Get Started With Small Space Gardening: The Definitive Guide

Get Started With Small Space Gardening: The Definitive Guide

Apr 12, 2022

Gardening can have many benefits to your health and well-being. And also your wallet. Besides beautifying a space, plants can be soothing and help you de-stress, provide you with physical activity, teach responsibility and patience, and even purify the air.

You don’t need a lot of space to start a garden. Small space or micro- gardening, as it’s now known, can be done by anyone who wants to get the most out of their gardens with a minimum investment of time, space, and money.

This is your ultimate guide to small-space gardening.

If you want to:

  • Start gardening in small spaces at home
  • Understand the factors that will impact your garden
  • Choose the plants that work best for your space
  • Understand what you need to do to keep your plants alive

Then get your green thumbs ready.

Let’s get started.

1. How To Choose The Perfect Space For Your Garden

Whether inside or outside, almost anywhere can be used for your small garden. If you live in an apartment you can consider growing your plants indoors by a window that gets lots of sunlight, on your balcony, rooftop, or even a common or community area if allowed. (Seek permission to use these common areas before you begin your garden journey.)

If you have a home with a yard, depending on the size, you can use some or all of the space for your small garden. You will be surprised how much you can do in three square feet! Plants can be grown in containers, or directly in the soil.

If you live in the northern hemisphere as I do, having an east, west, or south-facing exposure is best because of the available light.

2. Get To Know Your Space

Different plants have differing requirements. And depending on the area you have available for your garden, it can have its own microclimate (especially in urban areas). Here are some things you have to consider for your garden space:


I live in Canada where the climate varies from region to region. From the coasts to the prairies to up north, the summer and winter vary - by length and by temperature. This will affect the types of plants that you can grow as well as the soil in those areas if you’re planting in the ground.

Urban areas tend to warm up faster than suburban or rural areas because of the number of buildings, creating a micro-climate within the region.

Know what the climate or microclimate is for your area.


The amount of light your garden gets is important when determining what plants to grow. Some plants like tomatoes thrive in the sun, while others like lettuce need shade. There are four levels of light:

Full Sun

These are areas that receive more than six hours of direct sunlight during the day. In the northern hemisphere, this tends to be along south-facing walls. These areas get warm very quickly, so plants would have to be watered often

Flowers develop more readily and fruits ripen faster in full sun. So this is especially important if you’re growing fruit crops.

Partial Sun/Shade

Areas of partial sun receive four to six hours of direct sun a day and are usually associated with east- or west-facing lots. Many plants enjoy this type of balanced weather. Plants that prefer more sun would not produce fruit or flower as readily and can grow more spindly.

There are some locations that receive shade for most of the day, such as under trees. These are called light shade areas. Leafy crops like lettuce, usually prefer some shade, as they can get scorched very easily

Full Shade

Full-shade locations receive very little or no direct sunlight. These are usually locations with a northern exposure. These areas are usually cooler and damper. Slugs and snails prefer these areas and can become problematic for your crops.

Observe the space you have chosen for your garden for a few days to see how much light it gets and for how long. Remember that depending on the season, the sun is at different heights in the sky - highest in the summer, lowest in the winter. So the amount of light your garden gets would vary.


Water is vitally important for healthy plants. Since most of the time, growing in small spaces involves growing in containers to maximize the space, you have to make sure you water your plants often. Some tips to remember:

  • Larger pots don’t dry out as quickly, therefore keeping the soil moist longer
  • Clay or terra cotta pots tend to dry out faster than other materials, so choose your pot materials depending on the amount of time you have to care for your plants carefully.
  • Use drip traps to help keep the soil moist
  • Make sure you soak your plants well before planting/transplanting. This will encourage rooting.


For outdoor spaces, the area that you’ve chosen for your garden can be exposed to wind, rain, heat, and cold. Some plants are able to withstand or recover from damage by these forces, others are not. Balconies that protrude from the side of a building are more exposed than those that are within the main structure.

  • Trellises or walls or fences can help filter or block the wind. They can also support climbing plants
  • Try to avoid waterlogged areas as these can cause root rot, or drown your seeds and seedlings. Use mulch and soil to help avoid this.
  • For plants that don’t thrive well in sunny areas, make sure you add taller sun-loving plants to provide some shade.


