How To Maximize Space (And Grow More!) With Small Space Gardening
Are you letting your small space living keep you from growing some of your own food? We are going to change that today with this complete guide to maximizing space and growing more with small space gardening.
I absolutely love small space gardening and if there is anything I wish more people understood when it came to growing their own food it is that there is so much you can grow in small spaces.
While sure having an endless amount of land to grow the epic garden of your dreams would be great, I also think that there is something really special and more enjoyable about small space gardening.
So whether you are living in an apartment with nothing but window boxes to grow in, or have a small balcony, patio, or tiny little backyard I want to encourage you to think outside the box and consider the many different ways that you can grow your own food — even in the smallest of spaces.
Measure Your Space
Before you get started you need to measure your space so have a good idea of how much space you really have to work with. As you are measuring your space don’t forget to consider where you may be able to hang planters or install a trellis or wall planter to even further maximize your space.
It also can be helpful to draw out the space you have to work with that way you don’t forget the different dimensions you are working with, and the ideas you had for any hanging or trellising structures for optimizing space.
A great place to record this is in your garden journal, which is a great way track what you decide to plant, when you planted, and how your plants did year after year.
Lookup Your Growing Zone To Help Maximize Yield
Once you know how much space you have to work with it’s time to look up what growing zone you are in. growing or hardiness zones are basically just maps of geographic areas all around the world that are based off of the average first frost/last frost date.
Knowing what growing zone you are in is essential when it comes to growing a productive garden and maximizing space, because it will depend what kind of plants you can grow, especially when it comes to perennial plants that grow year after year.
Your growing zone will also tell you roughly how long your growing season is and when you can expect to be able to plant different foods safely in the ground, which will help you maximize your garden’s yield throughout the growing season.
Depending on what you are growing you will use your growing zone to time when you will plant for seeds or when it is safe to bring seedlings outside for transplant.
Nothing is worse than planting or transplanting too early and then getting hit with a frost that kills all your plants, because you weren’t paying attention to your particular growing zone/weather.
To look up your growing zone you can use any of the following resources:
USDA Hardiness Zones Map (For USA) - Simply enter your zip code to find out what your growing zone is.
Europe Plant Hardiness Zones Map - Divides Europe into 11 zones with recommendations based on the USDA hardiness zones.
This is also a really interesting illustration that shows how hardiness zones have changed due to changes in climate over the past few decades.
Know Your Sunlight Exposure + Prioritize Full Sun For Your Favorite Sun Loving Herbs and Veggies
How much sun your small garden space gets will be one of the biggest factors in determining what you can grow and how well your plants will do. There unfortunately really isn’t much that you can do about your sun exposure, you’ve got what you’ve got, so make the most of whatever your sun exposure is and choose plants that will do well with the sun you do have.
To determine your sun exposure you need to find out what direction the sun is coming from: North, South, East or West. You can use a compass or app on your phone to determine this, or simply look where the sun rises and sets (the sun rises in the east and sets in the west).
Once you know what direction the sun is coming from you then need to determine how much sun you have. To do this take your garden journal and draw a simple chart beginning at 7 AM to 7 PM. Each hour make a note of whether your garden space is in direct sunlight or in the shade.
Full Sun: Six or more hours of direct sunlight, especially during the peak hours of 10 AM to 6 PM
Partial Sun: Two to Three hours of direct sunlight each day
Shade: Receive almost no direct sunlight all day long
Different plants will have different sun needs, which is why it is important to know your sun exposure before you start to think about what you want to grow. The sun exposure needs for all plants can be found listed on the seed packet you purchase or on the information tag/stick that is found on seedlings.
Decide What You Want To Grow
Now that you know how much space you have, what your growing zone is, and your sunlight exposure it’s time to decide what to grow. Personally, I love starting this process by simply writing down everything you ideally would like to grow. Once you have this list it is great to look up whether or not your ideal plants can be grown in your growing zone, how much light they need, and how much space they require.
