Let’s face it: everything tastes better when it’s freshly picked.
Growing your own vegetables is a great way to get outside, stay active, and feed your family delicious, nutritious veggies all summer long. It’s an amazing summer hobby that will leave you happier and healthier.
But what do you do if you don’t have a lot of space? Luckily there are ways around that! Growing a beautiful vegetable garden in a small space is possible. I’m going to give you some vegetable garden layout options along with some tips for growing a lot of vegetables in not a lot of space.
You don’t have to miss out on a delicious and abundant harvest just because you have a small backyard!
Vegetable Garden Square Foot Gardening
If you’re like me and have your heart set on growing a diverse and plentiful vegetable garden, but you’re limited on space, I highly recommend trying your hand at square foot gardening.
The phrase square foot gardening comes from a book written by Mel Bartholomew. The idea is that instead of a huge plot of land with various vegetables grown in rows that are spaced one to two feet apart, you separate your plot into square feet. Depending on the size of the plant, you can grow anywhere from one to sixteen vegetable plants in a single square foot. Here’s a guide to how many of each vegetable you can plant per square foot. With so many plants growing in a small space, it leaves less room for weeds and is much easier to water and fertilize.
However, for so many plants to thrive in such close quarters, this technique requires very high-quality soil and plenty of sunlight.
It’s usually recommended that square foot gardening is done in a raised garden bed. This allows you to fill your plot with nutrient-dense, store-bought soil. Twelve inches high is best, but as long as you till the ground below and mix some high-quality soil or fertilizer in with the ground soil, you can get away with a six-inch high bed without a problem.
Raised beds put less strain on your back and knees, provide better drainage, and help keep pests out.
Square foot gardening can also be done in the ground. This requires quite a bit of time and effort because you need to make sure your soil is tilled at least ten to twelve inches deep with PLENTY of nutrients mixed in so that your plants don’t have to compete.
Before you start
- Make sure to choose a spot that gets plenty of sunlight. I watched my backyard for days and took pictures at different times to figure out exactly how many hours of sunlight various areas got throughout the day. Most vegetables require a minimum of six hours of sunlight a day, and eight or more is even better. Some aren’t quite as needy when it comes to sunlight, but make sure to choose a spot where they will get as much sun as possible. Especially if you’re going to try square foot gardening. The more support you can give your plants, the better.
- Test your soil. Especially if you plan on planting directly in the ground. That way you’ll know the quality of soil from the start, and you’ll know what you need to add or adjust for healthy crops. I used the Luster Leaf Rapitest Test Kit. It’s super simple and tests your soil for ideal pH levels, Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium with easy to read indicators.
- Plan ahead. Draw your layout. Figure out what you’re going to put where. Plant your climbing vegetables on the north or west side of your garden so they won’t block sun from the smaller garden plants. Also, keep in mind that certain vegetables do well planted near others, while there are some plants you’ll want to keep apart. Check out this guide to companion planting and implement some of the companion planting techniques
If you’re new to gardening and can’t decide what to plant, here are some good vegetables to start with.
How to Maximize Your Veggie Garden Harvest
- Grow vertically. Use a trellis for any veggies that will climb one. You can buy a big, beautiful trellis, or just use tomato cages or stakes. If you can teach your plants to grow upwards, it’ll save you a lot of space. Or, if you’re planning on building a fence to keep the critters out, consider using fencing that could double as a trellis. Check out these fencing ideas for inspiration.
Tomato cages can work as a trellis for almost any vertically growing vegetables.
- Plant some flowers nearby. Many flowers attract helpful insects that will eat all the pests that would otherwise try to feed on your plants.
Plant marigolds to keep harmful insects at bay. They’ll also add a cheerful pop of color.
- Fertilize. When you have a lot of plants growing in a small area, fertilizing is even more necessary. You’ll want to fertilize your vegetable garden every few weeks. I recommend using a liquid fertilizer so that the nutrients will be more quickly available to your veggies. If you’re trying to keep your garden organic, kelp and fish fertilizer are both great options, or you can make your own liquid fertilizer.