Especially if you're growing plants on a balcony, raised deck, rooftop, elevated or other vertical space, weight is a very important consideration. The combined weight of the soil, water, plants, and containers can be quite heavy. It is always best to check with your landlord or property management company for the maximum load-bearing capacity for the space.


Pollution exists everywhere. If you are growing crops for food, you want to minimize the toxins that get into your plants. You can't control what is in the air, and especially if you are growing your crops directly in the ground, you should know what the space was used for beforehand. Was it farmland or was it a factory? Did the previous owner repair car engines in your designated garden plot? Some commercial enterprises can damage the soil leaving it unusable for generations.


It is important to know the soil that’s available in your area. Most soils have more clay or sand, but the best soil for plants is loam.

  • Loam is a well-balanced mixture of sand, clay, silt particles, and organic matter. Loam holds moisture and drains well.
  • Clay holds the nutrients in, but it doesn't drain well. It can be heavy and hard to dig when it’s wet or get hard in the heat.
  • Sand drains well, so nutrients can be lost easily. Mixing it with organic materials can help

You can improve your soil composition, making it loamier, by adding organic matter to the soil.

Also, knowing the pH of your soil can be beneficial. Some plants prefer more acidic soil while others do not.

If you are not sure whether your soil is safe for gardening, you can grow your plants in raised garden beds or container gardens instead.


Know the length, width, height, and depth of the space that you are working with. This will help when you have to choose your plants at the garden center. You will know how much you can fit into the space and the max height available for your plants.

3. Deciding On The Type of Garden That’s Right For You

Now that you know about the space where your garden will live, let’s dive into what you will put into the space.

Small gardens usually require some creativity to make the space work. After all, they can be as small as two or three square feet in size. So figuring out how to maximize the space is very important.

Let’s look at some small-space gardening ideas…

Based on the size and shape of the space you need to figure out what you can fit into the area, leaving enough space for you to get at the plants (and other items in the space), as well as allow the space requirements that the plants need to grow healthy.

Do you have a plot on the ground to work with? Can you add raised beds and make a bed garden? Are you using all of your small yard or just part of it? Can you use other types of containers, or planters or hang plants on a wall or from a rooftop? How much space does each of my plants need? For instance, if you have a balcony, do you have enough space to move around if your plants are in containers on the floor? Is the wall or roof strong enough to hold a hanging plant or for vertical gardening?

And you don’t have to get fancy containers. Anything can be a container…. From an old shoe to a basket or old pot.

Next, think about the types of plants that you want to grow. The easiest is to select the plants that you like. As long as you create the right environment, you can grow anything.

Do you want to grow edible plants? What are your favorite fruits, vegetables, or herbs? Do you want a herb garden or a vegetable garden? Do you want to grow ornamental plants? Do you like cut flowers? Yep, you can grow a cut flower garden too, or even incorporate edible flowers into your garden. Are you looking at annuals or perennials? Which ones are your favorites?

Choose the plants that will work in the space available for the type of garden that you want.

4. Set The Stage: Preparing Your Garden For Success

Ok, so now we have a garden idea that you want. It’s time to dig in (literally) and begin preparing your garden. But first, there are some tools that you’ll need to make your life easier.

Tools Needed To Make Your Gardening Life Easier

Since you will be gardening in a small space, most of what I will be discussing pertains to container gardening as that’s what’s used mainly in square foot gardening.

Every gardener needs a set of tools for successful gardening and to make your life easier. When it comes to tools, it’s good to get quality tools - not that you have to go with the most expensive brand - as you get what you pay for. You don't want to end up spending your money on tools that bend and break easily. They should be sturdy and reinforced at joints to make them more durable.

Here are the basic tools needed:


It’s good to get your hands dirty sometimes. But you wouldn't want to do it all of the time. A trowel will save your hands, and more specifically your fingers from digging in the soil or potting mix. They offer control for digging, scooping, and moving soil, especially in a small space.

Make sure it is comfortable to hold and use. Note also, for some tools with wooden handles - over time the wood will weaken due to wear and tear, hot and cold, wet and dry, and eventually crack or loosen from the metal shaft.

