Although we dream of having a home on acreage with animals, big gardens, and plenty of room for our littles to play and roam, we currently live in a home with a smaller sized backyard. We are working toward our goal of land, but in the meantime, I am a big believer in finding contentment, gratitude, and happiness where we are, right here, right now. For me, this includes maximizing the space that I have to garden and grow the things I want.
I have had a garden in this home now for more than a decade and have not let the small size prevent us from having a peaceful and plentiful outdoor space. I have a real passion for gardening, and thought it would be fun to share 10 of my best tips for gardening in small spaces.
Here are a few of my favorite tips to for gardening in small spaces.
1. Stop fighting with your yard.
I know this sounds funny, but for years I had a garden in the place where we have our current swingset. I was constantly fighting to make it work, and was struggling to produce a yield due to the shade from a neighbor’s tree. Finally, after a couple of years, I decided to move my garden to a different spot in the yard and it has thrived ever since.
I have decided that no matter how hard I try, or how much I wish for it, my yard is what it is and I need to embrace it and create the best I can with it.
2. Build a garden box that best works for your space.
I dream of having a beautiful, huge garden with many tall, raised beds but that isn’t what was the most practical in my small yard. Instead, I custom built a very easy and cost effective box (see tutorial here) that produces the highest yield possible in our space. It is bigger than most boxes, but it works for us.
When deciding on the size of your boxes, keep in mind that doing a few smaller ones makes it easier to walk in and through your plants. My littles and I like to actually walk around in this garden so it works for us.
One more thing to keep in mind is all walls, fences, etc. Take a day or two to map out the sunlight in your garden area. Most plants need a solid 6+ hours to grow and thrive and you will want to make sure you are building the size boxes and planting them where they will get this.
3. When you don’t have enough space to grow out, grow up!
I was determined to grow pumpkins in my little garden. I LOVE pumpkins, but I knew because of how big and wild the vines usually grow, that if I didn’t think of an alternate solution, it would be the only thing that would fit in my garden.
Since I still wanted to grow other things besides pumpkins (especially tomatoes!!), I concocted a plan to grow the vines up and over the fence using basic wire fencing arched over and attached to the fence. I did it this way for the first couple of years, and ended up building a sturdier one using wooden poles, fencing and zip ties. This helped to support the weight of the pumpkins.
In order to train vines, I use cut up old tights or pantyhose into strips and tie them to the fencing. When the vegetable gets too heavy, I also support the whole vegetable with panty hose or netting in a sort of sling. I also grow different kinds of pumpkins, cucumbers, lemon cucumbers, spaghetti squash, small watermelons, cantaloupe, pole beans and more this way and have had great success with all of them over the years.
4. Maximize the space you have.
I try to get the most out of every planter and bed throughout our yard- front and back.
I plant vegetables alongside my flowers in various beds. Cabbage, herbs, and even zucchini or yellow squash. I completely ignore what “should” or “should not” be grown in places like the front yard and just work in my plants where they fit and where I want them. They are absolutely beautiful and lush alongside flowers!
5. Use your patio space.
There are so many herbs and plants you can grow on the patio.
I always plant herbs and a tomato plant on the patio and have hanging baskets (see herb box here and free DIY markers here). Sometimes I even grow potted hot chili peppers for my hubby. I also add color and flowers to my window boxes (see how to build an easy window box here).
6. Keep a Garden Journal
I keep a garden journal where I document my successes and failures in my yard and garden.
Each year I grow my old faithfuls- the plants and flowers around the yard that work well. I add new things that I want to try and omit the things that didn’t work well the year before. Then I will evaluate what worked (what I loved) from those things that I tried and add them to next year’s list. Sometimes I even tape the tags from the plants into my journal for reference.
Keeping a yard and garden journal helps to not get planes ts confused from year to year. It also helps to remember which vegetables had the best yields, the best flavors, etc.
7. Create Zones
I have created different zones in my small yard and it actually functions very well for our family.
Our zones in our U shaped backyard are: garden, patio, play area adjacent to the largest expanse of grass, and my she shed (see She Shed here). Our side yards have the largest area so instead of fighting with them, we maximize them. One corner even has the kids’ entire playset, small trampoline, and sandbox. I have grown to absolutely love my small patio space. It feels like the best little European courtyard.
It can be overwhelming to fit everything you need/want into a small backyard, but creating focused zones in your yard help to maximize the space you do have and make the most of those areas.
8. Add furniture to the patio that will best suit your family’s lifestyle.
I had wanted a sectional out on our patio for years, but thought that we wouldn’t have the space for that AND a table. I knew that we needed to prioritize an outdoor dining space since our kids prefer to eat most of their meals outside in the summer. But, with enough thoughtfulness, and careful measuring, we were able to include both pieces and make it very functional for our family.
One of the things that helps is to not buy really oversized patio furniture, which can make a small patio feel cluttered and overwhelming. Using a table with benches is a perfect example of this.
9. Consider lighting.
I wanted my hubby and I to be able to sit outside after our kids were in bed and enjoy our patio together, or even be able to entertain into the evening. Ambiance and lighting was a necessity.
I bought these awesome patio lights from Costco and they have held up so well. We put them up 3 or 4 years ago and I am just now needing to replace some of the bulbs (update: we have had them 5+ years and they are still going strong). I have them on a timer and they come on every night- so every night for 3 or 4 years isn’t bad!
I see and enjoy the twinkling lights and pretty patio from the inside of the house every night as well. It makes our home almost feel bigger. It makes such a huge difference!
10. Consider functionality.
This goes along with the furniture, but one thing that is an absolute must on our patio is our smoker. (update: we have since built a little paver patio off to the right of the patio for this). My hubby is the best barbecuer that I know and it is perfect for our family to have a way of cooking outdoors in the summer.
My best advice
My best advice is to make a list of all of the things you would like to incorporate in your yard and then order them from most important to least important. Then begin mapping out your yard and garden with these things in mind. With enough thoughtfulness, you will be surprised how much you can fit in!
Well, those are my best 10 tips for small space gardening. Really, many of those tips that would do well in any space. Do you have a small yard? What would you add to this list?
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