Top 5 tips for gardeners with limited space Image

Top 5 tips for gardeners with limited space

By Mark Cullen on Jul 27, 2017

The concept of ‘the average lot size’ is changing. In the near future, ‘average size’ could mean a few square feet located way off the ground, rather than an expansive suburban lot. As gardeners, our response to this may be negative. We are left with less space to spread our horticultural wings and fewer options to attract song birds, butterflies and hummingbirds.

There is, however, another side of the coin. Moving into a condo with a balcony or a townhome with a small lot need not mean you have to give up on the joys of gardening.  

Approaching the garden design of a balcony or the small footprint of a townhouse backyard requires the same approach as any other garden project. Think about how you want to use the space, first and foremost.  

Tips for gardeners with limited space

If your new property is where you wish to sit and entertain perhaps you will want to make the space feel like an extension of your indoor living space. Consider:

  • Do you want privacy? Use the wall space available to you. A fence or balcony wall can support climbing vines just as well as a brick wall.
  • Do you need to reserve space for food prep (a BBQ) and the like? Carve this space out before you fill the area with pots and plants.
  • Would you like to harvest food from your small yard or balcony? Herbs, compact vegetables and wall-growing fruit can provide a surprising quantity of fresh food.  
  • Are you exposed to street noise from your outdoor space? Consider a water feature that moves water, distracting your attention from the sound of traffic.
  • Do you have an exceptional view? Enhance it through your garden design.

A small water feature may be good for gardeners with limited space

As you contemplate the answers to all of these questions, I have these top five tips for you to consider:

1) Plant small

Hanging baskets or pots, ‘window boxes’ and other wall mounted planters can help you maximize the produce that you harvest from small spaces. For tasty greens, plant leaf lettuce from seed, spinach, basil, Oriental greens and pea shoots. Many of these can be planted or sown two or three times through the gardening season.

2) Use ‘compact’ or ‘dwarf’ plants

Many ornamental plants that we are familiar with are available in forms that do not mature into monsters. If you like lilacs, look for ‘Korean Spice Lilac’ apples. Shop for true dwarf varieties only, in the world of evergreens consider Mugho pine (pruned annually), dwarf Alberta Spruce, dwarf Nest spruce and a myriad of slow growing plants too numerous to name here.  

Tips for gardeners with limited space

3) Mix and match

One of the benefits of gardening today is that there are no rules about where you grow plants.  This new generation of gardeners is teaching all of us to plant ornamentals with edibles. Grow a cherry tomato ‘Sweet One Million’ with your petunias and let them intertwine.  

4) Plant compact vegetables

Patio tomato, summer squash, radishes, cucumber ‘Fanfare,’ eggplant ‘Fairy Tale,’ spring onions, and mesclun mix all work well in confined space.

5) Go vertical

Roses climb, as do honeysuckle, wisteria, bittersweet, hardy kiwi (to zone 2/Edmonton), clematis and the list goes on. In addition to natural climbers that either twine themselves up a trellis or ‘self-cling’ their way up a wall or fence, you can train a dwarf apple into two dimensions by pruning the outward facing growth. The French call this ‘espalier.’

Tips for gardeners with limited space

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, Member of the Order of Canada, author and broadcaster. Get his free monthly newsletter at markcullen.com. Look for his new best seller, The New Canadian Garden' published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and Facebook.

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