Big ideas for small-space gardening

By BARBARA LINDHOLM DeKalb County Master Gardener Published: Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017 5:30 a.m. CDT
Clematis growing on trellis support. — Photo provided

One of the fascinating things about gardening is its versatility. If you find yourself preparing to garden in a small space, you will still have many opportunities to create a great garden full of charm, drama and wonderful things to eat.

Your new garden may be in a city backyard or in a townhome situation where you will be planting in borders and patio areas. Your
planting options will include planting in the ground, planting in raised beds or planting in elevated earth boxes.

The main secret to small space gardening is learning to “go vertical.” With limited space, vertical plants will provide you with more space for traditional, horizontal plants. Your secret weapon in the vertical plant world will be learning to grow vines and other climbing plants.

All climbing plants attach themselves by using either twining stems, tendrils, aerial roots or adhesive disks. In addition, they will need a support system to assist their vertical growth. Plan ahead! It is very important that this support system matches the ultimate size and weight of the plant. Your type of support system will depend on where you are planting. If you are planting in the ground, you may decide to add vertical accents with the use of pergolas, arches, trellises or obelisks. Stakes, garden loops and netting structures may be more appropriate for raised beds and earth boxes.

When going vertical with the use of vines, you will have available both annual and perennial form choices. Annual vines to consider include morning glories, hyacinth beans, nasturtiums, black-eyed Susans, moon flowers, passion vine and old fashioned sweet peas offering fragrance, as well as color. Perennial vines appear year after year, offering beautiful displays of flowers when planted with clematis, wisteria, honeysuckle or climbing hydrangea. Tropical vines such as the very colorful and attractive Mandevilla will quickly produce 4- to 6-foot vines but will need to be stored as a dormant plant to overwinter.

Early and late-season vines can be used in combination to extend the bloom period from late spring to early fall.

Now let’s answer a couple of questions that are sure to come up.

Do I have to give up roses? Absolutely not. Climbing roses will work for you if you are planting in the ground. With the assist of a pergola, arch or obelisk your climbing rose will be happy and secure. When planting in the smaller boxes, there are now many beautiful, dwarf roses available in a large variety of colors.

Is it possible to grow a reasonable amount of vegetables in a small space? Again, absolutely. With careful planning, an amazing amount of vegetables can be harvested from a small space. It is important to prepare the ground or boxes with well-draining soil. Be sure that your site receives at least six to eight hours of sunlight.

Vegetable plants that do particularly well in a limited amount of space include leaf, red and romaine lettuces, arugula, kale, bush tomatoes, peppers and beans. A support structure of stakes and netting will allow several plants to grow vertically. Choices for this venue would be pole beans, small cucumbers and small versions of decorative gourds.

Rotation and replanting are important in small-space vegetable gardening. In the spring, lettuces, kale and broccoli are a few plants that can be planted and then replanted in late July or early August for fall harvest.

So, there you have it. Just because your garden is pint-sized doesn’t mean that you can’t have a fabulous garden that gives you the beauty of flowers and the joy of growing your own food. Try adding a vertical dimension and the right plants to create a unique garden in your small space.

• The Master Gardeners are available to answer your questions from 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday at the University of Illinois Extension DeKalb County office location in the Farm Bureau Center for Agriculture, 1350 W. Prairie Drive in Sycamore. Call 815-758-8194 or email uiemg-dekalb@illinois.edu. Walk-ins welcome.