If space is limited, solving the problem takes only your imagination. With sun, moisture, and 8 to 18 inches of prepared soil, any plant will grow. Start by selecting plants that are especially compact or that can be trellised. Add to this approach intercropping and successive planting and you double and triple your harvests from even a very small space.
Where there is little space to grow out, grow up. Many vegetables and some fruits grow just as well vertically as horizontally, and some grow better. Squash, eggplant, cucumbers, some strawberries, pole beans, and especially the beautiful scarlet runner bean, all climb fences. There are 150 square feet of climbing room on the surface of a 5-foot by 30-foot fence. Tomatoes do well tied to a sunny lattice. Espaliered fruit trees look very handsome (and ripen earlier) against warm masonry walls.
Dwarf and Miniature Cultivars
Where space is limited, you can also make your harvests more varied by planting a lot of dwarf and miniature cultivars instead of a few standard sizes. Dwarf vegetables, such as miniature lettuces, do well in 4- to 6-inch-deep flats or pots. Smaller tomato plants thrive in just 12 inches of well-drained soil, and the container can be a pail, a plastic-lined bushel basket, or even a sturdy garbage bag.
Small root vegetables grow almost anywhere. Harvest the pretty, gourmet ‘Little Ball’ beets when they are 1 1/2 inches around. ‘Planet’ is a round, space-saving carrot just a few inches long. A 3- to 4-foot circle of sun is all the miniature melons require. Baby watermelons and red and yellow grapefruit-sized cantaloupes such as ‘Minnesota Midget’ ripen early and are very sweet. ‘Minicole’ cabbages prosper in a 10-square-inch space.
Some small zucchini and butternut squash plants need just 4 feet of space to flourish. Tiny pumpkins, miniature eggplants, ‘Burpee’s Tumbler Hybrid’ tomato, and the miniature patty pan squash ‘Peter Pan’ are a few of the many cultivars that produce from hanging baskets.
Dwarf and semidwarf cultivars of apples, pears, and other fruits are perfect for small gardens and are so successful that many are now being used in commercial orchards. They are easy to both maintain and harvest.