Compost makes great fertilizer. It’s made from purely organic matter, and it’s good for the environment.
- Mulch! Weeds are less of a problem with a square foot garden layout, but mulching can still help your soil retain moisture and regulate temperature. Here are a few cheap mulch ideas that work great.
- Try succession gardening. When a plant is getting close to being ready to harvest, you can start another seedling in the mature veggie’s square. By the time the seedling is big enough to take up significant space, the older plant will be harvested and can be removed to make room. If you plan accordingly, you can harvest two to three crops per square foot over the course of the season.
Take Steps to Extend Your Harvest Season
There are a few things you can do to extend your harvest season to help maximize your harvest in your vegetable garden layout. These things include but are not limited to:
- Start Early – While snow sticks around on the ground in the summer, you can start your garden early indoors. Calculate how much you want to plant and start six weeks before the frost recedes.
- Consider Using Raised Beds – Since your soil levels in your raised garden beds is a decent way away from the ground, it can warm up much quicker than the soil in the ground. So, you’re able to plant earlier in the season than you normally would, and this moves up your harvest time.
- Use Hoop Tunnels – Using hoop tunnels with plastic greenhouse film will help create a warm growing environment early in the season. You’ll get your crops a few weeks earlier than you would if you didn’t use them. So, if you use succession planting, you can use this strategy to squeeze in one more crop each year. You could use PVC pipes that get fastened using conduit straps to the outside of your raised garden beds to make the hoops. The greenhouse film goes over the PVC frame and is attached using snap clamps.
Strategies for Space Planting
To maximize your space, you want to use a strategic spacing strategy. The backs of all of your seed packets will have information on how much space you should leave between rows. If you’re planting in raised beds, you will ignore these row spacing recommendations. You can also:
- Stagger the Plants – You should stagger your plants to maximize your space. The mature plants should end up diagonal from their neighboring plants. Plant using the closest recommended spacing guidelines. If you want to grow two different crops right next to one another, you should take the spacing for each crop and add them. Once you have this number, divide it by two. This will tell you how far apart you should plant the two crops.
- Spacing is Based on Mature Plant Size – Your spacing recommendations are directly related to your plant size at maturity. You can squeeze a lot of additional space if you get creative. One thing you can do is eat younger plants instead of waiting for them to mature. For example, think of the baby greens in the grocery store. Sow your leafy green seeds together and space them less than the recommended area on the package.
- Routinely Thin – Start trimming and thinning out your vegetables by harvesting some baby greens. They work well in salads. Continue to think them out over the next few weeks until you have enough room left for your plants to reach mature size.
Vegetable Garden Layout Ideas
Early July Raised Garden by Lori Erickson / CC BY-NC 2.0 Picking out the correct vegetable garden layout will ensure that you maximize your space to get more vegetables out of each harvest.
Garden Plans Layout 1:
4’x4’ is the simplest layout for a square foot garden, especially if you’re planning on using a raised bed. Most standard raised bed garden plans you can buy are this size. Of course, you can build your own raised bed to be any size you want, but keep in mind that most people can comfortably reach about two feet. So don’t make it so wide that you can’t reach the center.
Kitchen Garden Design Layout 2:
This layout is similar to what I used this year. It can be done in a raised bed or in the ground. The reason I chose this layout is because I needed a fence. Fences are a great way to protect your crops from rabbits and deer. Even more of a threat to mine, however, is my enormous dog and my very busy and very curious toddler. My daughter already picked two beautiful green strawberries off of our plant this year, and I was devastated. I’m not about to let her anywhere near my vegetables.
If deer are a problem for you and you don’t want to build a fence, here are some ideas to keep them away.
Since my garden would be fenced in, I needed to plan it out in a way that would allow me to reach all 34 square feet, which is why I designed it to have a walkway. The layout itself is only two feet wide in every direction, so I can easily tend to all of my plants.
