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Small Vegetable Garden Ideas

By: Niki Jabbour
Try these 6 small vegetable garden ideas to pack more food into less space. Plus meet some small-space vegetable varieties you should be growing.

vertical gardening in urban garden

6 Small Vegetable Garden Ideas

If you’re like me, your vegetable garden plans and available space don’t always match up. But I always seem to find room, even in small vegetable gardens! Compact crops like ‘Easy Pick Gold’ zucchini, ‘Tasmanian Chocolate’ tomato and ‘Katarina’ cabbage let you maximize production in large and small gardens. But that’s not the only way to grow more with less. The garden you see above employs several ideas to pack more vegetables into small spaces. Let me walk you through the tips.

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raised wood garden bed by Niki-Jabbour: In small vegetable gardens, the soil is especially important. Fill raised beds with equal parts garden soil and compost.

1. Plant in raised beds

Raised beds allow you to control the soil mix and plant intensively, fitting more vegetables into a smaller space. They provide excellent drainage, warm up early in spring and are easy to tend. Use rot-resistant materials like cedar, hemlock or corten steel, which you see above, and fill with equal amounts of good-quality garden soil and compost.

2. Grow vegetables in containers

Planting in containers, windowboxes, hanging baskets or buckets allows even balcony gardeners to grow food.

The three rules of container gardening are

  1. Select pots with drainage holes.
  2. Bigger is better, as larger pots hold more soil so dry out less quickly.
  3. Use potting mix, not garden soil, as potting mixes are lightweight and drain well.

3. Grow vertically

Growing food in a garden that is space-challenged often requires creative solutions. Vining vegetables, such as cucumbers, squash and indeterminate tomatoes, use far less garden space when grown up fences, trellises, stakes, obelisks and other structures. Plus, plants that are off the ground are less prone to insect and disease issues. Just be sure to plant them on structures that are easy to get to. Pole beans on a trellis at the back of a full border might seem like a good idea in spring but by midsummer it may be hard to access for harvesting.

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Raised garden bed next to house

4. Practice edible landscaping

You don’t need a dedicated space to grow food. Instead, mix vegetables and ornamental plants together. This is such a smart small vegetable garden idea. It’s easy to create an edible edge at the front of a flower border using leaf lettuce or curly parsley; tuck peppers, tomatoes or broccoli seedlings between your favorite perennial plants, or grow pole beans and cucumbers on a trellis or arbor. You can also mix food and flowers together in summer containers. Ultra dwarf tomatoes and peppers can be planted with ornamentals like salvia or marigolds.

5. Skip vegetables that take up a lot of room

I love growing pumpkins, melons and corn, but the plants take up a lot of room, need three to four months to go from seed to harvest, and don’t produce a large enough harvest to justify so much garden space. If you don’t have a big garden and still want to grow crops like pumpkins or winter squash, avoid vining ones and stick to bush or dwarf varieties like ‘Butterbaby’ butternut squash, which have compact, tidy growth.

6. Plant intensively

One of the easiest ways to boost production is to practice interplanting and succession planting. Interplanting pairs crops that grow at different rates like fast-growing leaf lettuce and slower-growing tomatoes. By the time the tomato plants have sized up and need the space, the speedy leaf lettuce is long gone. Succession planting is following one crop with another. As spring vegetables are harvested, amend the soil with compost and seed summer crops like bush beans, zucchini or bush cucumbers.

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Choosing the right small vegetable garden crops

There are several ideas you can use to boost success — and production — in small spaces vegetable gardens. First, choose varieties bred to be container-friendly and compact in size. When flipping through seed catalogs or shopping for seedlings at your local nursery, look for descriptions like “bush,” “dwarf” and “patio.”

Think smart

In a small garden, make the best use of your available space and select vegetables that multitask. For example, lettuce is delicious, but also beautiful, quick-growing, productive and nutritious. Or corn can be used as a trellis for pole beans. Make a plan of what you want to grow in each season to help you stay organized and maximize your space.

Favorite small space vegetables

Success in small spaces starts by selecting crops and varieties suited to tight quarters. Here are some of my favorite space-saving vegetables and varieties worth trying!

Patio pride peas by Niki Jabbour

Garden peas Pisum sativum

Garden peas are easy to grow for spring, summer or autumn harvest. There are several types, including sugar, shell and snap, with many growing 5 to 6 feet tall. Most dwarf peas are quicker to mature than tall ones and are easy to grow in containers.

