11 Hacks To Maximize Space In Your Small Garden

alyssum interplanted with vegetables

Don’t let your lack of outdoor space discourage you from gardening – there are plenty of ways to maximize what you have to squeeze in a garden! You can produce a bountiful harvest from even a tiny plot by using creative techniques and planning.

There are a number of ways to make the most of your small garden space, no matter what you’re working with. At least one strategy can work for your garden, from growing vertically to stretching your growing season.

You can implement even more than one of these strategies no matter where you’re at in the growing season. For example, in early spring, you can get your trellises ready, and in summer, you can plan which fall crops you want to squeeze in as space becomes available. 

Even if it’s the dead of winter, you can plan ahead for which methods you want to take advantage of, even if you can’t put them into action just yet.

Let’s dig into 11 ways to maximize your small garden space.

1. Grow up with vertical gardening

One of the easiest ways to get the most out of every area in a small garden is by implementing vertical gardening.

To find usable vertical space, look up. Trellises and arbors can add height and beauty to a small garden and support vining crops.

Here are some perfect options for climbing up a trellis:

  • Pole beans
  • Snap peas
  • Hyacinth vine
  • Nasturtium
  • Cucumbers
  • Sweet peas
  • Melons

Vertical gardening isn’t restricted to only trellises. You can also use walls, fences, and other structures to suspend containers and pots.

Many garden plants, like dwarf peppers, cucumbers, carrots, radishes, and eggplants, are great for growing in containers attached to a vertical surface.

A fence, a gate, the sidewall of the garage or other outbuilding, or a clothesline post are suitable for hanging a planter. Get creative and use all the available vertical space for growing food. 

Here are some other ideas for hanging planters:

  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Alyssum
  • Peppers
  • Strawberries
  • Lettuce
  • Herbs

2. Plant in waves with succession planting

Succession sowing is an excellent way of making the most efficient use of your small garden area.

With succession planting, you stagger your plantings to have a continuous supply of fresh produce throughout the season.

It’s also a great way to ensure you have a backup plan if your first planting fails, so you don’t waste any space by leaving it empty.

Here are some crops that do well with succession planting:

  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Radishes
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Zinnias
  • Sunflowers

Plant seeds every two weeks in the succession planting method to extend the harvest. Start early in the spring and with a few cool-season vegetables, then every two weeks, plant more seeds.

Hoop tunnels will enable you to start gardening earlier in the spring and grow late into the fall—more about hoop tunnels in the next section.

Each time one plant has completed its lifecycle, remove it from the garden, amend the soil with compost or well-aged animal manure, and plant a new round of seeds or transplants.

To keep your successions timed to avoid empty spots in the garden, start your seeds indoors so the seedling will be ready for planting as soon as space is available.

Root crops are the exception since they don’t like to be transplanted. Sow those in place for the best results.

3. Extend the season with hoop tunnels

I use hoop tunnels constructed with PVC pipe and white plastic sheeting to create a warm environment for early and late season crops.

Attach the ends of a long piece of PVC pipe to the outside of your raised bed, curving the pipe over the bed. If you’re growing in an in-ground garden, sink the ends of the PVD pipe at least a foot on each side to anchor the pipes in place.

row covers over garden beds
Hoop houses are cheap and easy to set up, and a fantastic way to use your small garden space for more of the year.

The PVC pipe hoops should be attached every 3-4 feet along the length of the raised bed or pushed into the ground just as often. The hoops will remain in place year-round and are covered with plastic sheeting (white or clear) in early spring and late fall.

This mini-hoop house will enable you to get plants in the ground earlier in the spring and continue to grow food later into the fall by keeping the plants warm and providing frost protection.

You can use snap clamps to hold the plastic in place on the hoops, and they are easy to remove when you need to ventilate or access the garden bed to plant, weed, or harvest.

4. Buddy up with companion planting

All plants have companions that are reputed to provide mutual benefits like reducing pest problems and enhancing production.

Companion planting hasn’t been proven to be wholly true and accurate through scientific studies, but it’s still a great way to pair up plants that, anecdotally, help each other.

For example, basil enhances tomato flavor and repels flies and mosquitoes. Basil can be planted at the base of tomato plants, and it will also act as a living mulch for the tomato plants.

