Small-Space Gardening: 5 Tips for Growing More

Learn How to Grow More Food in Less Space!

By Robin Sweetser
March 10, 2021
Raised Bed Garden-3
Photo by Pixabay

Grow more in less space with interplanting, succession planting, and other techniques. Robin has five simple gardening tips for ensuring a bountiful harvest, even if you only have a small space to work with! 

5 Tips for Small-Space Gardening

1. Use Raised Beds

Forget about growing plants single file in long, parallel rows. You can grow up to 10 times the amount of produce in the same space by using raised beds and square-foot gardening.

In a raised garden bed, you keep outside weeds from your garden soil, prevent water runoff and soil compaction, and worry less about slugs, snails, and other garden pests. Also, garden boxes allow you to concentrate your energy in a small area, meaning you can work, water, weed, and fertilize as economically as possible. You can make the most of the entire growing season by using season-extending devices such as cold frames, cloches, row covers, and plastic tunnels, too.

Here’s how to build your own raised garden bed.

2. Keep Seedlings Coming

Succession planting keeps the garden in continual production. Whenever one crop is harvested, have seedlings ready to transplant in its place. For the best results, use quick-maturing vegetables such as radishes or salad greens to fit several crops into one season and spread out the harvest. See 5 fast-growing veggies to try.

3. Interplant (Intercrop) 

“Interplanting” or “intercropping” is the practice of planting small crops in between bigger ones; the small, fast-growing crops will be ready before the big ones need the extra space. If you have a small area, this lets you use your space more efficiently and for longer.  

To “interplant,” plants should be placed close enough so that their leaves will touch when they’re mature, shading the ground between them. This will keep weeds down and conserve moisture, reducing the need to mulch and weed.

As the plants begin to crowd out their neighbors, harvest the early-maturing ones, leaving room for the others to develop. For example, plant lettuce around longer-season vegetables such as broccoli, peppers, or tomatoes.

Check out our video to learn more about interplanting.

4. Plant Companions, Not Competitors

Some intercropping partners thrive if their roots occupy a different depth of soil. Pairing shallow-rooted vegetables, such as bush beans, with deeply rooted beets makes good use of space without creating root competition. Similarly, planting heavy feeders such as cabbage or cucumbers with light-feeding carrots or beans reduces the competition for soil nutrients. The best intercropping partners are companion plants that have different demands and complement each other, such as the Three Sisters: corn, beans, and squash. Refer to our vegetable companion planting chart for more recommended pairings.

5. Grow Up, Not Out

Lay out your garden plot with the fence, trellis, or wall at the north side. By planting the tallest plants there, you will avoid shading the smaller ones. Vining plants, if left to sprawl, take up valuable space in a small garden, so help them grow up.

  • Cucumbers will eagerly climb a nylon net fence, with the subsequent bonus result that the dangling fruits grow straighter and are easier to pick.
  • Tomatoes produce more fruit and ripen earlier if kept off the ground on a trellis or in a wire cage.
  • Peas and pole beans naturally reach for the sky and will cover a wire fence or twine around a tripod of poles.

Some heavier plants, such as cantaloupes, watermelons, and winter squashes, may need help in climbing, so tie their vines to the structure to get them going in the right direction. Support the fruit with slings to keep them from tearing off the vine too soon.

Read more about the art of vertical gardening and fit more in less space!

Plot Out Your Garden

Good soil, adequate sunshine, and sufficient drainage are the key requirements for a successful vegetable garden, but planning your garden’s layout shouldn’t be a last-minute thought. Every garden—and every gardener—is different, so create a garden tailored to your space and needs.

For example, a 100-square-foot garden (10x10 feet) can easily yield a wide variety of veggies. Bisecting it with two narrow paths forms four beds that are easy to reach into and tend. (One square = one square foot.)

To plan out your own garden, use The Old Farmer’s Almanac Garden Planner. You can try it free for 7 days—ample time to design your best garden yet!



Parts of this article originally appeared in The 2008 Old Farmer's Almanac.


Reader Comments

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raised garden and ground hogs

will a raised garden keep ground hogs from digging under and into my garden? was thinking of putting in a solid bottom (untreated plywood?), and putting some kind of cover over the garden to keep critters out. I gave up last year, they ate almost everything! And then I have to find good dirt that hasnt been contaminated so garden still organic. thanks!! Linda

ground hogs

Linda, i have been using raided beds for years and also have a ground hog issue. I put either metal or plastic fencing on the bottom of the bed to keep them from burrowing under my veggies.

Beautiful plants but no vegetables

I use 4x4 raised garden beds and I always have beautiful squash and zucchini plants and they will begin to grow and suddenly shrivel up and rot. And that's even if I get 1 or 2 at all. My cucumbers turn into balls instead of long cucumbers. What am I doing wrong? I live in 27253.

shriveled zukes

The Editors's picture

What a disappointment! It sounds like blossom end rot, resulting from uneven moisture. See here for more information: This is often a result of improper pH levels. Get an inexpensive kit (more here ) or contact your local cooperative extension about having a more thorough test; find you coop service here:

And there’s this: are you rotating the plants in the beds, not planting the same thing in the same soil every year? Change the place you plant every year. Here’s some advice on that:

And it might not be a bad idea to mix in some fresh compost every spring. We hope this helps and the zukes are beautiful this year.