My fence will also be able to double as a trellis for some of my taller plants, although I’ll need extra support for some of the heavier ones.
Multi-Bed Garden Layout 3:
If you really want to minimize the amount of space used, you could try this garden plan layout and have it run along the back edge of your yard. You could choose to make it either one or two feet wide, and have it go for as long as you want!
Try planting a variety of salad greens along with some crisp vegetables for delicious salads all summer long!
You can also practice some crop rotation along the way.
Hopefully these veggie garden layout ideas inspire you this growing season! Take these garden layout ideas and plant yourself a little garden that fits right into what you’re working with. You don’t need a huge plot of land to grow veggies for the whole family all summer long!
Block Garden Layout 4:
Another garden layout is the block-style one. It’s also called a wide row or close row planting method, and it helps increase your overall yield when you compare it to a traditional garden row system. It can also suppress weeds to lower your maintenance. The general idea with this design is to plant your vegetables in rectangular blocks or beds instead of a long single row. You can have them in square foot measurements, or use whatever space you need. It removes the need to have multiple walkways, and this maximizes your space.
You group the plants together very densely, and you need to have well-drained, fertile soil that has a large amount of organic matter mixed in. Due to the high density, you will have to fertilize regularly. You don’t want to overcrowd the vegetables when you use this method because it’ll reduce air circulation and can encourage disease. The bed should measure three to four-feet wide and be any length you want. The width makes it easy for you to reach in to weed, replant, or harvest your vegetables. Your walkways should max out at 18 to 24 inches cross, and you can mulch these walkways with wood chips, grass clippings, or mulch.
Plant your crops while keeping an equal space between the adjacent plants in both directions. So, if you’re going to put a 3-inch by 3-inch carrot patch center in, your layout should have rows spaced three inches apart across the bed, and you should thin the carrots to three inches apart in the row. If you had a traditional garden row of carrots that is 24-feet long, you can now fit it in a 3-foot by 2-foot bed.
Four Square Garden Layout 5:
Another layout is called the four square garden layout. You can imagine dividing your bed into four quarters, like you would if you had a piece of paper and you drew a square on it and then put a cross inside the square to divide it equally. Each of the four squares inside the bigger square is a different bed. You’ll get four bed categories baked on the amount of nutrients they require to survive.
Heavy feeders like leafy green sna corn need a high amount of nutrients, and you’ll put them in one bed square. Medium feeders like peppers and tomatoes will go into another bed square. Carrots and turnips are lighter feeders that like soil with potash, so you’ll put them in the third garden square. The fourth square is for soil builders that leach nitrogen into your soil like peas.
This type of garden layout will force you to practice crop rotation. The layout generally works from top left and runs counter-clockwise with heavy feeders, middle feeders, light feeders, and soil builders. Once you harvest everything, plan on shifting the crops over one square every successive year. It can help reduce soil disease and pests.
Edible Landscape Garden Layout 6:
Have you ever heard someone say grow food instead of grass? Grass can deplete the soil of necessary nutrients, doesn’t do much but look aesthetically-pleasing, and requires a lot of water. There is also the constant mowing. You can take a 10-foot by 10-foot patch of lawn and transform it into a garden that can feed your family while enhancing your landscape.
Look around your yard and see what you have in your landscape that doesn’t serve a higher purpose. Can you swap out your juniper bush with a blackberry bush? How about taking out your ornamental grass and adding lemon grass or kale? Is there a small tree that you can take out and add in a dwarf fruiting tree? Once you start looking around and your landscape, you’ll notice that there are plenty of ways to upgrade to edible options. A few plants that work well include:
- Banana Plants
- Dwarf Fig Tree
- Sweet Potatoes
- Swiss Chard
Spirals and Mounds Garden Layout 7:
fresh garden mounds by Damanhur Spiritual EcoCommunity / CC BY-ND 2.0 Some plants grow better in mounds than others, and it has the bonus feature of increasing your growing space by double.