Here are a few other examples of companion planting:

  • Marigolds repel a host of garden pests. Plant them around the perimeter of your garden. 
  • Nasturtiums are edible and add nitrogen to the garden soil.
  • Lavender repels mosquitoes, fleas, flies, and cabbage moths.
  • Allium repels cabbage worms, aphids, carrot flies, and slugs.
  • Petunias repel leafhoppers, squash bugs, tomato hornworms, and aphids.

Companion planting also helps save garden space, similar to interplanting. Two or more crops can be planted close together and create more space in the garden.

The Three Sisters planting method for corn, pole beans, and squash is a classic example of how three companion plants can grow together and take up less space and provide complementary benefits.

The corn provides a strong stalk for the beans to grow up, and the squash shades the soil to keep it cooler for the shallow corn roots and prevent weed growth.

All three plants will finish producing at about the same time and can be removed from the garden so you can plant another crop in their place with the succession planting method mentioned above.

Zinnias are one of the best flowers to include in the vegetable garden, so jump over to this article to find out what to plant them with: Zinnia Companions: 7 Flowers & Vegetables To Plant With Zinnias

5. Use every inch with interplanting

Interplanting is very similar to companion planting and will allow you to grow two crops in the same space.

There are two ways you can interplant:

  • A fast-growing crop and a slow-growing crop are grown side-by-side. By the time the fast-growing crop is ready to harvest, the slow-growing crop is ready for the extra space. 
  • Two plants are grown together the whole season, such as a low-growing flower and a taller vegetable.
beet and onion interplanted
Once I harvest this beet, the green onions will have more room to grow in the larger space. I just have to be careful when pulling the beet out to not damage the onion’s roots.

Interplanting also helps to keep the soil covered so weed seeds don’t get a chance to germinate since the bed is densely planted, and the plant growth shades the soil.

To decide what to interplant, choose a couple of vegetable crops with staggered dates to maturity. Here are some ideas:

  • Slow-growers include broccoli, tomatoes, carrots, cabbage, and cauliflower. 
  • Fast-growers include baby greens like kale, spinach, lettuce, and radishes.

Be ready to plant a second crop of fast-growers as soon as you harvest the slow-growers. 

For example, at the beginning of the season, plant a row with lettuce and beets and another one with tomatoes and snap peas.

The beets and lettuce will grow together, with the lettuce maturing earlier. Cut the lettuce down to harvest, leaving the roots in the soil to not disturb the neighboring beet seedlings.

The beets will now have the space they need to come to maturity.

For the peas and tomatoes, once the peak of summer has passed, plant some snap pea seeds at the base of the tomato trellis.

Soon the tomato will be done for the season, so you can cut the stem at the soil line, leaving the snap pea seedlings behind to start climbing up the former tomato trellis quickly.

Alyssum and nasturtiums are great flowers to interplant with vegetable crops. Both flowers are low-growing, attract bees, hummingbirds, and other beneficial insects, and add charm to your vegetable beds.

Plant the shoulder seasons with cool crops

Vegetables fall into one of two categories: cool-season or warm-season.

The cool-season vegetables grow best when the weather is cool in the spring and fall. They will not grow during the hot weather and typically go to seed when the temperature reaches a certain level.

Warm-season vegetables are the opposite: they will only grow during hot weather. 

Two batches of cool-season crops can be grown each year to maximize the production in a small garden. Start your year off early with the first batch, follow those with warm-season summer crops, then squeeze in the third round with a fall garden that will appreciate the cooler temperatures.

Cool-season vegetables include:

  • arugula, Swiss chard, parsnips, peas, kale, radishes, spinach, Brussels sprouts, chives, garlic, broad beans, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, beets, broccoli, turnips, leek, collards, lettuce, and onions.

Warm-season vegetables include:

  • tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, squash, tomatillos, beans, watermelon, cucumbers, melons, corn, and pumpkins.

It takes a lot of planning to have the garden constantly producing like this. You need to plan ahead to have seedlings on hand, make time to get into the garden to “flip” the beds, and know what to do with all the produce.

But if you love fresh veggies and want to get the most out of your small garden, it’s worth the effort!

6. Start seeds indoors to have seedlings on hand

For most of the methods mentioned above, having seedlings on hand is essential.

Starting seeds indoors means you will always have seedlings ready to be planted as soon as one plant has finished its lifecycle.

kale seedlings in tray
These kale seedlings are ready to take the place of lettuce plants that are past their prime. Kale holds up to summer heat better than lettuce.

You don’t need a lot of fancy equipment to start seeds indoors. The most essential are good quality potting mix, some pots or seed-starting trays, and a warm sunny spot or a shop light.

