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Green Roof News & Views

5 Tips to Get More Food from Urban Small-Space Gardens

Don’t grow food by the book!

Be creative and have fun as you explore techniques to get higher yields from your small-space urban garden.

And, most importantly, be prepared to fail occasionally as you experiment to find ways that work for you—and are suited to your garden. There’s usually more than one way to successfully grow something.

Below are five tips to get you started.

1. Keep Tree Roots at Bay

Especially in older parts of the city, tree roots can be a big challenge for food gardeners. Trees are beautiful, but they compete with food crops! Some gardeners dig tree roots from their gardens every year...but there’s another way to co-exist with your trees and hedges.

When growing a crop near a big tree or beside a water-guzzling cedar hedge, don’t waste time constantly digging out roots. Instead, grow a container garden above the root-infested soil.

If tree roots grow up into the container (and they sometimes do,) put a patio stone underneath your container.

2. Weave Food Plants into and Ornamental Landscape

Ornamental or Edible? It does not have to be an either-or decision. If your landscape is ornamental, weave in edible plants.

*     Many berry bushes have ornamental appeal (e.g. service berry has beautiful fall colour)

·      Asparagus ferns looks great at the back of a perennial bed (harvest the asparagus spears in the spring, and then let thetall ferns add texture to your perennial garden through summer and fall)

·      If you grow annual flowers, think about weaving in edible flowers such as nasturtium and calendula

3. Repurpose Unused Paved Spaces

If you have more driveway than car, you have growing space going to waste!

It’s not necessary to remove a driveway to cultivate the space. Containers are a great option. We’ve turned half of our driveway into a tomato patch every summer with a temporary straw-bale garden.

If you have a deck, patio, or balcony, see if there is space to fit in containers with food plants.  

4. Tier your Garden using Containers

Think of your garden as a layer cake.

Plants that might be out-competed or shaded in the bottom layer just need some help to get more light or more space for their roots.

You can do that by growing them in containers, right in the garden. You’re raising up the plants, making another layer in your garden and squeezing more plants into it.

5. Cheat on plant spacing

Challenge the recommended spacing on seed packets and plant labels.

I always sow carrots, lettuce, and beet seeds more densely than recommended…and then thin them out as they begin to grow, enjoying baby carrots, lettuce, and beets as I do.

Get more tips from

Steven Biggs