If your landscape is flat, you can give yourself more soil surface for your garden by adding soil elevation. Think of it as three-dimensional gardening. You can grow more if you have mounds than you can on flat land, so build up a mound or an elevated spiral to give yourself more planting space in your small garden. In turn, this can increase your yield. Spirals and mounds also work well to create focal points that you can dot across your landscape design.
For example, maybe you have a five-square foot area of flat surface you can grow in. If you leave it, you’ll only have five-square feet of growing space. But, if you add a two-foot mound in the middle of the garden and make it taper down, you get almost double the space on the same piece of land.
Pallet Garden Layout Eight:
Smaller gardens and vertical vegetables don’t always mix, especially if you’re trying to figure out how to not take up space with support structures. This one works well because all you have to do is set up a raised garden bed. Put a pallet on the backside of the bed and secure it. This will give your vegetables support that they can grow up without taking your space away.
Plant in Your Available Space – Backyard, Front Yard, and Patio
Look around your yard to find every small space where you could squeeze in a vegetable, including your balcony, porch, landscape, roof, fence, windowsill, walkway, driveway, swing, or deck. Look for opportunities right outside your door, including:
- Fence – Hang a few garden boxes on your fence and plant them or plant vining produce.
- Mailbox – Vining plants like grapes can grow up and flourish over your mailbox.
- Walkway – Line your walkway through your yard with kale, cabbage, mustard plants, or other eye-catching edibles.
Use Companion Planting
Companion planting allows you to grow plants underneath other plants or trees to increase your yield. Plant carrots right under your tomatoes, radishes or beets under your cucumber plants, potatoes with pole beans or radishes, garlic, onions, and herbs under trees.
One good example of companion planting method is one known as the Three Sisters. It’s a Native American planting method consisting of planting beans, squash, and corn together. The three crops can benefit from the close proximity as the corn gives the beans support for them to climb, the beans leach nitrogen into the soil for the square and corn, and the squash helps tamp down on weeds by blocking the sunlight from the soil. It also helps with water retention by creating a microclimate.
Other Tips to Maximize Your Space
- Grow in Beds Instead of Rows – Growing in beds over rows helps get rid of the space you’d waste by setting up walking areas between the rows. If you need to get more access to your vegetables, you can build a keyhole or inlet into the bed frame to allow you to reach everything. .
- Optimize the Garden Bed Spacing – Place your beds a maximum of 25-inches apart to allow you to walk through them. Widen the paths if you need to get a wheelbarrow through. Optimize the space between your plants while keeping them as close as possible. For example, cherry tomatoes can take up a square foot of space, so trimming the suckers can keep them contained.
- Inter-Plant – Interplanting is when you grow two different crops in one space. You could plant slow-growing crops by fast-growing ones. By the time the slow-growing crops need room to spread out, you can harvest the fast-growing ones. A few examples include:
- Fast-Growing Vegetables – Bok choy, mustards, radish, spinach, lettuce, swiss chard, and kale
- Slow-Growing Vegetables – Cabbage, broccoli, carrots, tomato, cauliflower
- Grow in the Shade – You can grow leafy greens, rhubarb, mushrooms, and other vegetable crops in any partially shaded areas in your yard.
- Grow in the Front Yard – If you don’t want vegetables or fruits, you can turn edible plants into parts of your landscape design.
- Grow Microgreens – Microgreens allow you to grow them much closer together than the recommended spacing guidelines suggest on the seed packet. Cut them out early and come back to harvest a second time.
- Container Garden – Planting your items in containers allows you to grow them in a lot of spaces where it would normally be impossible like on your front steps, patio, or concrete slab.
There are several different vegetable garden ideas you can use to create a smaller thriving garden to help maximize your yield each year. You could use a few of these designs in your own yard and enjoy a host of fruits and vegetables all summer long.