This article will give you all the details with a walk-through of seed starting: Step-By-Step Guide To Starting Seeds Indoors (Plus a sample setup).

7. Build raised beds to take advantage of less-than-ideal spaces

Raised beds, also called garden boxes, are a great way to build a garden in a small outdoor space when the site isn’t ideal, but it’s all you have to work with.

If your yard has poor soil, poor drainage, or you need to share the space with kids or dogs, raised beds allow you to quickly improve the soil while also keeping feet and paws from trampling and digging in your garden space.

Raised beds have a few other advantages as well. If you live in a cooler climate, the soil in raised beds will warm up quicker in the spring and allow for earlier planting.

Also, a hoop house is easier to install and use over a raised bed than in a traditional in-ground garden because you can attach the PVC hoops to the bed.

It’s easier to amend the soil in a raised bed, because you can customize what you fill the bed with. Finally, it’s easier to keep the soil light and fluffy because it’s not walked on, so you avoid any compaction or plant root damage.

8. Make use of every nook and cranny

Think outside the garden bed and find room in unusual or uncommon places to increase your square footage. For example, the following are some alternative ways to have a mini garden of edible plants. 

  • Window boxes
  • Hanging baskets
  • Grow bags
  • Pots and containers

The nice thing about the containers listed above is they can be used vertically, wedged into a small space, or placed on a patio, balcony, or porch.

Most vegetables and flowers are happy to grow in containers as long as they have good soil and get watered regularly. 

For tips on growing cut flowers in containers, check out this article about potted zinnias or this one about cosmos in containers.

9. Choose compact and dwarf varieties

Plant dwarf varieties of your favorite vegetables and fruits. They will take up less garden space yet produce the same full-sized foods.

Bush beans, bush peas, runner-less strawberries, mini bell peppers, pot blueberries, dwarf avocado, dwarf lemon, bush melons, and many more are ideal for growing in containers and small space gardens.

Grow plants that provide two vegetables on one plant, like beets and carrots. The bottom bulb is edible, and so are the green tops. Both are delicious, versatile, and packed with nutrition. 

Annual herbs are another great way to get a harvest from a small plant in the garden. They don’t take up a lot of room, so you can tuck them into a pot with a little spare room, but even a tiny harvest can have a significant impact on your cooking. Plus, herbs are a crop that will return some of the biggest bang for your buck.

10. Grow hard-working flowers

When space is limited, you don’t have to choose to grow either vegetables or flowers. You can grow both by planting hard-working flowers that help your vegetable garden grow.

As mentioned with companion planting, some flowers have benefits that help your veggies. Nasturtiums can be used as a trap crop to draw aphids away from your more valuable crops, and marigolds are said to repel pests.

Even more helpful is that flowers will attract pollinators which will help ensure you get a good crop. Vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini will almost always produce better when bees visit, even if you grow a self-pollinating variety.

bee on alyssum flower
The alyssum that I plant around my vegetables brings in bees and butterflies.

Flowers will also attract beneficial insects that prey on harmful insects, such as ladybugs, parasitic wasps, and lacewings. Anything that will help the plants stay healthy and productive all season is a benefit for a small garden.

Some flowers double as pollinator attractions and cut flowers, making them highly versatile in a small space.

  • Zinnias are loved by hummingbirds and make excellent cut flowers.
  • Snapdragons are a favorite of bumblebees and make charming cut flowers for small bouquets.
  • Cosmos draw in bees and butterflies and can be cut for an airy and delicate arrangement.

For even more flowers perfect for pollinators and cutting alike, check out this article: 9 Pollinator-Friendly Cut Flowers For Your Garden.

11. Use cover crops to build soil health for ultimate production

Cover crops are another excellent option for the fall/winter shoulder season. While these aren’t edible harvests, they are still a great use of space because it’s like growing your own compost.

Cover crops are even sometimes called green manure. That’s because after they’ve done their job protecting your soil and preventing erosion during the winter, you can cut them back to decompose in place, just like animal manure does when mixed into garden boxes or beds. 

Fresh material breaking down in the soil adds fertility and organic matter which promotes strong growth for every type of plant. When you don’t have a lot of room to grow in, it’s vital that each plant is living up to its full potential.

Buckwheat is an easy-to-grow option that will die back after a hard freeze, so you don’t have to worry about removing it in the spring. Let it decompose right on the bed, then plant through it with seedlings in the spring.

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