Creative Ways to Grow a Small Vegetable Garden


If you dream of vine-fresh tomatoes and crisp lettuce every night of the summer, growing your own vegetable garden is for you. If you don’t have an expansive backyard, this dream might seem impossible. Can you have a vegetable garden when you don’t have much outdoor space?

To grow a small vegetable garden, all you need is sun, soil, water, plants, and a plan. You can make the most of your space with smaller cultivars of your favorite veggies and succession planting. High-yield crops, container planting, and raised beds can expand your harvest, too.

Knowing what your favorite vegetables need to thrive and what your region’s growing season is like will help you plan to make the most of whatever space you have available to you. When you’re armed with knowledge and creativity, your vegetable dreams are within reach. This article will help you plan the best vegetable patch for you and your home.

Photo by Hannah Babiak

How Do You Make a Small Vegetable Garden?

A small vegetable garden needs all of the same things a large vegetable garden needs, minus the expansive space: lots of sunlight, good fertile soil, and enough water. Most vegetables require good drainage, plenty of nutrients, and about six hours of sunlight a day, no matter where they’re planted.

Since you’re working in a smaller space, however, you’ll want to choose your crops carefully. Consider both the plants’ height and width and how you can arrange them so that taller plants don’t accidentally block smaller ones from getting the sun they need. You’ll also need to balance the nutrients for all the plants in your plot so they all get what they need.

You won’t be able to plant as much variety in a small garden as you could on a large plot. When narrowing your vegetable choices, think about what you want to eat the most, what’s expensive to buy at the grocery store or local farmers’ market, and how large the crop yield is.

Keep the environment of where you live in mind too. The length of your growing season can impact what grows well for you or how many cycles of crops you could get in a year. If your favorite vegetable doesn’t grow well in your region, you might want to plant something similar that’s more suited to your area.

Finding More Space

You aren’t limited to the soil on the ground when planning a vegetable garden. Supplementing your outdoor space with container plants on your windowsills, fire escape, or balcony can expand the variety in your garden.

Smaller indoor spaces are suitable for herbs and other greens you’ll use frequently. Porches and balconies can work well for a tomato plant or other vine-based fruit. Make sure the space you choose gets enough sunlight or commit to moving your plants around your home to catch the sun.

Wherever you end up planting, make sure to prep the soil before you start planting. Till your soil and mix in compost and fertilizer to create an aerated, nutrient-rich environment for your plants. New gardens need a bit more preparation than established plots.

You won’t be tiling containers or windowsill pots, but for these gardens, fertilizing is critical. A little GS Plant Foods Organic Fish and Kelp Blend is a good liquid fertilizer. Mixing some fish emulsion like the Organic Fish and Kelp blend in with the soil in your containers will help your indoor plants thrive.

Key Tips When Growing Vegetables in a Small Garden

In a smaller garden, each plant is important. If there is a pest or issue, or the crop is small, you don’t have as many plants to fall back on. Taking time to make a plan ahead of time will help you keep your small vegetable garden vibrant all season.

Continuous Yield Crops

To maximize any garden space, planting continuous yield crops is the way to go. In a large garden, you could have a different crop ready for harvest every week, keeping you supplied with fresh veggies. If the same plant can give you a new harvest over and over, you can get similar results with less square footage.

Jalape_o_Pepper_Lines (4)
Jalape_o_Pepper_Lines (4)

Plants with leafy exteriors that you can harvest throughout the growing season are great for smaller spaces. Harvesting them keeps the plants’ size down because they focus their energy on regrowing the produce you collect. Lettuces, herbs, and some early flowering plants are good for a continuous yield.

Growing Seasons

Knowing your growing season is also important for smaller gardens. If you’re planning to rotate your crops or do succession planting, knowing what part of the year each of your vegetables grows best will help you know when to plant them.

You can expand your growing season by germinating seeds indoors and transplanting them to your outdoor space as the conditions become favorable. The extra step of transplanting can keep your vegetable patch producing for most of the year.

Pests

It’s important to have a pest management plan when you’re gardening small. If you only have a few plants, one hungry deer or rabbit can eat your whole garden fairly quickly. At the same time, you don’t want to block your plants from pollinators.

Feitore Deer Fence Netting can be trimmed trim to fit your garden space and keep critters from nibbling your food while still letting helpful insects and sunlight in.

