How to Create Your Own Small Space Garden

The basics of designing a garden for tiny spaces



Churchill's in Exeter has an array of plants, vegetables, flowers and succulents for sale. Photo by Emily Heidt

The snow has melted, the sun is shining, the birds are singing, the flowers are waking up and you’re feeling inspired to get your hands dirty. Garden aficionados around the Granite State are busy planting, pruning, preparing beds and getting their gardens back in shape after a long winter. While you might not have the same vast yard and garden space as your neighbor down the street, that doesn’t mean that you have to miss out on the spring gardening fun. You don’t need a large piece of property to have a Martha Stewart-worthy garden; all you need is sun, water, access to a gardening store and a little bit of creativity. We spoke with Emma Erler, education center program coordinator at the UNH Cooperative Extension, and asked her for a few manageable tips on how to construct and design your own small-space garden. Her first suggestion — think about what flowers, herbs, veggies and/or fruit you would like to start with.

Deciding What to Plant

The sky is the limit for picking out what to plant, but Erler recommends starting out simple. Strawberries are the easiest fruit for a small space because you can put them in runners or other containers. Lettuce and other salad greens grow quickly, and are fun and easy to harvest and replant. “Larger vegetables also often come in dwarf sizes,” she says. “Vegetables like determinant [smaller] tomatoes and bush cucumbers are perfect options for those who have smaller gardening spaces. You can even grow smaller potatoes, squash and a bush type of bean because they don’t require support,” she adds. Sage, rosemary and parsley are great herbs to grow since they will last year-round. You can also grow flowers like geraniums, marigolds, petunias, zinnias, dahlias and perennials for added texture and a pop of color.  

Size and Containers

When picking out containers, it is important to consider the size of the plant that you are planting. Herbs, strawberries and other annuals need a 12-by-12-inch container, while anything larger, like vegetables or other flowers, need a bigger pot that is at least 18-by-24 or 24-by-36. When looking for a container, make sure that it is big enough for what you want to grow and has proper drainage. “A lot of times bigger department stores like Lowe’s or Home Depot won’t have pots with holes in the bottom and you need holes for drainage,” she says. “You also want to be careful with containers that come with saucers. You have to regularly make sure that you are dumping the remaining water that dribbles out or your plants will drown.” You can also combine multiple plants in one container as long as they have the same growing, light and water requirements. Parsley and cilantro work well together as do multiple annuals at once. If you get tired of round,  “boring” containers, switch it up with hanging pots. “Hanging baskets are a great option to break up a garden space, and plants like strawberries do well in them,” she says. “Just be aware that hanging baskets dry out faster and they aren’t usually very deep. They are really best for annuals with a shallower root system like begonias.”

Utilize space and add versatility to your garden by combining one or more plants in a container. Photo by Emily Heidt

Soil and Fertilizer

When thinking about soil and fertilizer, it is important to remember that you get what you pay for. If you pay for good soil and fertilizer, you and your garden will reap the benefits. Avoid digging up soil from your garden because it won’t drain properly. Instead, look for a soilless mix with perlite, peat moss and vermiculite that will be available at most garden centers. You can also add your own compost for added nutrients. When you are hunting for a fertilizer, look for something that has a balanced ratio like 20/20/20. “Some soil comes with fertilizer in the bag, which is great,” she says. “However, I would still recommend adding liquid fertilizer as you go through a season.” If your leaves are changing to a yellowish color or there is slow growth in your garden, that means you need more fertilizer. Another added tip? Add fish emulsion fertilizer to vegetables. It smells bad, but it works extremely well.

Water and Sun

Most vegetables need between six and eight hours of full sun a day. Plants that don’t produce fruits, like greens, tolerate more shade. Beans or other plants with flowers require full sunlight. It is best to water your garden once a day, preferably in the morning. By watering the plants early in the morning, you can avoid the disease that sometimes comes with added moisture that gathers on leaves during the night. If you are watering some of your plants more than once a day, it might indicate that your pot is too small. If you have succulents, do not water them more than once a week because they thrive in full sun and drier soil.

While it may seem tedious at the time, developing your own small space garden is a fun experiment that can pay off in the long run. You don’t need a large garden to grow gorgeous flowers and plants and delicious fruits and vegetables. You can grow your own organic produce and other aesthetically pleasing plants and flowers while unearthing your own creativity. Keep track of your garden’s progress in a journal and write down weather patterns, when you watered, a good soil brand, and note if something isn’t working so that you can try something else the following year.

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