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Gardening with Limited Space

close up of hand watering plant

Many people do not have a large area to grow a traditional vegetable garden. However, even those who live in a small apartment or have a shared outdoor space can grow vegetables, flowers and herbs in window boxes, small planters or hanging baskets.

Planning

Regardless of the type of garden you are interested in, the first step is to plan. Ask yourself, what you are interested in growing? Would you like edible plants, striking foliage or vibrant flowers? What planting location is available (large yard, window boxes, vertical planters, etc.)? How much sunlight and space are available? Accessibility of a water or irrigation source also is a consideration.

Other Considerations

Determine what techniques will work for the location you have. Raised beds, table planters and vertical gardens can provide opportunities for those with limited space to enjoy the benefits of gardening. The sunlight and space available are two important considerations. Vegetables typically need at least eight hours of quality sunlight daily, and all plants need enough root space for the mature plant.

Many herbs, fruits and vegetables provide attractive foliage in addition to an edible crop. When selecting plants for your garden, you should consider the mature size of the plant and your personal preference. Sufficient soil depth is needed for root growth. Some crops can be planted directly from seed, but others, such as tomatoes, do best from transplant. For more information on timing of planting for your area, consult the WVU Extension Service Garden Calendar.

Plant Spacing

Spring/Fall Crop

Minimum spacing between plants (in.)

Summer Crop
Minimum spacing between plants (in.)

Beets

3

Beans (lima)
3

Broccoli

8

Beans (bush)
2

Brussels Sprouts

12

Cucumber
8

Cabbage

12

Eggplant
18

Carrots

2

Flowers
6

Cauliflower

14

Muskmelon
12

Celery

6

Peppers
12

Chard (Swiss)

4

Squash (summer)
12

Greens

1/8

Sweet Potato
9

Kale

8

Tomato (dwarf)
8

Lettuce (head)

6

Tomato (small vine)
12

Lettuce (leaf)

1/8

Watermelon
24

Onions (bulb)

4

Onions (green)

1

Peas

3

Potatoes

6

Radish

1

Spinach

2

Turnip

2

Methods of adaptive gardening

Suitable containers/ equipment

Special considerations

Plant suggestions

Container gardening – growing plants exclusively in containers instead of planting them in the ground

Flower pots, hanging baskets, window boxes or repurposed items (i.e. barrels or wash tubs)

  • Size of container
  • Lightweight potting mix
  • Drainage holes
  • Suitable plants

Herbs, indoor or outdoor flowers, most vegetables (dwarf varieties may be available)

Vertical gardening – the use of vertical space as a growing system for plants

Vertical planters, lattice, hanging baskets or bags, trellises, etc.

  • Size of container
  • Lightweight potting mix
  • Suitable plants
  • Stability of overhead structures
  • Weight of full containers

Strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, peas, beans, melons, clematis, roses, morning glories

Gardening with adaptive tools – using tools or adaptive aids that have been modified for people with special needs to lessen the physical or mental demands of gardening

Modified tools for the task and ability - trowels, hoes, forks, bright colored tools, water wands, lightweight chairs, stools and carts

  • Larger space needed
  • Costs to purchase equipment
  • Skills needed to modify tools
  • Convenience of location

Most any vegetable, flower or landscape plant (consider the mature/harvest height of the plant)

Raised bed gardening – using any garden bed in which more soil has been added to raise the garden surface, usually supported by sidewalls and materials

  • Well-drained soil and rot-resistant lumber, masonry blocks, bricks or rock layers to support the sides of the bed
  • 18 inches or deeper may require layers of drainage material (gravel, sand or drainage tile)
  • Cost of material
  • Warmer soil in spring allows for earlier planting
  • Beds 6 inches tall or less sides need no support
  • Temporary or permanent structures can be used

Many vegetable crops work well, could also try interplantings of lettuce and onions; carrots and beets; tomatoes, peppers, strawberries

Table-top gardening – using a gardening area that is on a raised surface at lap or chest level

  • Synthetic or wood surface table tops
  • Naturally water-resistant wood, such as redwood or cedar
  • Synthetic lumber, such as recycled plastic
  • Repurposed items, such as work or garden benches
  • Lightweight potting mix
  • Drainage hole location
  • Naturally rot-resistant wood is recommended
  • Chemically preserved wood pressure-treated with a copper-containing product (i.e. ACQ) is acceptable for home gardens, but it is not approved for organic gardening.
  • Do not use wood treated with creosote or pentachlorophenol (Penta) as it is harmful to humans and plants.

Low-growing plants like lettuce, carrots, beets, onions and strawberries, or dwarf varieties of peppers, tomatoes, etc.

Straw bale gardening – using straw bales as a growing medium rather than the soil

Straw bales (or hay bale with mulch and irrigation to combat weeds); fertilizer and a nitrogen source (blood meal or bone meal, and fish emulsion, if organic) to condition the bales; water to soak  fertilizer into bale;  soaker hose

  • Location is permanent after bales are watered due to weight
  • Transplants planted directly in bale
  • Soil or compost needed, if planting seeds directly into bale
  • Straw keeps plants cool and holds water well
  • Fewer pest problems than traditional gardening
  • Taller plants should be on the north end
  • Weed barriers, like landscaping cloth. help control weeds around work areas located directly on sod, slowing down the deterioration of the twine as well

Plants per bale

Tomatoes 2 to 3

Peppers 4

Cucumbers 4 to 6

Squash 2 to 4

Pumpkins 2

Zucchini 2 to 3


Brandy Brabham, WVU Extension Service Agent - Roane County
Jodi Richmond, WVU Extension Service Agent - Mercer County