How to Maximize Space in a Small Vegetable Garden

The best way to maximize your small garden space without sacrificing vegetable choices is to look for smaller cultivars of your favorites. Vertical and climbing crops will save you space in the ground, so opt for climbing beans over a bush bean variety.

Any cultivar labeled dwarf, patio, pixie, or baby is smaller than its traditional counterparts. Check the seed packets or plant labels for information on how large the plant will be when it’s fully grown.

You can also plant herbs between other crops. They tend to have shorter roots and need less sunlight than other crops, therefore they can sit between larger plants. As a bonus, they can help cut down on pests, as many aromatic herbs deter harmful insects.

Supplemental Indoor Plantings

If there just isn’t enough space outside for everything you want to plant, you can supplement your outdoor space with indoor plants. You can start seeds indoors to rotate outside or have plants that permanently live inside your home.

You aren’t limited to windowsills, either. Hanging planters are a space-saving method of growing plants indoors. Some climbing plants might do well inverted so that their vines hang down. Container plants on your porch or fire escape are a good garden supplement, too.

Succession Planting

Succession planting is suitable for any garden, but it is more beneficial for small gardens because it lets you have variety in a limited space. To use succession planning, you’ll need to know the environmental requirements and growing seasons of all your plants really well.

As plants come to the end of their growing season and you harvest them, you can replace them with plants that grow later in the season. Make sure to keep an eye on your soil and maintain good fertilization throughout the year so that all your plants can do their best.

Photo of galvanized steel raised beds set a top woodchips
Photo by Hollyharryoz

Should You Use Raised Beds in a Small Vegetable Garden?

While not a requirement, raised bed gardens are excellent for a small vegetable patch, especially if you are newer to gardening. Raised beds don’t require tilling, have naturally good drainage, and aren’t at risk of trampling as you tend them.

A raised bed also increases the number of places you can have your garden. You can start a raised bed on top of the soil, but you can also have a raised bed above less desirable conditions, like a concrete driveway or a gravel surface.

You can fit a lot into even a smaller raised bed because you won’t have to leave space to walk between your plants. Most beds are about four feet wide, so you can reach all of the plants without climbing into the bed.

A carefully planned raised bed vegetable garden can provide fresh produce for most of the year. Succession planting works well in a raised bed, as does interplanting. Interplanting is when you plant crops with similar needs or plants that help each other (such as a tall plant and one that likes shade) next to each other. 

For a raised bed, you’re also in more control of the soil. You can choose your potting soil and fertilizers specifically for the needs of the vegetables you’re growing. Raised beds can give you more flexibility and control over your space than trying to work with the soil you’ve got.

Important Considerations When Growing a Small Vegetable Garden

For a small garden, it all comes down to choice. You can grow almost anything in a small garden, but you can’t grow everything all at once. There are so many options of vegetables to grow, you have to narrow your selections by personal preference and regional limitations.

Personal Preference

Half the joy of growing your own food is getting to grow the things you like to eat most. With a few exceptions like corn, you can pretty much grow a version of your favorite veggies in any space.

Look at the dwarf or patio cultivars of the veggies you want to grow and choose a mix of heights and widths. You can plant shorter plants in the front of your bed and taller plants in the back to give them an equal shot at good sunlight.

Regional Considerations

Another thing to check when picking your plants is what grows best in your region. You should consider weather patterns, including temperature and rainfall. This will help you determine which plants will thrive and how to best care for those you choose.

Plant labels and seed packets will usually tell you which regions and climates they grow best in. If in doubt, you can check the cooperative extension for your state for more information on your growing region. Each state has an extension service run by the USDA to help gardeners and produce growers.

If a plant doesn’t appear to be right for your region, that doesn’t mean you have to give up on it entirely. Starting seeds indoors is an easy way to extend a short growing season. You can adjust where you plant crops and how you care for them to mimic their preferred environments more closely. Grow tents and grow lights can also come in handy to better create the environments needed for the plants you choose to grow.

It will be easier to grow plants that come from your region, but a dedicated gardener can get good results from non-native species, too. Decide ahead how much time and energy you can devote to your vegetable garden and choose the plants whose level of care won’t exceed your limits.

Once you know what’s best for your region, take a closer look at your immediate environment. The type of soil in your yard might not be ideal for the plants you want to grow. You can add fertilizer, mulch, and potting soil to adjust the soil you have once you know what you’re working with.