  • ‘Patio Pride’ (in photo) This All-America Selections Award winner grows just 1 foot tall and pods are ready to pick in 40 days.
  • ‘Sugar Ann’ Classic sugar snap pea with vines that grow up to 2 feet tall. The edible pods are crisp and very sweet.

Mascotte bush bean by Niki Jabbour

Bush beans Phaseolus vulgaris

Bush beans are productive, compact plants that are quick to crop and easy to grow. Most varieties go from seed to harvest in 50 to 55 days.

  • ‘Mascotte’ (in photo) An All-America Selections winner with slender green pods produced above the foliage for easy picking.
  • ‘Soleil’ ‘Soleil’ is a vigorous filet variety with golden pods that are slender, stringless and very tender.

Truchas lettuce

Lettuce Lactuca sativa

Lettuce is an easy green to grow in containers and windowboxes, but you can also interplant it between slowergrowing crops in garden beds.

  • ‘Tennis Ball’ This heirloom forms 4- to 5-inch-diameter lightly folded heads that are the ideal size for individual salads.
  • ‘Tom Thumb’ Butterhead lettuce with small, tender heads that fit perfectly in the palm of the hand.
  • ‘Truchas’ (in photo) This mini romaine produces eyecatching crimson-red and green leaves that are mild and crunchy.

bush pickle garden bed by Niki-Jabbour

Cucumbers Cucumis sativus

When growing cucumbers in limited space, focus on bush varieties, which grow 2 to 3 feet long. I like to plant them at the edge of my raised beds or grow them up tomato cages.

  • ‘Bush Pickle’ (in photo) Growing just 2 to 2½ feet across, plants still produce a full-sized harvest of 4- to 5-inch-long fruits.
  • ‘Patio Snacker’ Quick-maturing plants grow 3 to 4 feet long and yield a heavy crop of 6- to 8-inch-long cucumbers for slicing.

Micro Tom container tomato

Tomatoes Solanum lycopersicum

Determinate, or bush, tomatoes, grow up to 4 feet tall, but many varieties are far shorter. Indeterminate varieties produce tall plants that can grow 6 to 7 feet tall. They can be grown in small spaces but should be trellised or staked to control their growth.

  • ‘Micro Tom’ (in photo) Just 6 to 8 inches tall, each tidy determinate plant yields several dozen cherry-sized fruits.
  • ‘Tasmanian Chocolate A sublime yet small-scale determinate slicer that grows just 3 feet tall and yields a large crop of richly flavored burgundy fruits. 75 days to harvest.

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Happy Rich Broccoli from Johnny's Seeds

Broccoli Brassica oleracea var. italica

Most heading varieties need 3 to 4 square feet of space. However, mini and sprouting varieties can be grown in tight quarters to yield plenty of florets. Four to six plants should be enough broccoli for a family of four.

  • ‘Happy Rich’ (in photo) Weeks of large spears beginning a month from transplant.
  • ‘Sweet Stem’ Compact, heat-tolerant mini broccoli. Also a great choice for spring and autumn harvesting.

Katarina cabbage by Niki-Jabbour

Cabbage Brassica oleracea var. capitata

Like broccoli, cabbage can be a space hog in the garden. To maximize production, stick to mini varieties.

  • ‘Katarina’ (in photo) This is my go-to miniature cabbage. It’s fast to mature and the 4-inch-diameter heads are perfect for an individual meal.
  • ‘Pixie’ Crisp, sweet heads that are only 4 to 5 inches across.

Basket of Fire pepper by Niki Jabbour

Sweet & Hot peppers Capsicum annuum

Peppers are one of my favorite crops to grow on my sunny deck because they are incredibly productive when planted in containers.

  • ‘Basket of Fire’ (in photo) Grows 12 inches tall and up to 2 feet across with plenty of spicy red fruits.
  • ‘Confetti’ Beautiful and delicious mini bell pepper with variegated foliage and fruits. Harvest green or red.
  • ‘Pot-a-Peño’ I love growing this cascading jalapeño in hanging baskets.

Product Recommendations

Here are some supplies and tools we find essential in our everyday work in the garden. We may receive a commission from sales referred by our links; however, we have carefully selected these products for their usefulness and quality.

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