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Tiny Edible Gardens: Growing Food in Small Spaces

Published: June 21, 2022
Strawberries in colourful pots are an easy way to integrate fruits into edible gardens. Photo credit: Dreamstime.
Strawberries in pots are an option if your are growing food in small spaces.

Have a small garden? You may think you don't have enough room to grow berries and fruits. But Edible gardens are wonderful and it is possible to create one, even in a small space.

In a webinar with the Community Orchard Network (posted below), Lee Reich, PhD talked about growing edible garden fruits in small spaces. Reich is a ‘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 create small edible gardens brimming with fruiting plants, it’s just a matter of planning and selecting the right plants. 

selecting the right plants for compact edible gardens

Here are a few tips to consider when selecting the right plants for your edible 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 edible garden 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.

Lee Reich is the author of "Landscaping with Fruit." Click on the image above to learn more. (Affiliate link)

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blueberries and beyond in edible gardens

One of Reich's suggestions is the lowbush blueberry plant, 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, dark green leaves in summer, a nice autumn colour, and reddish stems through the winter.

They are a better choice for small edible gardens 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.

Close up of blackberries. Growing food in small spaces.
Blackberries are delicious and ornamental, their berries changing from a deep red to rich black while ripening. Choose a thornless variety that can fit into your small garden.

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 edible gardens in small spaces, with smooth and slender stems. You could potentially get 3 pounds of fruit in a season!

Close up of red serviceberry fruit on plant in an edible garden.
Serviceberry, or Saskatoon Berry Shrubs, can be quite compact if you buy the right cultivar and they can be perfect for small edible gardens.

Finding space for juneberries aka serviceberries in edible gardens

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

Stawberry plants in a large wooden pot.
Strawberry plants can spread quickly. But they can thrive in a pot in a small garden.

strawberries and raspberries

Strawberries can be attractive, but raspberries - not so much. And yet, both can thrive in smaller edible gardens. 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.

Lee Reich is the author of a number of excellent fruit tree care books. Click on the images above to learn more. (Affiliate link)

Close up of white currant berries against blurred green background. These plants can work well in small edible gardens.
Currant plants come with white, pink, red or black berries. They are shade and deer resistant and take up very little space in edible gardens.

currants are great too!

Currants are also good species to consider adding to edible gardens. 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 hardy. They’re very easy to grow, being shade and deer-resistant with few pest issues - they only ask for some yearly pruning in return.

Medlar shrub with orange fruit against blue sky. These plants can fit well in small edible gardens.
Medlar is a shrubby small tree with fruits that taste like a mix of applesauce and wine.

medlar

Medlar is a type of shrubby small tree with late-blooming blossoms, which bloom after the leaves have unfolded. The green leaves help 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 - so eat with your stomach, not your eyes.

various citrus trees in pots can work well in small edible gardens.
Citrus trees can grow well in pots. In cold climates you'll bring them indoors for the winter. To learn how to do that, visit this post.

pots for small edible gardens

In his webinar, Reich suggests other fruiting plants in his webinar - but not all of them are planted 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.

growing fruit trees in small gardens

You can also grow fruit trees in small gardens by pruning them into an espalier form. Learn more about how to grow espalier fruit trees in the video below. And learn how to grow fruit trees in one of OrchardPeople.com's selection of premium online workshops.

Espalier fruit trees can work well in small edible gardens. in this video you'll learn how to choose appropriate varieties and how to prune espalier fruit trees.
Click above to watch the entire webinar with Lee Reich.


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.

Susan Poizner and the cover of her eBook Grow Fruit Trees That Thrive

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