Small Garden Ideas: Growing Food in Small Spaces

Have a small garden? Looking for small garden ideas? You may not have room for a whole orchard, but you still can integrate a variety of fruiting plants in a small garden space.

In a webinar with the Community Orchard Network (see link below), Lee Reich  talked about growing fruits in small spaces. Reich is a PhD and ‘farmdener’, which is ‘more than a gardener, but less than a farmer’. With degrees in soil sciences and horticulture, Reich is author of a number of books on gardening – including Grow Fruit Naturally – and he writes a gardening column for the Associated Press. Reich says it’s possible to grow fruit in smaller spaces, it’s just a matter of planning and selecting the right plants. 

Lee Reich, Farmdener.

Lee Reich, author of a number of books on gardening – including Grow Fruit Naturally.

Selecting the Right Edible Plants For Small Spaces

Here are a few tips to consider when selecting the right plants for your small garden:

  • Learn what fruit plants need. All plants need sun, and most fruit plants need well-draining soils. Choose varieties that are resistant to pest problems so that you can avoid spraying toxic pesticides or fungicides.
  • Choose plants that are beautiful. Plants that are both pretty and functional can work better for limited spaces than a pragmatic or orderly garden.
  • Choose plants that are compact. There are a number of species that have been bred to be dwarfed, or otherwise smaller than their full sized counterparts.

In the webinar, Reich discussed a number of small garden ideas, and suggested quite a few species of fruiting plants that would be  at home in a smaller space:

Blueberries and Beyond

One that he suggested is the lowbush blueberry plant, which is a smaller variety of blueberries that grow well in smaller spaces. They spread through runners, becoming a hardy and tasty ground cover with good crops of fruit.

They also happen to be ornamental throughout the year; they have appealing blossoms in the spring, have dark green leaves in summer, a nice autumn colour, and reddish stems through the winter.

Blueberry plants are great additions to any small gardens, whether they be of the hardy lowbush variety or the finicky highbush variety. Image from pixabay.com.

Blueberry plants are great additions to any small gardens, whether they be of the hardy lowbush variety or the finicky highbush variety.

They are a better choice than highbush blueberries, which grow much larger – possibly up to six or seven feet high. Highbush blueberries can potentially produce seven pounds of fruit in a season, but are finicky and particular about their soil. Plants in the heath family – which include the blueberries – need acidic soil and good drainage to thrive.

Blackberries are delicious and ornamental, their berries changing from a deep red to rich black while ripening.

Blackberries are delicious and ornamental, their berries changing from a deep red to rich black while ripening.

Blackberries Fit Anywhere

A rather ornamental – and very well known – species is the blackberry. Blackberry blossoms look like little white roses in the spring, and the thornless varieties of the plant are very nice additions to gardens in small spaces, with smooth and slender stems. You could potentially get 3 pounds of fruit in a season!

Juneberries or Serviceberries 

On the other hand are the juneberries, ornamental plants with edible fruits. They’re also known as shadbush or serviceberry, and stay quite small. They resemble, but taste nothing like blueberries, instead resembling sweet cherries with an almond-like aftertaste – they take well to most any type of soil.

Redcurrants are shade-resistant fruits that do well in smaller gardens.

Redcurrants are shade-resistant fruits that do well in smaller gardens.

Strawberries and Raspberries

Strawberries can be attractive but raspberries – not so much. And yet both can thrive in smaller spaces. Strawberries can produce a pound of fruit per square foot, and raspberries can produce one or two pounds per linear foot. Alpine strawberries are relatives that are more ornamental in looks – Reich grows them in pots. Varieties with white fruits are wonderful, because birds won’t go for the white fruit.

Whether you call them juneberries, serviceberries, shadbush, or any variation in between, these plants have beautiful white blossoms and good fruit.

Whether you call them juneberries, serviceberries, shadbush, or any variation in between, these plants have beautiful white blossoms and good fruit.

Currants are Great, Too!

Currants are also good species to consider. White, pink, and red currants are all about the same, with lacy looking flowers in the spring. The three varieties are all very shade and deer resistant. Gooseberries are close relatives and are also quite hardy; while their fruits are usually green, they can come in a range of colours.

Blackcurrants are much different from the other currants, but are equally as hardy. They’re very easy to grow, being shade resistant and deer resistant with few pest issues – and only ask for some yearly pruning in return.

Medlar

Medlar is a type of shrubby small tree with late blooming blossoms – which bloom after the leaves have unfolded, the green leaves helping show off their white flowers. Their fruits are ‘interesting’, picked when hard with a flavour that reminds one of applesauce and wine. Their fruits are also a bit ugly on the inside – eat with your stomach, not your eyes.

Pots For Small Gardens

Reich suggests other fruiting plants in his webinar (see the link below) but not all of them are those that you plant in the ground. He suggests we also consider small potted plants like potted columnar apples trees or potted fruiting shrubs. Keep in mind, however, that potted plants need regular watering as they can easily dry out. They should be repotted regularly in order to allow the roots to explore new soil.

As you can see, you don’t need a big open orchard or farm to grow fruit in. Just some sun, some earth, and some fresh air. With a little extra planning and care, anybody can grow their very own fruit plants, in a small space. You just need to pick the right ones, and help them make themselves at home.

More Small Garden Ideas for Edible Landscapes

Looking for more small garden ideas for an edible landscape. Click on the links below to learn about “step-over apple trees”, compact cherry shrubs, potted fig and lemon trees and to learn why small fruit trees are better than big ones!

 

 

Kameron Chausse

Kameron Chausse

Intern at OrchardPeople.com.

Kameron Chausse is a Windsor, Ontario based writer and student at St Clair College. He is currently an intern for the fruit tree care education website www.orchardpeople.com.