Is your garden bed a twin size versus a king? Or maybe you have no land at all, and only a tiny balcony or patio. No problem. As long as you can find a sunny location, either on the ground or in mid-air, you can satisfy your appetite for freshly picked produce.

“Almost everyone has access to more space than they realize. It just takes a little creative thinking to see it,” says Andrea Bellamy, in her book Small-Space Vegetable Gardens. A rooftop, alleyway, front porch, and even a fire escape are all viable spots for growing vegetables. The keys to success are careful planning and making the most of what you’ve got.


Think outside the plot:

If growing in the ground is not an option due to space limitations, poor soil, or lack of sun, containers and raised beds are great alternatives. When growing edibles in pots, choose patio or dwarf varieties and shallow-rooted plants such as lettuce, radishes, garlic, and leeks. For containers, you can use almost anything that holds soil -- from plastic grow bags to old metal wash buckets -- as long as you provide good drainage, says Bellamy. Remember that container plants need more water than those in the ground, it’s best not to let them completely dry out. Also be sure to fertilize your containers during the growing season, using an organic fertilizer.

Raised garden beds are a great option if you have a level foundation on which to build them. Compared with in-ground beds, they offer the advantages of easier access, better drainage, and faster warming of the soil in the spring. “Digging and tilling beds in the ground is great, but it can take a few years to build up really good soil. Raised beds filled with a mix of good soil and compost will get beginners off to a good start. Even a bed as small as 4x4 feet will hold a lot of vegetables and be manageable,” says Susie Middleton, an avid kitchen gardener and the author of numerous cookbooks including her latest, Simple Green Suppers: A Fresh Strategy for One-Dish Vegetarian Meals.

Go vertical :

If you want to plant vining vegetables such as pole beans, cucumbers, and squash, give them something for their tendrils to grab on to like a trellis, fence, or netting. Gardening up not only saves space, it also creates structure and visual interest. “I like to plant cucumbers against the garden fence or up a trellis to save space; each plant only needs about a foot of space in the garden,” says Middleton.

Trellises come in countless shapes, styles, and materials. But you can easily make your own using simple bamboo poles secured at the top to form a tepee shape. If you have space on a sunny exterior wall, Bellamy recommends growing herbs and shallow-rooted vegetables in wall-mounted planters or modular green wall systems. “A wide variety of wall-mounted planters are available, from simple, narrow plastic or wooden containers to self-watering polypropylene pockets that can be used en masse for a green wall effect,” she says.

Create an edible landscape:

Edible landscaping is a creative and attractive solution to growing vegetables in a front yard or other conspicuous location. Try mixing ornamental vegetables and herbs into the perennial garden or tuck them into containers. They can also be attractive on their own, especially if you combine various colors and textures.


Be productive:

When you only have limited garden space to work with, choose plants that will give you big yields in a small area. Many vegetables and herbs have compact cultivars that are container friendly and ideal for small gardens. (See our list of Ten Great Space-Saving Edibles).

Make priorities:

In a small garden, you have scant room to experiment or plant crops that will go to waste. Make priorities by planting what you love, what’s unique, and what will thrive. Also plant what tastes best freshly picked. “Lettuce meets all my qualifications for a perfect crop,” says Bellamy. “I use a lot of it, and it tastes best straight from the garden. It’s also fast growing, attractive, space efficient, and easy to grow.”

Come back for more:

Many types of garden greens will feed you throughout the growing season if you harvest them continuously. These “cut-and-come” vegetables keep on giving by sprouting new leaves when the outer leaves are snipped off. Examples include loose-leaf lettuce, chard, kale, collard greens, mesclun, and escarole. “Lettuce varieties like ‘Salad Bowl’ and ‘Red Salad Bowl’ are great for containers or any small space. Instead of letting the lettuce head up, you can pick the outer leaves continuously,” says Middleton.


Keep ‘em coming:

Keep your small garden productive throughout the growing season by planting a series of crops in succession in a garden bed or container, starting with cool-season, early-maturing crops in the spring followed by mid-season and late-summer vegetables that will last until fall. “The idea of succession planting is to not let valuable garden space sit idle, and to be ready to plant something new whenever a space opens up,” says Bellamy. The same technique can also be used to extend the growing season for one type of crop, particularly fast-maturing edibles such as radishes and beans. By planting them in two- to three-week intervals they will reach maturity at different times.

Choose good companions:

Interplanting is similar in concept to succession planting, except that you maximize yields by pairing up different crops that are good companions and grow at different rates. For example, you can plant sugar snap peas in early spring and plant pole beans among them. By the time the peas are spent, the beans will be ready to take their place.

Succession planting and companion planting and great ways to increase your yield when growing vegetables in a raised bed—the only downside is that they won’t really work in containers.

Stretch the growing season:

Vegetable gardens aren’t just for the warm-weather months of May through September. There are many cool-season crops that will thrive in the ground or in containers well into fall, and some will even survive a nip of frost.

Garden Design