Small-Space Gardening

Profusio Zinnias and Swiss chard
Compact Profusion Zinnias and Swiss chard are great choices for smaller gardens with less space.

Small-space gardening is the triumph of inspiration over limitation. Space is the limitation. Inspiration, which is free and universally available, trumps space limitation every time.

Fafard Ultra Container with Extended Feed RESILIENCE pack
Fafard Ultra Container with Extended Feed is a great choice for small space container gardening.

You can plant a garden in an old washtub, grow it up a trellis or cultivate intensively in a two by two-foot raised bed. Small-scale landscapes can be housed in boxes perched on porch railings, bags or planters hanging from walls, or grow bags on asphalt driveways. They are perfect for the minuscule ribbons of earth surrounding a townhouse. Combine any small site with appropriately scaled plants, a little effort and quality soil like Fafard ® Ultra Container Mix With Resilience™ and a garden is born.

Choices, Choices

Getting down to the business of small space gardening requires a few choices. What do you most want to grow? If you have sunny space—six hours of direct sunlight per day—you can raise an array of edible crops, not to mention ornamentals and herbs. You can even mix those categories as long as you group plants with similar cultural needs. Light shade limits choices a bit but does not preclude any kind of small-scale gardening. Bear in mind the small-space gardening mantra—“no ground—no problem.” Find a container that will hold enough soil to grow your choice of plants and your garden is on its way.

Space limitation also means choosing plants that give “bang for the buck”—high-yielding fruits and vegetables, and/or flowering varieties that rebloom regularly during the growing season. Colorful or variegated foliage helps maintain visual interest between flushes of flowers.

Pick the Right Edibles

Cherry tomatoes
Cherry tomatoes—either standard size or dwarf–are a flavorful option for tomato lovers on a space budget.

Many popular vegetable and fruit varieties are available in compact or even dwarf sizes. Cherry tomatoes—either standard size or dwarf–are a flavorful option for tomato lovers on a space budget. Stake or trellis them for space-saving vertical culture. Many zucchini and other squashes come in tidy, compact bush forms. Bush beans, sometimes known as “string beans”, also work well in small gardens.

Fruit lovers with large containers or small plots can grow dwarf blueberry varieties like ‘Top Hat’, which rises to only 24 inches tall and produces several pounds of blueberries per season at maturity. Strawberries will thrive in raised beds or pocketed strawberry jars. Dwarf apple, pear, and plum trees are well suited to large pots or can be trained (espaliered) to grow against walls or other supports.

Coreopsis Li'l Bang™ 'Daybreak'
Coreopsis Li’l Bang™ ‘Daybreak’ is a wonderful summer perennial for small spaces. (image care of Skagit Gardens)

Vest Pocket Blooms

Getting lots of flowers from a small space used to mean buying annuals every year. You can still go the annual route with free-flowering compact forms such as the many-colored zinnias in the Profusion series. An array of modern, smaller perennials will do the same job, and save labor by returning from year to year. Try a reblooming daylily (Hemerocallis), like little ‘Black-Eyed Stella’, which is yellow with a contrasting central “eye” and a maximum height of 12 inches. Another good perennial choice is one of the small-scale tickseeds (Coreopsis), like those in the bright-colored Li’l Bang series. Vertical growers like annual morning glory and perennial clematis use little ground or container space as they clamber up trellises or tuteurs.

Miniature Roses

Miniature roses, at 12 to 24 inches tall, feature all the traits of their larger relatives, minus the gangly stature. Fragrant, apricot-pink ‘Barbara Mandrell’ for example, boasts the high-centered flowers typical of hybrid teas. Miniatures are also available in the climbing form, which is handy for those with more vertical than horizontal space.

Made for Partial Shade

Container gardening is a great option for gardeners with little space or time.
Container gardening is a great option for gardeners with little space or time.

Partial shade does not have to mean dashed hopes for space-conscious gardeners. Lovers of baby greens can grow mesclun in spaces with dappled shade and only about two hours of sun per day. Pots of parsley or oregano will be fine with only a few hours of sunshine. Try annual wishbone flower (Torenia fournieri) for purple or cream flowers in small borders, window boxes or containers. It thrives in shade and grows only six to 12 inches tall and wide. For foliage color, look for variegated-leaf perennials, like blue and cream Hosta ‘Frosted Mouse Ears’, which catches the eye and grows only six inches tall and 12 inches wide.

Succeed With Succession Planting

Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost Blend pack
Top dress small plots with Fafard Premium Natural and Organic Compost.

Get maximum growth out of small, sunny spaces by using succession planting. When spring bulb-grown plants, like tulips and daffodils, fade seed in annuals, such as nasturtiums, cosmos, or compact zinnias, in the same spaces. When cool weather returns, incorporate cool-season annuals for fall, like nemesia, pansies, or diascia.


Intensive cultivation of small spaces can lead to nutrient depletion. Top dress small plots with amendments like Fafard Premium Natural and Organic Compost, which can also be mixed into container medium. Small spaces—especially containers and window boxes—tend to dry out quickly, so check for dryness and make sure to water every day in hot weather.

About Elisabeth Ginsburg

Born into a gardening family, Elisabeth Ginsburg grew her first plants as a young child. Her hands-on experiences range from container gardening on a Missouri balcony to mixed borders in the New Jersey suburbs and vacation gardening in Central New York State. She has studied horticulture at the New York Botanical Garden and elsewhere and has also written about gardens, landscape history and ecology for years in traditional and online publications including The New York Times Sunday “Cuttings” column, the Times Regional Weeklies, Horticulture, Garden Design, Flower & Garden, The Christian Science Monitor and many others. Her “Gardener’s Apprentice” weekly column appears in papers belonging to the Worrall chain of suburban northern and central New Jersey weekly newspapers and online at She and her feline “garden supervisors” live in northern New Jersey.

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