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How to Grow Edibles in Small Spaces

By Moira K McGhee
Share to PinterestHow to Grow Edibles in Small Spaces
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In the middle of a bustling city, you discover a secret garden, not in a park, but right in your own small space. It starts with a simple idea and a bit of determination, transforming a tiny balcony or a sunny window ledge into a lush, productive garden. Suddenly, you're harvesting fresh herbs and vegetables right at home.

Don't let a lack of space keep you from growing your own fresh produce. Urban gardening has become a popular solution for those wanting to grow herbs and vegetables but don't have the luxury of a big backyard. Luckily, some of the smallest spaces work for gardening with the right know-how. Whether you have a small balcony, a few window ledges or a bit of wall space suitable for vertical gardening, consider these small garden ideas to utilize every square inch and start your own edible garden.

01

Vertical gardening: think up, not out

Share to PinterestVegetables and salad in decorative vertical garden and raised bed.

Vertical gardening is a game changer for growing edibles in tight spaces. Utilize trellises, wall-mounted planters or even something as simple as shoe organizers to grow various plants without taking up precious floor space.

A vertical garden is perfect for climbing plants and herbs that thrive in minimal soil. Tomatoes, cucumbers, pole beans and peas are all eager climbers. An unexpected perk of vertical gardening is it's visually striking, decorating your living space while allowing you to grow edibles in small spaces.

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02

Utilize window boxes

Share to PinterestHome Growing vegetables in apartment balcony container

Window boxes are often used for flowers but are also great for growing edibles. You can add window boxes to nearly any ledge as long as the ledge is sturdy enough to handle the extra weight of moist soil. Window boxes are ideal for smaller vegetables like strawberries and cherry tomatoes.

Ensure your window boxes have adequate drainage to promote healthy growth. If your boxes are made of wood, consider lining them with plastic to slow rot. You can grow directly in the box or place potted plants inside it, making replanting each year easier.

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03

Incorporate hanging baskets

Share to PinterestArrangement of hanging wicker flowerpots with green house plants

Hanging baskets are a popular vertical gardening method for small-space gardeners. They allow you to transform unused ceilings or frames into lush, productive spaces. They offer the ultimate space-saving solution for urban gardening where there's no floor space for freestanding pots.

You can often find pre-assembled hanging baskets at big-box stores and garden centers that already contain the soil and plant, but these typically contain flowers. However, you can also purchase empty baskets to fill with soil and your preferred edibles. Trailing varieties of strawberries, tomatoes and herbs do well in hanging baskets.

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04

Balcony gardening

Share to PinterestStrawberry plants with lots of ripe red strawberries in a balcony railing planter

For apartment dwellers, balconies provide valuable outdoor space ripe for conversion into a mini garden. Use railing planters, stackable pots and modular planters to maximize your growing area. However, be sure to confirm your building allows vegetable gardening on balconies before starting.

Balcony gardens benefit from the microclimate of your building, often receiving more heat and shelter than ground-level gardens. However, the higher you are, the more wind you'll likely have. Consider installing a trellis to block wind and provide support for climbing plants. If you have space and the climate for pots, consider plastic or fabric pots with lightweight soil mixes to prevent adding too much weight to your balcony.

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05

Choose the right plants

Share to Pinteresta close up of tomatoes growing in a pot
Photo by Tom Jur on Unsplash

Not all plants are suited for small spaces. Choose varieties that require less room to spread and can adapt to deeper, rather than wider, soil containers. Consider plants with shallow root systems that perform well in smaller planters.

Radishes, onions, and leafy greens like spinach and lettuce do well in small spaces. You can also consider various herbs, such as basil and cilantro. Other plants suited for small-space gardening include strawberries and dwarf varieties of vegetables and fruit trees.

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06

Consider sunlight availability

Share to Pinterestlow angle photography of brown building during daytime
Photo by Niklas Ohlrogge on Unsplash

Keep in mind that most plants prefer 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight daily. If you're growing indoors near a window but still don't have sufficient sunlight, supplement natural light with an appropriate grow light for indoor vegetable gardening.

If you have an outdoor garden space, areas facing south should receive direct sunlight all day. However, if you're planting on the north side or the space is shaded by other buildings most of the day, you need plants that will thrive in the shade. Leafy greens and some herbs may do well in low light with less than half a day of sun.

