sunlight in your garden, position some veggies beneath the cucumber trellis or beside taller staked plants such as tomatoes. These won’t mind a bit of shade in the blazing summer heat: lettuce, greens, beets, carrots, radishes, turnips, peas, bush beans, and most herbs.
Finally, choose compact and dwarf varieties whenever possible. Remember, smaller fruit doesn’t necessarily mean smaller plants — a cherry tomato plant can occupy as much space as a giant beefsteak! — but some plants have been selected especially for their compact growth, big yields, or both. Here are some of our favorites:
- Tomato Mega Bite – up to 60 beefsteak fruits on a compact plant
- Tomato Terenzo – a trailing cherry tomato just perfect for baskets!
Cabbage Gonzales – fits neatly in your palm
- Cucumber Spacemaster 80 – full sizes cukes on compact plants
- Eggplant Patio Baby – the name says it all! Up to 50 fruits on every plant!
- Pea Norli– very compact, and a heavy bearer
- Okra Bull Dog – specifically bred to be grown on the patio, with charming orange pods and huge white blooms
- Pepper Mohawk – big orange bell peppers on a slightly trailing habit that spills over the sides of flowerpots and tubs
- Cornsalad Vit– quick and easy, a gourmet salad green with a rich minty flavor
- Bean Mascotte – a French filet haricot vert with stringless beans on a super-compact bush habit
- BONUS: Small space fruits! Strawberries and blueberries grow beautifully in containers and work well in small space gardens.