By Leigh Clapp
Edible crops can be grown in the smallest of spaces and, as these small vegetable garden ideas show, you are not restricted by only having a modest garden, backyard or patio.
Now is the perfect time to have a go at starting your own homegrown crops. Carefully planned, you can grow all kinds of crops in a small vegetable garden – from herbs, through to root vegetables and fruit trees. So take advantage of tiny spaces to grow delicious options to add a special homegrown flavor to your meals.
Scroll down to find ideas for layouts, where to plant your vegetable and fruit crops in a small garden, and the best and easiest vegetables to grow for the highest yields.
See: Kitchen garden ideas - 10 easy ways to get started
What can I put in a small vegetable garden?
Creative small vegetable garden ideas involve making the most of the limited space available.
It is sensible to plant compact fruit and vegetable varieties that won't take up too much space - many seed and gardening websites list the best compact crops to grow in a restricted space.
Choose vegetable and fruit crops that can be continually harvested, which keeps them producing, rather than ones that are removed completely. Your space needs to be as productive as possible.
Another small vegetable garden idea is to try climbing plants, to make the most of the space by using vertical surfaces to grow crops up.
Add in some herbs, which make excellent potted plants and can also be beneficial companion plants, and you could have all you need to rustle up a delicious homegrown meal at your fingertips.
See: Companion planting - your ultimate guide
How do you start a small vegetable garden for beginners?
- See: Raised bed garden ideas – build raised planters now for productive, low- maintenance gardening
It is easy to start a small vegetable garden and before long you can be enjoying the taste and flavor of your own homegrown crops.
To grow well and be productive, vegetable and fruit plants ideally need:
- at least six hours of sunlight a day;
- an open spot for good air circulation;
- protection from strong winds;
- and with soil that is loose, rich and drains well.
'Most of the plants going into the patch are annuals. They are working with a short timescale and need to grow rapidly. To enable them to put on this performance, they need all the help they can get and plenty of food to fuel this growing process. That's only possible in full sun,' explains expert plantswoman Sarah Raven.
The small vegetable garden ideas below allow placement of the crops closer to the kitchen for ease of use, and so you can pay close attention to any pests and diseases.
1. Grow vegetables in pots
Shady areas are often a problem in smaller gardens, so growing vegetables in containers is an ideal choice to find the sunny spots when needed.
Tubs, pots, troughs or even hanging baskets can be used to grow vegetables, fruit and herbs.
Gardening expert Carol Klein says there are 'loads of vegetables you can grow in pots. Absolutely masses of them. All the salad crops you can grow so easily.'
Potted edibles are particularly convenient for small vegetable garden ideas using a patio or courtyard space. Planting a large container with flowers and a range of crops, such as different salad leaves and chillies, is both decorative and practical. Regularly harvesting leaves of vegetables, such as chard, and lettuce planted in groups, will avoid crowding.
See: Container gardening ideas – ways to create a lush oasis in the smallest of spaces
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Make sure that your crops and containers are compatible with the growth of the plants. In general, containers need to be 4 inches wider and deeper than the root ball.
Use a good quality, rich potting mix that has plenty of organic material, and water and fertilize regularly for the best cropping.
Shallow containers – around 12 to 16 inches deep – are suitable for shallow-rooted herbs and annual vegetables, as you can replenish the soil each season when you replant.
Larger choices, such as aubergines or tomatoes, do best as one plant per container.
Herbs are excellent potted plants, as most require good drainage. 'Herbs are the easiest edible plants to grow and deserve a spot on any container gardening list. Try thyme, chives, mint, sage, parsley, oregano and rosemary outdoors,' says chartered horticulturist and TV gardening expert David Domoney.
With fruit trees, check the variety to match the size, as they will stay in the same pot for a number of years before needing to be repotted. Citrus trees can be grown in pots outdoors in summer and then brought inside during winter, and olives are also content in pots.
Whatever container you choose, especially repurposed ones, make sure:
- The material is safe and you won’t accidentally leach any chemicals into the soil, such as lead.
- If using salvage, check if it has had contact with agricultural chemicals or held any toxic substances. You could still use a planter you are not sure about as a cachepot, by placing a safe container inside.
- Place crocks or gravel at the base of all containers for drainage.
2. Build a raised bed vegetable garden
Setting up raised beds is a popular way to grow edibles for small vegetable garden ideas.
Wood, brick or sleepers can be used to frame your bed, and there are plenty of kits on the market. Fill it with good-quality soil, and then add your fruit or vegetable crops.
See: Monty Don's raised bed tip – get this vital element right
You may like to plant in neat rows or decorative patterns for a mini potager effect, mixing in some companion planting. Rotating the crops ensures pests and diseases don’t build up, and also makes the nutrients added by one plant available to the subsequent plants.
3. Look to vertical vegetable garden ideas to save space
Experiment with climbing crops for small vegetable garden ideas.
- Cover fences or walls with wire, twine or lattice for beans, peas or espaliered fruit; train vines up pergolas, and create edible screens or step-over edging.
- Attach pots to walls or you could use one of the many commercial living wall systems available.
- Outdoor plant stands tiered, using old ladders, stacked containers, palettes or metal stands, also offer the opportunity for a vertical vegetable garden and many different options for small vegetable garden ideas.
Do some research for a system that suits your location, and experiment with which crops work the best. In general, go for reliable choices, such as clumping and running herbs that regenerate after being cut back hard, red perilla, salad leaves, sugar snap peas, edible flowers and strawberries.
TOP TIP: If a wall is in a shady spot it can also be painted white to reflect light back onto a climber.