What are the Best Vegetables for a Small Vegetable Garden?

The wide variety of vegetables and edible plants in the world means there are plenty of things you can grow, no matter what your environmental conditions are. You should always look up the specific requirements for each plant that you grow, but you can follow some common guidelines.

Most vegetables need about six hours of sun a day. You can get away with as little as four, but the less sun your plants get, the smaller their yield will be as they won’t have enough energy to grow. If you don’t get a lot of direct sunlight, you’ll do better with herbs and leafy plants.

In general, leafy greens need less sun than fruiting plants as it takes more energy to create the flowers and subsequent fruit than it does to grow leaves. In fact, some cool-season plants need shade to survive, especially late in the season. A good rule of thumb to follow is the more energy it takes to produce the edible part of the plant, the more sunlight that plant will need to make a good crop.

If You Have Lots of Shade

If your garden doesn’t get much direct sunlight, you can still have ample vegetable choices! Radishes have shallow roots and grow very quickly, which makes them a good choice for partial shade.

Climbing varieties of beans and peas are also good candidates for a shady area of your garden. You can also trellis them to climb against a wall or fence that might get more light than the ground directly beneath it.

Leafy greens like lettuces, chard, and kale are all shade tolerant. Best of all, many of these plants can be continuously harvested throughout the season. If you pick the outermost leaves but leave the rest of the head, the plant will continue to produce for longer. There are dozens of varieties to choose from, so you can have a shade-loving leafy green available for the spring, summer, and even into the fall.

Broccoli and all of its related plants also grow well in partially shaded areas. Many vegetables are related to broccoli, including cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, and kohlrabi. Any of these can grow in a shady spot, as most of them are very leafy. Grow lights and well-placed mirrors can also help to direct more light to your plants.

If You Have Lots of Sun

On the opposite end of the vegetable spectrum are the plants that thrive on hours and hours of sunlight. If your garden doesn’t have any shade, or very little, you will do well with a garden full of flowering and fruiting plants.

Any vegetable with a large flower or very watery fruit needs a lot of sunlight to grow. Cucumbers, most squash varieties, eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes fall in this category. These plants need extended sunlight to produce enough energy to turn their blossoms into fruiting bodies. Even dwarf varieties of these vegetables need more sunlight than a leafy plant.

Root veggies like carrots and potatoes like sunlight too but can take more shade than flowering plants. The parts of these plants above ground do flower, but not as often as plants with edible fruits. However, the tuber and root parts of the plants also require a lot of energy to grow.

Closing Thoughts

Limited space doesn’t have to limit your vegetable growing opportunities. You can make an excellent vegetable garden with a small footprint if you plan ahead for your plants’ needs and tailor your choices to your region and personal tastes.

You’ll need the same soil, fertilizer, sunlight, and water as you would for any other garden, plus a healthy dose of creativity. Raised beds, containers, and indoor plantings can expand your outdoor spaces, making small vegetable gardens accessible for every type of home and every kind of home gardener.

Here are Some of my Favorite Gardening Products and Tools

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you found it helpful for growing some new plants in your home or garden. Here are some products I like that I hope you’ll also find helpful. These are affiliate links, and I am compensated for referring traffic. But in all honesty, these are the exact product that I use or recommend to everyone.

Soil: For high-quality soil, I really like Fox Farm Ocean Forest. I do all my growing in containers and this soil has worked great for me. I like how they use nutrient-rich contents like earthworm castings, bat guano, and composted crab and fish.

Fertilizer: Currently I am using a seaweed-based organic fertilizer call Neptunes Harvest. This is a great milder fertilizer option if you want to use something organic. If you want a more powerful fertilizer, I recommend Fox Farm Liquid Nutrient Trio, lots of people have had great growing success with this product.

Pruning Shears: Pruning shears are one of the most useful gardening tools to have because it’s important to prune your plants to keep them healthy. The pruning shears I recommend are the Gonicc 8’’ pruning shears. I like them because they are built sturdy and work both on bigger and smaller plants, so you don’t need to have multiple pruning shears.

spicytrio.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. spicytrio.com also participates in affiliate programs with other sites. spicytrio.com is compensated for referring traffic and business to these companies.

Supriya

Hi! I'm Supriya. I'm a home cook, bulldog mom, spicy food lover, and founder of The Spicy Trio. I have been a home cook for about 15 years and have been growing plants for the past six years.

Recent Posts