Small/Hand Fork

Not 100% necessary for small space gardening, but very nice to have, a small fork will help you sift through the soil to remove larger lumpy objects like rocks. It also helps to loosen the surface of the soil in your containers.

Just like the trowel, the hand fork should be comfortable to hold and sturdy. Make sure the actual teeth of the fork are strong so that they won’t bend easily under regular use.

Shovels and Spades

These are only necessary if you’re gardening directly in the ground, or in raised beds that are in contact with the ground as they will save you some of the bending and kneeling.

Shovels tend to have more of a curved blade, while spades are more square. With the foothold or tread above the blade on either side of the handle, they help you dig into hard ground easier. They are able to move larger quantities of material as well as mix components of the soil.

When choosing these tools, make sure they have a strong strap up the handle to reinforce the joint, and a closed reinforced socket in the handle.

Forks and Rakes

These too are only necessary if your small garden is on the ground. Forks are good for turning over soil and breaking up clumps. They work really well in tough hard soil. Rakes are good for leveling soil in gardens or raised beds.

When choosing a fork, it should be strong, sturdy, and reinforced like the shovel or space. The rake should have strong tines (compared to a leave rake which has more flexibility).


A hoe is another tool for the ground. It has a long handle with a pointed or square blade and is good for digging or weeding shallow trenches, especially for seeding. All of the same rules apply when choosing a hoe - make sure that it is sturdy and reinforced.


Pruners, also known as shears, are needed and used for cutting stems up to 1.25 cm thick. There are different types of pruners:

  • Bypass pruners - which cut like scissors. They make clean cuts and don't crush the stems of plants, allowing them to heal quickly.
  • Anvil [runers - which have a single straight blade and are used for splitting stems and branches
  • Ratchet pruners - are similar to anvil pruners but are designed for people with less hand strength, for example, if someone has arthritis.

A good pair of pruners or shears are a must. Make sure you take good care of them to keep them sharp. Keep them clean; dry them if they get wet and wet shears can get rusty really quickly.

If you need to cut through thicker branches, you can invest in a bigger pair called Loppers.

Watering Can or Hose

A watering can or hose with a water wand is essential for a successful garden, no matter where it’s located - on a balcony or outside. Watering cans come in various sizes and can have different styles. Make sure that you find one that is durable and has a detachable nozzle for less delicate jobs. A water wand helps if you have to wet plants in hanging baskets or if they are high up and harder to reach, like in vertical gardens. It saves you from having to lift a heavy watering can. All you need is a hose attached to a tap with the water wand at the other end.

Water Barrel

A water barrel is optional. But it allows you to collect rainwater that you can then use to fill your watering can to wet your plants.

Stakes or Supports

Depending on the types of crops that you choose to grow, they may need a bit of extra support.

Vines, for example, can grow on trellises or other supports instead of having them trail on the floor or ground - which can affect the quality of their fruit, if fruit-bearing. Tomato plants can become heavy as they begin to bear fruit and can break easily. You can use stakes or supports for the branches so that they don't break.

You can also use twine or twist ties to help keep plants on supports


Gloves are chosen for their durability, fit, comfort, and of course style. Make sure you get a pair that is well-fitting, comfortable, and durable.


This becomes especially important when you’re spending long periods of time on your knees as you tend to your garden. There are 2 types:

  • The cushion type that you put on the ground when you need it
  • Those that you strap on to each knee

It really depends on your preference which one works better for you.

Choosing and Preparing Your Containers

The best thing about growing your plants in containers is that containers can be very versatile and they allow you to provide the best conditions for your crops. Almost anything can be a container. Though large pots are best because they maintain moisture and nutrients longer, you can use grow bags or any other size container. With containers, you can move your plants around to create the best conditions for the plants as well as create artful and attractive areas for yourself.

Make sure your containers are clean and have good drainage. It is important to start your plants off in clean pots. If you are reusing a pot, make sure you clean it thoroughly. You would have to soak clay pots in a 9:1 water to bleach solution overnight and scrub them to make sure you remove any stuck on items and then soak them again to get rid of the bleach before you use it.

If your plants don't have adequate drainage you run the risk of drowning your plants. Alternatively, you can grow plants that thrive in more waterlogged soil. If using decorative pots indoors, you can use a simple plastic pot on the inside making sure that there is enough space between this pot and the inner pot to provide adequate drainage. The amount of drainage needed would depend on the needs of your plants.

