You don’t need a large outdoor space to get stuck into some green-fingered activities. In fact, whether you want to grow fruit and vegetables to supplement your kitchen, or you’d like to cultivate vibrant floral blooms, you can turn your small plot, balcony, patio, or even windowsill into a beautiful and bountiful garden.
However, with limited space and perhaps no actual earth to plant in, you might be in need of some crafty strategies to give your garden its best chance of flourishing.
With this in mind, we’ve come up with these nine tips for gardening in small spaces.
1. Make the most of pots, troughs, and other containers
Planting fruit, vegetables, and herbs in pots, troughs, and other containers is a staple tactic for gardening in small spaces. This is because they can be placed anywhere – from the floor of a balcony to windowsills and shelves.
Pretty much any plant can be grown in some sort of container (as long as you pick the right size) and doing so can give you greater flexibility because you can move them around.
That being said, it’s worth remembering that plants growing in containers need a little bit more TLC than those living in the ground. This is mainly because they’re planted in less soil, so they have access to fewer nutrients and lose water more easily. They also tend to be more vulnerable to frost in the winter for the same reason, so you might have to wrap them.
After a while (typically 1-2 years), you’ll also need to re-pot container plants to make sure they have enough space to grow and flourish. This will also give you a chance to replace the compost, which, by this time, is probably depleted in nutrients. You’ll know to repot your plants when you see roots protruding from the soil surface or the drainage holes in the bottom of your container.
You can buy containers online or from your local gardening centre, or you can repurpose household items like used packaging (or even old wellies) to make your own. For a space-saving tip, it can help to use square or rectangular containers as opposed to circular ones because these will fit together more efficiently.
To find out more about how to care for plants in containers, take a look at this article from the Royal Horticultural Society.
2. Choose space-saving plants
It may seem obvious, but choosing plants that save space (while still producing regular crops) is important when gardening in a small area.
For example, while large crops like pumpkins and winter squashes aren’t ideal for small spaces, spring onions, spinach, and dwarf green beans are good choices because they grow quickly and yield a lot of produce considering the amount of space they take up.
There are also many plant varieties that are specifically bred to be grown in limited space. You can usually spot one of these ‘compact varieties’ by their name (for example, ‘pixie clematis’ and ‘dwarf kale’). Although, if not, the backs of seed packets will typically give you an indication of how large each plant will be when it reaches maturity.
You might want to take a look at this article from Fine Gardening to find out some of the best compact vegetable varieties.
Vining plants and varieties – like clematis and sweet peas – are also a good option, as these will save space by growing upwards instead of outwards (we’ll cover more about vertical gardening later). You can coax vines to grow up things like trellises and arches – which adds an extra dimension to your garden, all while saving space.
You can even grow vines with dense foliage along balcony railings to provide your area with some extra privacy. But make sure that these don’t deprive any of your other plants of valuable sunlight!
Check out this article from Gardening Know How to find out about some of the best vines to grow with limited space.
3. Plant for crop and colour
In a large garden, you can often plant things like fruit and vegetables without much thought about how they look because there’s plenty of other space to decorate with ornamental plants like flowers, shrubs, and trees. But in a small garden, planting will usually need to be more selective.
By growing plants that are both colourful and yield a crop, you can get the most out of your space and create a garden that’s pretty and productive.
Some firm favourites among small-space gardeners are chillies (which grow very well in window boxes) and compact varieties of cherry tomatoes (like Cherry Cascade, which looks lovely trailing from hanging baskets and will produce lots of fruit). Runner beans are another good choice as they can climb up trellises and have charming red/white flowers.
You could even think about growing edible flowers. Nasturtiums are a good choice as the flowers and leaves taste great in a salad, while the stems can be used in a variety of ways, like as a garnish or seasoning.
4. Consider vertical planting solutions
We tend to think of gardens as being spread out horizontally along the ground. But one of the best ways to make the most of limited space is to use vertical gardening solutions, which will allow you to plant crops on top of each other at different heights.
A popular vertical gardening tactic is to use shelf-style planters. These can be freestanding, or you can attach them to the wall to save floor space.
You can buy shelf-style planters ready-made, or you can get thrifty by repurposing an old shelving unit or by making one from scratch. This video from Proper DIY will show you how to construct a vertical planter using pallets, which you can find cheaply (or even for free) online, or by asking at places like supermarkets and construction sites.
Other popular vertical gardening solutions include hanging baskets and using trellises to support vining plants.
There are plenty of other benefits to vertical gardening besides saving space. For example, it brings plants up towards eye level, which makes them more visible and reduces the likelihood of your crops being troubled by weeds, ground-dwelling pests, and soil-borne diseases and fungi.
