How to Carve Out a Garden Space When You Only Have a Patio

Patio herb garden from overhead.

Ursula Carmona of Home Made by Carmona

Gardening seems like it's a hobby reserved for homeowners or those with a large, luscious yard, but you can work with your patio to have blooms and crops sprouting from your small space. It just takes some careful planning and research. 

Both container gardens and vertical gardens are becoming more popular in urban areas as people try to grow their own food and flowers, putting a new twist on a green thumb. Rather than digging into the ground, you can purchase a variety of innovative pots and containers to house your mini garden on a porch, patio, or even a windowsill. If the space permits, you can even construct some raised beds to grow a variety of herbs, vegetables, and flowers.

Here are some tips for growing your own garden on a patio from a seasoned porch gardener. 

Tomatoes in containers.

Cavan Images/Getty Images

Assess Your Space

Before you go out and grab a bunch of pots and seedlings, you need to make sure your porch or patio is even capable of growing thriving plants. You need to assess the location in terms of the amount of sunlight it receives. Most outdoor plants need six to eight hours of direct sunlight, particularly nightshade vegetables like tomatoes and peppers.

You’ll also need to make sure you can properly hydrate your outdoor plant babies. While you can purchase a self-watering container, that may not be enough on the hotter days of the year. If you can’t hook up a hose to dose your plants daily, know that it will require multiple trips with a watering can.

Another thing to keep in mind is how to use your patio space. If it’s solely for gardening, then you can create a garden in your small outdoor space. But, if you still plan on entertaining on your patio, then you’ll want to use fewer containers and choose more aesthetically pleasing plants and flowers that will add to the space, not detract or overwhelm it.

If your potential gardening space is a little shady, not all hope is lost. Things like salad greens don’t require as much sunlight and still thrive in a container. 

Choose Your Plants Wisely

While you might want to fill your mini garden with tomatoes, cucumbers, and the like, you might want to reassess your plan. These tall, vining plants tend to take over a container, leaving you little room to grow other varieties. If you do want to grow these plants, consider growing dwarf varieties that won’t take up as much space.

Keep in mind that larger plants like beans, cucumbers, and tomatoes need to be housed in large pots that are at least two feet in diameter. Smaller pots can be used for peppers, greens, kale, and herbs, and can be placed on a windowsill or be tucked within the larger pots.

To maximize space, you can grow multiple varieties of plants within the same pot. For example, salad greens can still grow in the shade of a tomato plant and will allow you to optimize your harvest.

Harvest Frequently

To encourage active growth, you’re going to want to harvest your bounty as soon as it sprouts up. For example, plants like salad greens and kale should be plucked weekly. Ideally, you’ll end up with so many greens you won’t know what to do with it—other than making a ton of side salads. 

This will also ensure that your patio garden is getting full use and larger crops aren’t overcrowding the space. When a plant does die off or become exhausted, it allows you to plant something new.

Use Your Windows

You can spice up the windows near your patio (or any window in your apartment that gets good sunlight) with a window box. These smaller containers are ideal for all sorts of herbs, like oregano, basil, cilantro, and rosemary, as well as salad greens. A two-foot-wide box that fits most windows can house four to six of these smaller crops. The best part is that you don’t even have to go outside to tend to them—just open the window and you’re golden.

Herb garden on windowsill.

S.U.S.A.P

Take Advantage of Vertical Space

Whether it's a hanging pot for some hanging flowers or a trellis to house vine-y plants, vertical space is a wonderful way to make the most of your space and expand your patio garden. There are also innovative planters that will scale a wall. 

You can also stack planters of different graduated sizes to create the look of a fountain and save space in the process. To do this, you’ll need to place taller plants on the upper planters to give them more room to grow.

DIY vertical hanging kitchen garden.

Ursula Carmona of Home Made by Carmona

Consider Unique Planters

There’s a wide variety of planters to choose from to make container gardening easier. Self-watering containers will provide plants with just the right amount of water—meaning less work for you if you’re the forgetful type. You can also purchase raised beds, which can help plants get better sunlight and eliminate the need for you to bend over as much while tending to them.

For space-hogging plants with a lot of leaves (tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers), consider using a grow bag instead of traditional planters or containers. These fabric bags aerate roots, prevent heat build-up, and allow excess water to drain. They’re easy to transport, and they’re ideal for harvesting root vegetables as you can cut the fabric rather than dig deep in the soil.

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