Preparing The Soil

Most plants need soil where the excess water drains easily but retains moisture and nutrients needed for growth. The time spent preparing your soil will result in healthy bountiful plants.

If you are growing your plants in the ground, make sure that you remove all of the weeds first. Wet the ground thoroughly and cover the ground with a thick layer of four or five inches of mulch made of organic materials. As your plants grow the roots will help break up the soil in the ground more

If you are growing in containers, there are many plant mixes that contain the right balance of moisture retention and nutrients for the type of plant that you will be growing. Do not use garden soil in your containers though as the soil is most likely too sandy or has too much clay.

Watch the weight of your container. This is especially important if growing on a balcony or you are looking at hanging or vertical gardens. If you plan to grow annuals only, then there is no need to fill your containers with soil. You can use styrofoam or other light material to keep the weight down. Annuals, with shallower roots, do not need lots of soil.

5. Creating Your Garden

Ok, so we’re ready to start putting your garden together. What should you plant? The best way to start is to grow what you like. For example, what fruits or vegetables do you like to eat? What are your favorite herbs? Or flowers?

Next, you need to consider: of the plants that you’d like to grow, how much space does each plant need? This will help you determine the number of plants you buy or sow for your space. What’s left now is to maximize the space you have with the plants that you’ve chosen to fit.

Sowing Seeds

Growing your plants or crops from seeds allows you to grow the widest variety of plants, as they are not readily available in store. It can also be quite satisfying as you’re able to nurture your plants from the beginning.

Seeds can be sown directly into raised beds outdoors, or in containers indoors.

Sowing Seeds Indoors

Seed starting (sowing) indoors gives you an early start to the season, provided you have somewhere to get your seedlings started. Here are the steps you’ll take to get your plants started:

  1. Fill small pots or flats with soil mix and water well. Leave for a few minutes to drain. Nowadays, there are ready-made containers to start your seeds.
  2. Sow seeds into the soil mix according to the depth specified and with the number of seeds specified. Cover lightly with soil.
  3. Cover the seeds with a bag to keep them moist and place them somewhere warm and light. Check daily and when the seedlings appear, remove the bag. Keep the soil moist as the seedlings begin to grow.
  4. Once the seedlings have two pairs of leaves you can transplant them into their own individual pots, or into larger containers, spacing them out to give them more space to grow.
  5. When the risk of frost has passed, begin acclimatizing them to the outside. Begin by placing them outside during the day and inside at night for at least two weeks.
  6. Once ready, you can transplant them into larger containers where they will live, or into your raised bed.

Sowing Seeds Outside

If your plants will be growing outside, it may be easier to sow them outdoors - either directly into the bed or in containers. More hardy plants can be sown when there is still a slight chill in the air. Tender crops need a bit more time, so wait until the last of the frost has passed. Similar to when starting seeds indoors, fill the container with soil mix, wet thoroughly, and let the excess water drain.

Sowing crops in containers outdoors is similar to indoors, except that the containers are larger.

When sowing crops outdoors in beds, follow these steps:

  1. Prepare the beds by removing any weeds. Rake the soil to break up any clumps and to keep the soil consistency the same throughout.
  2. Mark where the seeds will be sown and make shallow indents/holes to the depth and distance as specified on the seed packet.
  3. Small seeds can be lightly sown while larger ones may be placed individually into each hole.
  4. Cover the seeds over with soil and water gently using a watering with a fine nozzle.
  5. For those plants where multiple seedlings emerge, thin them out to the recommended spacing.

Note, however, that not all plants grow well from seeds. There are some plants - like perennials and soft fruits - that are best started from a plant.

How To Arrange Plants In A Small Garden

Whether it’s directly into the garden or into containers you can transplant your plants at the same time.

When arranging your plants in your garden, if you’re using different types of plants, you would start with your trees first. This is followed by shrubs, bulbs, perennials, and finally annuals. For containers, you would put the largest or tallest plant in the center, with the smaller plants around. Or if you’re growing against a wall, start with the tallest at the back and cascade down to the shortest at the front. This works for decorative plants, as well as fruits and vegetables.

