I need more space!
Updated: Mar 2, 2020
Suburbia has some unique challenges and the most obvious is probably space. Nationwide, the footprints of homes are getting larger, reducing the gardening space for millions of Americans. The diminutive size of my yard factors into almost every gardening decision I make. Continue reading and I'll explain my predicament and a few ways I'm coping.
To give you an idea of my space - or lack of - I compared my yard to a football field... I wouldn't even get a first down!
Thankfully the sports world did offer me a comparison... a tennis court!
Here's the breakdown:
Add the Narrow space between my house and property line + that weird strip between the sidewalk and street +my postage stamp front yard
+ the backyard
= my total yard which is roughly the size of a tennis court
Out of curiosity, I did some online sleuthing and to my astonishment, discovered there is actually research and published articles on the topic. The Atlantic noted that lot size has remained the same while houses have gotten bigger, reducing lawn size across the southeast and Great Plains (my part of the country). This article from Lawn Maintenance Magazine says my yard's square footage is on par with Washington D.C., which isn't exactly noted for wide-open spaces! LOL
What's a suburban veggie gardener to do?
Interplant, interplant, interplant
This is the practice of growing many different things in a small space. The one I see most often on Youtube is growing flowers among vegetables to draw pollinators but there are a number of ways to interplant. For years, I've grown lettuce under tomato plants before I realized this was an interplanting technique. I just saw it as a way to use every inch of available space.
Think about two things when doing this - will one of these plants shade out the other - which was a good thing in the case of my lettuce under tomatoes but it could be a hindrance in some cases. The other thing to consider, do these plants need about the same amount of water.
Learn about edible landscaping
Whether your HOA is restrictive of what can be grown in certain places (ie: your front yard) or you just want to have a relaxing corner of your yard with a retreat vibe versus a working garden energy, there's a way to grow edibles and ornamentals in harmony and beautifully. One of my neighbors grows okra in a corner next to his front porch and I promise no one but a vegetable gardener would know it's food. Rosalind Creasy is a genius in this area and I highly recommend hitting up the local library or Amazon for her books.
Direct sow when you can
When you don't have to worry about disturbing the roots of perennials, it gets a lot easier to interplant an edible landscape. Sprinkle some dwarf basil seeds around the base of daffodils for example. The basil will begin to grow as the daffodil foliage yellows and dies back. Push the seeds for some easy to grow annuals in around perennials that will only flower for a while to get consecutive blooming in the same bed.
Succession planting and succession cropping
Some people consider these two techniques of the same process. I see them as different because with succession cropping I can incorporate some principles of crop rotation into a small space. For example, I grew nitrogen-fixing beans as a fall crop after taking out my tomato plants. I'll grow spinach in the space very early in the season and replace that with lettuce and tomatoes. In my garden, I consider succession planting is the practice of replacing the same plant with new plants of the same type multiple times through the growing season.
Experiment with dwarf plants
The quality of dwarf plants is being improved constantly and I began experimenting with dwarf tomato varieties last year. I also tried dwarf basils and dwarf dill but was mostly obsessed with the tomatoes and didn't pay much attention to those. I did have tons of basil and enough dill for me and the swallowtail butterfly caterpillars so they must have produced well. Don't assume that you won't get enough production from a small plant. My experiments last year showed that just wasn't true.
Self-watering, hanging baskets
Find a good one and buy lots! These are like a pair of good fitting jeans - when you find the right one for you - grab two (at least). Actually, grab as many as you need right now, then double that. I'm amazed at how often a product I absolutely love isn't restocked or doesn't make a repeat appearance the following season.
Hanging baskets don't take tons of space to store so the extras can be stashed indoors and if you're lucky, you'll actually be able to find them when you need them. You can grow lots of things in them and stick them on a shepherds hook anywhere in the garden to add some color.