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07

Pick the perfect pots

Share to PinterestVarious potted herbs and plants growing on home wood balcony

Don't overlook freestanding pots if space allows. When choosing these containers, get larger pots when you can to help prevent plants from drying out as quickly and give the roots more space to grow. Restricting root growth restricts plant growth, impacting your harvest yield.

Larger pots can be heavy to move, so consider placing them on a base with wheels to make them easy to move around. Depending on the size of your garden area and the plants you choose, pick various-sized pots to maximize space. Regardless of size, always pick pots with a drainage hole in the bottom, or you risk your plants suffering from root rot because the excess water has nowhere to go.

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08

Smart soil solutions

Share to Pinterestselective focus photo of plant spouts
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Good soil is crucial for successful gardening, especially in small containers where soil nutrients can deplete quickly. Use a high-quality potting mix designed for container gardens to ensure your plants have the best environment. Consider adding slow-release fertilizers to keep your plants healthy throughout the growing season.

Potting soil is best for container gardens but doesn't contain actual soil. Instead, it includes a mix of beneficial, lightweight components that are disease-free and pest-free and provide good drainage and water-holding capacity. The lighter weight of these mixes also makes it easier for you to move your containers around to chase the sun and lighten the load in window boxes and on balconies.

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09

Automate watering

Share to PinterestA woman watering a home garden grown on a balcony terrace at home.

All plants need water to grow. Small containers dry out faster than large soil beds because there's less space for water. Regular watering is essential to ensure your plants don't wilt and eventually die. In the middle of summer, your plants might need hand-watering twice a day in a southern exposure. Constant watering needs become time-consuming for busy urban gardeners.

Self-watering pots or a simple DIY bottle drip system can help maintain consistent moisture levels, ensuring your plants don't go thirsty. Drip irrigation systems work really well to ensure adequate water but may not always be feasible in some urban spaces.

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10

Seasonal adjustments

Share to Pinterestperson gardening on a balcony
Photo by Sandie Clarke on Unsplash

Be mindful of the changing conditions with the seasons. Choosing moveable containers allows you to easily shift plants to optimize sunlight exposure and protect against harsh weather. Additionally, using cloches or protective covers can extend your growing season by shielding plants from early frosts or excessive heat.

If you're growing outdoors in an area with four seasons, you also must adjust what you grow. Seed packets typically contain valuable information on hardiness zones to tell you if a specific plant grows well in your area. Packets should also indicate how many days it takes from germination to harvest so you know if it'll be ready to harvest before it gets too hot or cold.

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11

Benefits of interplanting and succession planting

Share to Pinterestthree green leaf potted vegetables
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Maximize your yield by interplanting, which involves growing quick-maturing crops alongside slower ones. This method ensures you don't waste any precious space by using your area more efficiently and for a longer time. Plant early-harvest vegetables, such as radishes, spinach or peas, with slower-growing crops, like broccoli or peppers, so one crop is harvested before the other needs the extra space to finish.

Succession planting involves adding new plants as soon as one crop is harvested. To keep up the rotation, you must continually have seedlings ready to replace harvested plants. This technique keeps your garden productive and your kitchen stocked year-round when you have limited space.

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12

Stay organic

Share to Pinterestperson holding carrots
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

In small-space gardening, it's especially important to keep things organic. Avoid synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Instead, opt for organic compounds and natural pest control methods. This approach helps prevent killing beneficial insects and ensures your edibles are healthier and safer to consume.

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13

Turn to the experts

Share to Pinterestwoman wearing brown hat
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez 🇨🇦 on Unsplash

If you're new to gardening, learn the basics from your local extension office or the United States Department of Agriculture. Both organizations may have helpful tips right on their websites or local representatives you can reach out to for advice specific to your situation. Local gardening shops might also provide useful tips for urban gardening in your area.

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14

Find a community garden

Share to Pinterestthree people planting flowers
Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

If you simply don't have a space suitable for any type of vertical gardening or other urban gardening tricks, check out your local community for shared gardening space. Many neighborhoods have community gardens you can join where you can grow your vegetables in a collective environment.

Use the American Community Garden Association's website to find one near you. This site includes comprehensive details on each garden, including each site's location and contact information.

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