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Space-saving Ideas for the Small Garden

By James R. Feucht, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Specialist Landscape Plants

Whether you live in an apartment house, condominium or a home with a small garden plot, you can add color to your surroundings and some tasty vegetables to your table.

You will be surprised at what can be done with a few large tubs or pots in a small patio area. A tomato plant or two grown in a tub or any suitable container with drainage can supply you with fresh tomatoes throughout the growing season. Special varieties, such as Patio, have been developed especially for container gardening. A cherry tomato, Patio is easy to grow and also is decorative, because it usually produces quantities of bright cherry or plum-sized fruits.

Other varieties, successful in tubs, include Fantastic, Early Girl, Better Boy, and even the big slicers such as Beefsteak. These tend to sprawl, so it is a good idea to provide a strong stake or one of the wire cages developed for tomatoes. You can train the plants upright by pinching out the side branches as they develop, maintaining one leader until some ripening fruit is present. Then allow some side branches to develop for later production.

Other vegetables particularly adaptable to containers include hot and sweet peppers, cucumbers and squash. They also will grow in hanging baskets and double as decorative displays. Try growing pole beans in a container. One or two plants will provide enough beans throughout the growing season for at least one meal a week for a family of four.

Pole beans don't need a pole, but can be trained on a string or any type of trellis if it is strong enough for support, particularly during windy periods.

You can plant vegetables and decorative flowers in the same container. A single tomato planted in the center of a tub and surrounded by colorful geraniums or petunias is an attractive arrangement.

Does container planting take more water? It takes less, overall, than a garden plot, but may require more frequent watering. The type of container helps determine water needs. The sides of the container will be exposed to hot sun, so choose one with thick walls that do not conduct heat readily. Metal and plastic containers are least desirable. Ceramic pots are better, but wooden tubs are best from the standpoint of low heat conduction.

You can reduce the problem of overheating from the sun by surrounding tubs with other plants or garden accessories to provide shade.

In a small garden plot, tomatoes, peppers and beans will be the most productive. You may want to eliminate corn, bush squash, bush beans and other large plants, because they take up too much space.

A recent planting trend is French Intensive Culture, which eliminates traditional row planting. Vegetable seeds are more or less scattered in the planting area. This requires some compatibility of vegetables and flowers, grouping types similar in size. This technique, while utilizing space more efficiently, has its pitfalls, including control of weeds and certain insect pests. Harvesting also can be a problem.

You can utilize small space efficiently with successive plantings of vegetables that mature quickly, such as radishes and leaf lettuce. Replant each area as it is harvested.

Photograph courtesy of Judy Sedbrook.

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010