Expert Tips for Successful Gardening in a Tiny Space

Garden writer Amy Pennington's best advice for small space gardening

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Windowsill herbs

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Gardening is so much fun but unfortunately not everyone is blessed with the yard to do it. With a little creativity, though, you can get to gardening on windowsills, balconies, kitchen countertops, and more.

While houseplants are so much fun, there’s just something about growing a plant from a seed or watching bulbs bloom, year after year. Growing your own food is not only sustainable, but it’s also incredibly rewarding to make something using ingredients you grew on your own. Plus, there’s just something very calming about getting your hands dirty.

We’d like to think that gardening is accessible to everyone, even if you don’t have a huge backyard or garden to do it in, so we talked to an expert to share some of her best tips for successfully gardening in a tiny space.

Meet the Expert

Amy Pennington is an author and writer covering gardening and landscapes, urban farming, and food. She just published the book Tiny Space Gardening: Growing Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs in Small Outdoor Spaces (with Recipes).

Tiny Space Gardening: Growing Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs in Small Outdoor Spaces (with Recipes)

tiny space gardening


Make the Most of Sunlight

Sunlight is one of the most important things to consider when it comes to just about any plant. “When you don’t have a lot of space to grow, you have to be careful about sunlight. All plants need sun to photosynthesize and stay healthy,” says Amy Pennington, garden writer and author of Tiny Space Gardening. “Move pots outdoors when the weather turns warm and rotate plants around the space as the sun path changes over the course of a year.”

Herbs Window

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Start With High-Yield Plants

Pick plants that will make the most of your small amount of space. “I suggest growing plants that will be used frequently, but in small amounts," says Pennington. "This gives plants time to regrow between cuttings. No sense in planting a crop that you’ll wipe out in one go." Herbs generally like to be pruned back anyways as it promotes better growth. So if you love to cook roast chicken with fresh thyme and rosemary, grow those. Or if you love to make your own pesto, basil is an excellent choice.

“I rely heavily on herbs for tiny spaces," notes Pennington. "I also grow plants that produce abundant quantities of ingredients that I know I’ll use often. Lettuces, for example, are wonderful to grow at home because they take up little space, produce (and reproduce!) quickly, and offer fresh greens for salads or a nice leafy garnish."

Herbs Windowsill

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Pay Attention to Pot Size

Shopping for pots can be stressful. “Not all plants do well in small pots that fit on windowsills and countertops. Most plants need legroom to stretch their roots," says Pennington. "Try to plant in a pot that’s a bit bigger than the plant will actually need." If you use a pot that’s too small, you’ll have to be cautious of how many seedlings you actually grow because there will only be so much room in there. If you use a bigger pot, you’re giving more young plants a better chance of growing and reaching maturity.


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Fertilize Regularly

It’s really important to fertilize or feed your plants because they need nutrients to thrive. “Containers are continually being flushed (from watering), so it’s important to keep them on a regular feeding schedule," explains Pennington. "Since containers are not a natural environment in which to grow plants, your goal as an urban or tiny space gardener is to mimic their natural soil conditions within the confines of your pots." Look to fertilizers to provide that nutrients (though you should note that not all herbs need fertilizer).

Watch Your Watering

It’s so easy to overwater your plant, especially when it's in a container. That notion often scares people into underwatering. “Too much or too little water will promptly stress out a plant. Do your research on each plant family so you can understand what the plant needs,” suggests Pennington. There are so many ways to research your plants these days. You can consult books, gardening websites, an online plant A-Z index, or even talk to someone at your local plant nursery.