Depth of containers

We built two 3 ft. X 12 ft. raised beds. The boards are 12 inches high. Is that deep enough for most vegetables? I'm assuming we will be filling the containers to at least 10 inches to leave a 2 inch space for watering and mulching at the top. Is there anything that cannot be grown in that space that needs more root room?

how deep a bed?

The Editors's picture

Twelve inches is ideal, but that doesn’t mean you will not have success with a LOT of vegetables. Did you break up and loosen the soil under? Remember plant roots will take advantage of that, too! Even if you have not you, you can do that if you haven’t yet filled the bed with soil. Here’s our general advice, which addresses these and other aspects:

We hope you harvest a heap!

Raspberries in Raised Bed

I planted multiple varieties of "thornless" raspberries in a raised bed filled with commercial and home made well-composted soil. The first year my plants which were well established in pots prior to the raised bed produced a carpet of young plants for the next year and some berries. The next year very few new plants and little production. This year I planted two new plants from small pots but these were eaten by something almost over night. I have a 2-ft rabbit fence but something else is wiping out my new growth near the ground level. Any ideas?

disappearing raspberries

The Editors's picture

We have no easy answer but a couple of ideas. It might be rabbits; you do not say what the fence is made of, and they can squeeze through very small places. The apparent almost-overnight disappearance is especially puzzling but we’ll take a stab at this: Is your soil too rich? That is, could the pH be off? is it holding water (is it too tick/rich/heavy to drain well) and drowning the roots? Compost is good but maybe, just maybe the mixture lacks essential nutrients. You could do a soil test. Cooperative extensions perform the most thorough tests; find the service nearest you here:

When you contact the service, ask them if they have any other ideas, based on your location.

We hope this helps!


Garden Orientation

I am planting my garden for the second year and I am curious if it makes a difference as to which direction I layout my rows i.e. is North to South better or would East to West better for sunlight?

To avoid shading out

Robin Sweetser's picture

To avoid shading out neighboring plants, rows that run north to south are the best.

Row Direction

Would it not be better to run them east to west? I thought that would provide the least amount of sun blockage. If I planted my beans north to south they'd block a good deal of sunlight to the rest of my garden at either end of the day (in the morning if planted on the east side, same for the evening on the west side, respectively). Maybe I'm missing something obvious? Just want to clarify. Thank you!

New Garden!

Hi all,

I'm planting an outside raised garden for the first time. I started seedlings a little late so they are not huge - any advice on how big they need to be before I can plant outside? Also, to what extent will I need to keep them going and swap out through the summer? I'm doing 2 4x4 beds with tomato, zucchini, peppers, eggplant, carrots, green onions and cilantro and would also love any advice on how to arrange the plots.

Good luck with your new

Robin Sweetser's picture

Good luck with your new garden! The most important thing to keep in mind when transplanting your seedlings outside is to harden them off. They will need a week or so to acclimate to outdoor conditions before you plant them so each day expose them to a little more light and wind. Bring them in at night at first then leave them out all night if the weather is warm enough. Tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, and eggplant need nights in the 50s or above. To keep your plot productive replant the carrots as you harvest and the cilantro will need to be replanted at intervals to keep it growing. The other vegetables should give you summerlong fruits. For garden plans check out the online garden planner on this website. It adapts to your location and can give you specific planting advice.

Chainsaw saw dust?

Two months ago I took down a mostly dead soft maple four feet in diameter. Could I use this as my base in a raised bed, underneath the soil to fill the two inch layer of shredded leaves? This is available on one of my compost piles...

We would not recommend using

The Editors's picture

We would not recommend using plain sawdust under the soil. Sawdust is low in nitrogen and is not going to help much as a fertilizer. It will instead absorb nitrogen as it decomposes and will take it away from your plants. It also encourages fungi in the soil. You can mix the sawdust with aged manure or leave it on the compost pile and use it next year when it is decomposed.

Starting a plot for vegetables

So for the very first time, we are going to try to garden. We have a small back yard that we are removing the grass from. Now do we rotatile or not? Thanks! We are planning on only growing squash, cabbage and zucchini, kale and herbs for
this first year . Good idea?


The Editors's picture

Are you asking whether you should rototill the lawn to remove the sod, or rototill after you have removed the sod? There are several strategies to removing sod, one being to rototill the grass into the soil. Advantages include: incorporating that organic matter (grass) into the soil, keeping nutrients. Disadvantages include: weeds – exposing weed seeds and perhaps chopping up underground runners of certain weeds that encourage their regrowth.