Realistically, this process will result in you crossing out many of your desired plants, but that is okay! You can’t grow everything and if you are just starting out I always recommend starting small and with easier plants like leafy greens and herbs, before getting into more difficult plants like tomatoes.
Here Are A Few Of My Favorite Plants That Grow Well In Small Spaces and Containers:
Cherry Tomatoes (can hang in hanging baskets or grow in containers)
Poll Beans (will climb a trellis)
Bok Choy (great to plant early in the season and then swap out for other veggies)
Cucumbers (can climb up a trellis)
Peppers (grow great in containers)
Radishes (easy to grow in containers and are a great early season root vegetable)
Herbs: Mint (keep in its own container), Basil, Parsley, Cilantro, Chives, Tulsi, Sage, Thyme, Oregano (will hang)
Leafy Greens: Lettuce, Spinach, and Arugula all grow really well in galvanized tubs and don’t need a ton of sun
Flowers: Morning glories will easily grow up a trellis, calendula will grow easily in pots and are a great companion plant, lavender is beautiful and grows well in containers and pollinators love it!
Rotate Your Planting Cycles
This is basically crop rotation (which is what is done on larger farmers) on a much smaller scale. Become some plants (like tomatoes) will take a much longer time to mature, it is great to think about a few different planting cycles in your garden that will enable you to have food all throughout the growing season.
This is why we love planting leafy greens and fast growing root vegetables like radishes early on in the season when most of the bigger plants are smaller, and then we will pull them up after a harvest to make room for the larger plants to grow.
Rotating your planting cycles like this can really maximize the amount of food you are able to grow in a space and will always ensure that you are able to harvest something, while other plants are still growing.
To plan your planting cycles it is best to look at the maturity dates of your plants that can be found on the back of your seed packet, or from a quick google search. Once you know how long it will take for your plants to mature you can think about how you want to plant them throughout your garden.
Get Creative With Containers
When it comes to small space gardening containers are going to be your best friend, and honestly, I have grown to love container gardening so much that I know I will continue to grow in containers long after we have enough land to plant everything we need in the ground.
When it comes to growing in containers the most important thing is to make sure that your container is large enough for whatever you are choosing to grow in it.
Don’t Forget To Grow Up or Down
This is where things get creative. While most people think about gardening as being something that happens on the ground in the soil there is so much that you can grow up or down, and I highly recommend that you utilize both of these options when you plan out your own small space garden.
Growing up, for instance, is one of the best ways that you can maximize space in your garden and it creates a beautiful focal point to look at. Beans, cucumbers, flowers, and even some squash varieties all love to climb and can be planted to grow up a trellis using just some wire or fencing.
In our garden, we have an arched trellis that connects two of our elevated garden beds and is used to grow all of our beans, cucumbers, and some flowers. It is by far one of our favorite parts of our garden design and something that people always like to walk through and look at when they come to visit.
Similarly to growing up, you can also grow down. Strawberries, herbs like mint, cucumbers and certain cherry tomato varieties can easily be planted in hanging planters or window boxes and can trail down instead of being staked up. This is a great option for folks who only have a small balcony or only enough space to hang a few pots outside your front door or windows.
Don’t Be Afraid To Let Some Things Go
When you are first starting out with a new space or garden it can be tough to know exactly how things will grow in your space and what will and will not work. This is especially true when it comes to overcrowding, which is very common and something a lot of small space gardeners deal with.
So don’t be afraid to let some plants go (aka pull them up) in order to make room for the ones you really love. With time you will start to gain a better understanding of how different plants grow, how large they get, and what you can/cannot plant.
Personally, we choose not to grow kale, squash, and zucchini because they can become so large and are relatively cheap to buy organic at the farmers market. Instead, we opt to allocate more space for herbs, tomatoes, and other leafy greens that we enjoy more and can be more expensive to buy.
So no matter how much space you have at home, I hope that these tips have inspired some creative ways for you to maximize the space you do have a grow a little (or a lot) of your own food. And remember, gardening is a lifelong learning process and the best way to learn is to just get your hands dirty.