What Is Succession Planting In Square Foot Gardening

Especially in temperate countries, the growing season can be quite limited - usually, spring to late summer. Succession planting is when you sow seeds in small batches to that the seedlings are ready at different times for you to plant. This is especially important in small space or square foot gardening where you have little space available. This way you can extend the growing season of your fruit, vegetable, and herb crop harvest into the Fall.

Quick-growing crops that mature in a few weeks are ideal for succession planting. Thin out the plants so that those that are left get adequate moisture and nutrients. Make sure you harvest your crops as soon as they are ready to make room in your bed for the new plants.


Intercropping is a technique where you take advantage of the space between crops to grow other crops. For example, between tall crops like corn, you can have low growers like radishes. Or for slow growers like peppers, you can grow more speedy crops like peas.

6. Reap A Big Harvest With Proper Garden Maintenance

Your garden will need regular maintenance just like any other garden but on a smaller scale. To reap the biggest harvest possible you have to make sure your plants are regularly watered and fed. Also, keep weeds and pests at a minimum.


Container plants require more water than plants growing in the ground. The smaller the container the more regularly you’ll have to water the plant. Hanging baskets and terra cotta containers require more water on sunny or windy days.

To determine when your plants need water, the surface of the soil to one inch down should be moist to the touch.If it feels dry, then your plant needs water. For seedlings and tender plants, make sure you use a watering can or hose with a gentle spray nozzle. Try to direct the water towards the roots of the plant so that it can be easily absorbed as opposed to the leaves. Make sure the plants are watered until the water soaks through. Placing a layer of mulch over the soil will help retain moisture as well.

To save on labor and water and if you can afford it, invest in a drip irrigation system. This is a good option too if you are away and unable to wet your plants for some time.


To grow an abundant crop, your plants must be well fed. Keep your edibles nourished and they will nourish you in return.

Liquid fertilizer provides an instant boost, but it is short-lived and you will find yourself having to apply it again on a weekly basis. If you have a choice, use organic fertilizers over synthetic ones. Synthetic fertilizers can burn your plants and kill the micro-organisms in the soil making the plants dependent on the fertilizers. So if you do use synthetic fertilizers, be sure to follow the directions closely. Organic fertilizers help increase the microorganisms in the soil resulting in more nutrients available to the plants.

For perennials and other slow-growing plants mulching with compost is best as it provides nutrients slowly and over a long period of time. Fruiting plants need a lot of potassium to grow, while leafy crops need lots of nitrogen.


Weeding may not be as important if you have enough plants in your containers to block out the sunlight on the soil mix, or if the soil is covered by a thick layer of mulch. Weeds however are definitely a hassle in your garden or raised beds. Try to remove weeds when they are very young before they seed. This includes weeds growing around your container pots. If they are allowed t seed, they will make taking care of your plants a lot harder as they consume important nutrients and spread rapidly.


Grooming keeps your plants neat and healthy, which helps minimize pests and diseases in your garden. Grooming also encourages your plants to flower and produce fruit more profusely. You groom your plants by:

  • Pinching - removing the tips of long, straggly stems by hand, or using scissors or pruner to remove any straggly growth. This encourages bushier growth
  • Trimming - done to encourage a second bloom if plants look tired by mid-summer. Use garden shears to trim back to half or a quarter of the plant’s growth. Low growing or mounding annuals and some herbs respond well to trimming.
  • Deadheading - removing dead or faded flowers helps extend the blooming period. It’s usually a good idea to remove these dead and decaying flowers so that the beds don’t become full of seeds, and minimize the chances of pests and diseases caused by the decaying parts of the plants.
  • Staking - taller plants may need some sort of support. Tie plants loosely to stakes with soft ties that don't damage the plants. There are many different types of stakes available in different colors, styles, and aesthetics.
  • Training vines - You can train vines to grow on trellises, nets, or similar. This helps keep them off of the ground and upright.
  • Pruning - Trees and shrubs would need to be pruned to keep them healthy and in proportion to the content that they are in. It is important to know where, when and how to prune your trees and shrubs as each plant is different.

Relieving Compaction in the Soil

With constant watering the top layer of the soil mix becomes compacted, limiting the amount of water and nutrients that gets to the roots. Using a hand fork for containers, fork or rake for beds, you can loosen the soil. Make sure you replace the top layer of soil in spring to reduce this happening for the next season.