You also won’t have to be constantly bending down to tend to your plants like you would in a traditional garden, which can put less strain on your back and knees, and make gardening more accessible for wheelchair users.
5. Use a staggered planting approach
If you’re planning on growing fruit, vegetables, and herbs in your small garden, the odds are you’d like a steady stream of produce over a longer period of time, as opposed to one big harvest all at once.
To keep the crops coming, why not try a staggered planting approach? Known as ‘succession planting’ in the world of gardening, this tactic involves making different plantings of the same crop spaced out every couple of weeks. Each plant will come to maturity at a different time, giving you a series of harvests to enjoy.
If you’re growing something for the first time, succession planting also provides a less risky approach, as you’ll be able to learn and adapt your growth strategies with each successive crop.
You can implement a succession planting strategy with different species too – either by selecting ones with the same growing times and staggering them or choosing ones with different maturity rates and planting them all at once.
To find out more about succession planting, check out this page on the Grow Veg website.
6. Utilise your window sill space
If you don’t have an outside area in your home, that doesn’t mean you can’t get stuck into some green-fingered activities! Growing plants on your windowsill is an easy way to nurture crops, and you can do it all year round, so you’ll never be without a gardening project.
To get successful, healthy plants, you’ll need to use a sunny indoor windowsill. South-facing window sills are ideal in the UK, as they’ll get the most sunlight – though, east and west-facing ones will also work. If you don’t know which way your window sills are facing, you can use the compass app on your smartphone to find out.
Herbs and leafy greens are among the best crops to grow on a windowsill as they require less sunlight to flourish than vegetables and fruit like tomatoes, for example, which are less tolerant of spending a portion of the day in the shade.
To find out how to grow pea shoots, basil, and radishes on your windowsill, take a look at the video below from the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew.
7. Think about which plants grow well together
Some plants simply don’t work well as neighbours. For example, growing tall plants with lots of foliage next to smaller ones that need a lot of light can be a recipe for disaster, as they can stop their neighbours from getting enough sun.
Some plants even release chemicals that inhibit the growth of nearby species – these kinds of plants are referred to as having ‘allelopathic properties’.
However, other combinations of plants live quite happily together and can even be mutually beneficial to one another.
For example, seasoned gardeners often place French marigolds next to their beans to help ward off aphids and whiteflies that could ruin their crop. And having yarrow nearby your vegetable bed will attract predators like hoverflies and ladybirds that can help to control pests.
Tactically placing species next to each other that’ll have mutually beneficial effects for their neighbours is called ‘companion planting’. It’s especially important in small gardens as you’ll have less room for error (literally).
To find out more about companion planting, take a look at this guide from Thompson and Morgan.
8. Install window boxes
Another handy way to get growing if you don’t have a garden, patio, or balcony is to install some window boxes.
Window boxes are planting containers that sit on the exterior ledges of windows. They’re usually rectangular and can be made of a range of materials – wood, metal, fibreglass, and vinyl are all popular options.
You can plant all sorts of things in your window boxes – from fruits and veggies to herbs. Although, flowers like petunias and pansies are popular options, as they’ll add a vivid splash of colour to the outside of your home. Plus, if you choose scented varieties, you’ll be treated to pleasant smells wafting into your house through open windows on a summer’s day.
While they’re typically meant to sit on strong, fair-sized window ledges, if you don’t have a suitable spot, you can try installing them in other places – such as exterior walls, fences, and balcony railings.
9. Grow small, fast-growing plants in between large, slow-growing ones
One of the biggest mistakes that small-space gardeners can make is overcrowding their gardens. And considering there’s little more exciting for those of us who love gardening than planting something new, it’s easy to see how this can happen!
But sometimes this enthusiasm can lead to plants becoming too tightly packed, which can cause problems like a lack of sunlight, an increased chance of pests and disease, and nutrient deficiencies.
However, by planting small, fast-growing fruits and vegetables in between large, slow-growing ones, you can pack plants as close together as possible. This is because, if you pair up your plants correctly, the smaller crops can be harvested before larger ones need the space.
This technique is called interplanting (or ‘intercropping), and it’s a crafty way to make the most of your space.
Large, deep-rooting plants like carrots, leeks, and sweetcorn can be interplanted with things like radishes, spring onions, and salads, which have shallow root systems. To find out more about this approach, have a read of this article from Gardening Know How.
If you’re looking to get stuck into some gardening, but you’ve only got limited space, then we hope this article has been helpful to you! And even if you’re lucky enough to have a larger space, there’s no reason why you can’t apply these tips too.
For more tips and advice on how to grow successful plants, check out the gardening section of our website. Here, you’ll find all sorts of articles like 10 easy-to-grow vegetables and 10 tools that can make gardening easier.