If, however, you have already removed the sod, such as using a sod cutter or digging with a spade, then you can till the soil to break it up, and then till in organic matter, such as compost or aged manure. (Removing the sod will remove those nutrients from the grass, and will remove topsoil, so it is important to replenish it with soil amendments.) It is also a good idea to test the soil pH at this time and add what is needed to balance it. Rake the soil to remove rocks and debris, then let it sit for a week or two before planting.

There are also no-till ways to smother the grass, or block out light, such as by laying down cardboard and newspaper, and then adding a thick layer of soil amendments on top. This is good for the soil, as it keeps its nutrients and topsoil, however, takes months before the bed would be ready for planting.

I am new to composting and

I am new to composting and gardening. I started a compost 6 weeks ago, it is breaking down but I am continually adding things. (spin type) do I need to off load in another space and start a new batch. I built the raised beds, and wanted to use the compost in the soil prior to planting, when can I add it in? I have not even filled the beds with soil, see really new...

I have been trying raised

I have been trying raised beds for about 3 years. I live in upstate NY and the area where I live is basically ledge rock with fill on the top. We have a short growing season so I start everything in a greenhouse then transplant it outside. My problem is everything starts out great but slows down. I often get flowers but no veggies or if they grow they become deformed. They look like they are pinched in the middle and turn yellow. This goes for most of the veggies I am trying to grow. I have changed out the soil and tried different watering techniques with no success. Any tips?

It sounds like you may have a

It sounds like you may have a drainage problem and your plants are getting water-logged. You could also try adding pea gravel at the bottom of the bed for better drainage or drill some holes all around the bottom. Good luck.

I have recently moved so this

I have recently moved so this will be my first growing season at my new location (98626). I know I will be doing raised beds again but I am debating between lumber again, or trying galvanized steel. Can you give me some input? Thank you.

We haven’t grown in

The Editors's picture

We haven’t grown in galvanized steel beds personally, but they are increasingly popular and will last for longer than wood.

Where would the sun be

Where would the sun be located in relation to your diagram? Sun rise and sunset? Thank you

Plant your tallest plants in

Plant your tallest plants in the north since the sun rises in the east and works it's way around the south and towards the west where it sets. You can also plant taller plants in the west as they will not shade the rest of the garden since the sun is setting on that side in the evening. Hope this helps.

This coming spring i'm going

This coming spring i'm going to be starting a garden. In the above suggestions it says plant the taller plants on the north side near a wall or trellis. But the way the garden is layed out in the above diagram it seem that the taller plants regardless of where they are would shadow the other plants. I've never grown a garden so i just wanted a little bit more info on how to plot it out so i could get the best yield

Hi Enoch, If this is your

The Editors's picture

Hi Enoch,
If this is your first garden we suggest the you build a raised bed that is rectangle or a square. This way you can place it so that you can grow the taller (or vining veggies) on the north or backside and the shorter plants in the front.
See drawing at as an example.

Hi, thank you for this

Hi, thank you for this informational site. We have 3 raised bed (8'longx4'wide) garden boxes filled with fresh compost. We live in Rhode Island by the coast. I have a list of veggies and herbs I would like to plant but I need help arranging them together and in the proper box. I checked out the planning program but I still am not sure where to put everything. Is there a site that takes the list and plugs them into the boxes according to companionship and productivity?

Hi Heather, Gardening has

The Editors's picture

Hi Heather, Gardening has many variables including climate and timing for each type of veggies so there's no magic button. However, here are a couple key resources:
Your planting dates for each crop:
Companion planting chart:
Garden planner (free trial):
Use the garden planner to check out other gardeners' plans for ideas. Also, it WILL tell you when two plans should not be planted together and that's really the main concern. 

I have a 4x8 raised garden

I have a 4x8 raised garden bed that I filled with a soil blend that is a Sod Mix of 60% topsoil / 30% Mulch / 10% Sand blend. I was told this is what I wanted to use for my raised garden bed. I also used a landscape fabric at the bottom of the garden bed to help prevent weeds from coming up through the bottom of the bed. My problem is that the vegetables aren't really growing, or are growing very slowly. The bed is retaining water and staying moist for quite some time. And I'm in Phoenix, AZ. I tried taking a pitch fork and puncturing the landscape fabric to help it drain because it was retaining water and not draining or drying. I don't know what else to do and if its even an over watering problem. Is the dirt mix not right? I have tried adding nitrogen, manure, fish fertilizer. I don't know what else to do to get the growth finally take off. It's like the growth is being stunted. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Oh, and also, the bed gets a good solid 10-12 hours of sunlight. Thanks!

The sand in your soil mix

The Editors's picture

The sand in your soil mix should help with the drainage. Adding compost and/or aged manure to the bed will add nutrients and help with the drainage. If your soil is moist hold back on watering. Let the soil dry out between waterings. Some vegetables (for example lettuce, spinach, peas, and kale) like cool weather. If your daytime temperatures have been high these vegetables will not grow well.