Repotting plants

After a few years in containers, some plants begin to lose their vigor and flower less. They become rootbound in their containers and it’s at this stage that you need to repot them. Others may outgrow their space and begin to encroach on other plants.

For trees and shrubs, you only need a container that’s a few centimeters wider and deeper as you should do some root pruning as well. When you prune the roots, the plant will slow down its upward and outward growth to repair the roots. Wait until the affected stems appear before you prune them.

Divide perennials into smaller pieces, so that you won't have to get a new container. You can then spread them around in other containers or add them to the compost.

Encourage Beneficial Insects

All fruit crops like strawberries or zucchini need insects to pollinate their flowers before they produce fruit. These insects include bees, butterflies, ladybugs, and even moths and hoverflies.

To attract these pollinators, you need to have nectar-rich flowers in your garden. Make sure you plant a variety of flowers that will last from spring through to fall. Some of these flowering plants include lavender, poppies, fennel, and giant hyssop.

Some of these insects can even help control pests.

Companion Planting

Controlling pests is essential for a bountiful crop. While pests are attracted to certain plants, they steer clear away from others. So growing those that they hate with your crops will help keep them away from your plants. You can also grow plants that attract their predators or grow those that the pests like away from your crops.

Some examples include:

  • Marigolds - these keep whiteflies away and attract hoverflies that eat aphids.
  • Garlic grown next to carrots keeps the carrot rust fly away
  • Mint and basil keep aphids away
  • You can grow Nasturtiums away from your crops to attract aphids

7. Best Plants For Beginners

Still not sure what plants to start with? If you’re looking for some edible options, there are quite a few that you can choose from to start your vegetable, herb, or fruit garden. Here is a list that you can choose from:

  • Pole Beans and Peas, for example, yellow beans, snap peas, and snow peas. As the name suggests, they would need a pole or trellis to grow on, but they are easy to take care of.
  • Zucchini - These grow quickly and can be quite abundant
  • Cucumbers - A summer favorite, as long as it is regularly watered and has sun and warmth, you will have a bountiful supply.
  • Eggplant - Another easy one to grow in a container or garden. These like warm conditions as well.
  • Tomatoes - these are a great option for the summer. Make sure you choose a determinate variety, meaning that they only grow to a specific height
  • Peppers - whether sweet or spicy, as long as they get enough sunlight, these plants are easy to grow. They are very low maintenance and are not affected by many pests
  • Radishes are an easy option because they are ready to eat in just a few weeks
  • Turnips - quick growing and very versatile
  • Potatoes - all you need is a potato tuber with a few quarter-inch buds on it. Cut into pieces, each with a bud and plant.
  • Carrots - Similar to potations, If the top of your carrot begins to sprout, you can bury it in soil and watch it grow. They can even be grown in containers.
  • Strawberries - keep your plant in a sunny spot and you’ll soon be enjoying some sweet strawberries.
  • Lettuce - Low maintenance and not fussy about its growing conditions, though prefers a slightly cooler temperature
  • Spinach - an easy and very nutritious leafy green to grow.
  • Chard - not picky about its growing conditions and can even withstand some frost
  • Kale, Collards and Mustard Greens (Brassica) - These nutrient-rich greens are cold-hardy, so can be planted directly in the soil in early spring. They love full sun but are susceptible to caterpillars, and root maggots, among other pests.
  • Basil - Most herbs like basil are easy to grow. Chives, dill, and mint are other examples. Basil though can complement a number of dishes

Some other herbs that you can try: Coriander, Cilantro, and Parsley

Fruits - blueberries, cherries, blackberries (can become invasive)

Prefer non-edibles or ornamentals? Try succulents which are very low maintenance;

If you’re looking at flowers, you can try petunias, begonias, and geraniums as annuals; black-eyed Susans, lavender, and coral bells as perennials.

For shrubs, try Flowering Maple, Hydrangea, and Weigela


So there you have it, the Ultimate Guide to Start Gardening in Small Spaces. As you can see, as long as you follow some simple guidelines, you too can be enjoying the fruits of your labor (pun intended lol) in no time.

What do you think of the guide? What was most helpful to you? Was there anything that you’d like to learn more about? Let me know in the comments below.