4. Plant a small vegetable garden amongst flowers
Small vegetable garden ideas require a bit of creative thinking. Mix edibles among your flowerbeds to emulate the traditional potager cottage gardens of the past, where flowers, vegetables, herbs and fruit were planted wherever they fitted.
The vegetable or fruit plants can blend attractively beside other plants. Decorative choices to tuck in for small vegetable garden ideas include frilly lettuces and cabbages, architectural cardoons, runner beans and peas scrambling up tepees, rainbow chard and feathery asparagus and fennel.
An informal scheme, with scattered edibles, allows for staggered cropping and avoids the situation of feast or famine and patches of empty soil.
See: How to grow garlic – a step by step guide to growing from cloves
Dwarf fruit trees can be planted directly into an ornamental bed, valued for their pretty blossom as well as fruit, and intermingled with roses as ideal companions.
Smaller edibles, such as chives, parsley and ferny-topped carrots, make attractive edging to garden beds. Perennial herbs look good year-round, such as sage and ground-covering thyme with its pretty flowers.
Adding veg and fruit among your flowerbeds has a further practical advantage of creating a mosaic tapestry of colors and scents that confuses insect pests, making it difficult for them to find the veg or fruit they want to feed on. Flowering herbs will also attract beneficial insects.
WARNING: Be sure, though, to avoid space-loving fruit and vegetable plants that don’t play well with ornamentals, including berries and larger root vegetables.
See: How to grow potatoes – a step-by-step guide
5. Create a small vegetable garden in a window box
Window boxes are most suited to low-growing edibles, such as herbs and salad leaves, and need to suit the conditions that prevail at your window.
Planting ‘recipes’ to try include a mix of different mints, strawberries interspersed with parsley, or a one-stop salad garden with micro greens, salad leaves, chives, basil and edible flowers.
6. Grow fruit trees in containers
It is possible to include a lot of fruit in your small vegetable garden ideas. Most fruit prefers a sunny position, but if your garden is in semi-shade, many of the choices below will still do well.
These can be lovely growing in pots on a patio, close to hand when you're tempted to pluck a ripe fruit off the bush as you sit outside enjoying your garden.
GOOSEBERRY BUSHES can be trained against a wall and do well in a large pot or container with regular watering and feeding. They love a sunny spot but will also fruit in shade and need a free-draining moist soil. Prune annually in late autumn or winter.
STRAWBERRIES are easy to grow in pots, in the border or hanging baskets. They need rich, fertile soil and a sunny spot. Plant bare-root runners in late spring to early summer. Keep the compost moist and feed when the flowers appear.
BLUEBERRIES need an acid soil to do well so use well-drained ericaceous soil for containers. Don’t let it outgrow the space, and repot into a slightly larger size. Feed with a rhododendron fertilizer and water well. They are self-fertile and you could have a couple in containers that fruit at different times.
APPLES can grow in pots. Select ones that have been grafted onto a container rootstock. M27 is the smallest dwarf size and M9 is still dwarfing but more vigorous. You can also espalier as step-overs, against a fence, or plant into a flowerbed. Options include Fiesta, Discovery, Sunset and Falstaff.
CITRUS TREES, such as lemons and kumquats, can be grown in containers outdoors in summer and over-wintered inside. Mix one part sand or grit to four parts soil potting mix; use rainwater to water.
How do you layout a small vegetable garden?
Stagger the planting for small vegetable garden ideas so there is always something to harvest.
Longer-term crops, such as cabbages and broccoli, can be interplanted with faster-growing options, including cut-and-come-again salad mixes, pea shoots, mizuna, rocket and radishes, which are ready to eat from about six weeks from seed.
Many crops can be continually picked, including cherry tomatoes, chillies, chard, beans and snow peas.
For north-facing or spaces with less sunlight, try shade-tolerant edibles, such as spinach, chard, kale, rocket, sorrel, Asian and salad leaves, Alpine strawberries, rhubarb, currants, mint, bay, coriander, chives, parsley, chamomile and tarragon. There are many to try. Sow and savor.
What vegetables can you grow in a small space?
There are many crops you can consider when planning small vegetable garden ideas, but here are some of the best crops for small spaces:
SALAD LEAVES AND LETTUCES are easy to grow, great for beginners and definitely taste better picked fresh. Cut-and-come-again leaves will give you a selection for weeks, months even, and by sowing a succession you can enjoy them through the year.
BEANS, including dwarf varieties, are one of the easiest veg to grow. They need full sun, good drainage and are frost sensitive, so plant after frosts have passed. Choose a pot at least Dia. 16 inches, and make a tripod using three sticks tied together.
KALE lasts well into winter. Just a few plants are enough to keep you in supply for nearly the whole year. They are frost hardy – in fact a light frost improves the flavor, making leaves that may have become bitter at the end of summer, sweeter.
BEETROOT seeds are a cluster of four or five separate seeds, so planting a single seed in a 5-liter pot can yield a number of plants - ideal for small vegetable garden ideas. Look for smaller baby beets for growing in containers. Grow in full sun, although they can survive some shade.
CHARD is very productive as well as stunning to look at, and the leaves are cut and come again so won’t leave holes in your ornamental planting.
TOMATOES, especially the mini varieties, grow well in pots, grow bags and hanging baskets. Plant young plants in May, water evenly and feed with a tomato fertilizer for continuing cropping.
See: Tomato companion planting - the best crops to grow with tomatoes
CURRANTS are space saving trained on walls, or can also be grown in containers. They prefer well-drained, moisture-retentive soil, in full sun but tolerate part shade. Water well in dry periods, prune when dormant and harvest them in clusters.
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