Growing your own produce is incredibly rewarding, and while doing so requires some resources and knowledge, it’s simpler than you might think.

Don’t have a yard with acres—or even a quarter of an acre—of space? No problem. Growing fruit and veggies without a traditional backyard garden plot is totally doable with patience, planning, and a little creativity. Keep reading to learn more.

Benefits of Edible Gardening

There are countless benefits of growing your own food.

In fact, if you’re trying to lower your carbon footprint, you’ll be pleased to know that when you grow your own produce, you are making a dent—small though it may be—in the energy and resources required for commercial farms to plant, grow, and harvest the items and then refrigerate and ship them to grocery stores thousands of miles away.

And when you replace your traditional landscaping with edible plants, most of your yardwork will involve harvesting ripe produce for snacks or meals—much more fun than mowing the lawn, even if it’s the size of a postage stamp.

Landscaping with Food

cluster of ripe blueberries on the bushIf your outdoor space is limited to a small front yard or back patio, or even just a deck or balcony, you’ll need to build your garden plants into your landscaping (or patio-scaping, as the case may be). Think of it as edible landscaping. You’ll be adding color and life to your outdoor space and lowering your grocery bill at the same time.

Landscaping takes time and planning, so be sure to give yourself enough time to map out the area and decide what you’d like to plant and where. Here are a few general landscape design principles to keep in mind:

1. Think outside the box.

Consider where you would normally place shrubs, flowers, and other plants, and choose an edible option instead. The possibilities are almost endless.

  • Liven up your walkway by lining it with lettuces, strawberry plants, or pepper plants instead of liriope.
  • Not loving the boring boxwood hedges that separate your driveway from your neighbor’s? Replace them with blueberry or currant bushes.
  • Instead of a flowering vine, train a small cucumber varietal or a cherry tomato plant to grow up a decorative trellis.
  • In place of traditional groundcover plants such as creeping Jenny or Irish moss, try hardy groundcover raspberries or creeping thyme, which are both resistant to foot traffic.

2. Use high-quality soil.

Your local gardening center or plant nursery will be able to give you the best advice for your area, but in general, an even mix of topsoil and compost will keep your plants happy.

3. Plant large items first.

If you’re planning to try your hand at a dwarf fruit tree, for example, plant it before adding other plants nearby to make sure that it will have the space it needs to stay healthy.

4. Pay attention to care requirements.

This goes beyond maintaining a regular watering schedule (but be sure to do that too, of course). It’s important to abide by any planting instructions—seeds or seedlings that are planted too close to their neighbors or in shallow holes will not thrive.

5. Mix colors and textures.

Use colorful (and edible) nasturtiums, pansies, and daylilies as borders to beds or planters of vegetables. Sow tulip bulbs in a small bed of salad greens. Spiky herbs such as rosemary or lavender add visual interest to a small balcony or patio.

Keep in mind that you can also mix inedible flowers and plants with your fruits and veggies for aesthetic appeal—just remember which is which at harvest time.

6. Keep plant heights in mind.

If you’re combining several plants in one area, try arranging them following the “thriller, filler, spiller” pattern recommended by many gardeners. Situate tall, showy plants in the center or back of the bed or container, followed by a mid-height variety, and border everything with a plant that will spill out of the container or stay low to the ground.

Edible Landscaping Plants

Stumped on which fruits, veggies, and herbs to try first? If this is one of your first forays into edible gardening, stick with well-established, hardy varieties. Seeing success on the first try is key to sticking with your ambition to have a green thumb.

If you live in the continental United States, most varieties of tomatoes, squash, berries, beans, and cucumbers will do just fine. Your local garden center will likely carry plants suitable for your area; if you choose to order seeds online, you will need to be mindful of the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map, which divides the country into zones based on the lowest average winter temperature.

If your outdoor space is limited, look for varieties of the vegetables and fruits you’d like to grow that have been specifically bred for small spaces. Here are a few varieties to check out:

    rosemary growing in a pot
  1. “Gold Rush” summer squash. Technically a hybrid of yellow squash and zucchini, this summer squash grows quickly and doesn’t take up much space.
  2. “Husky Gold” tomato. This tomato plant produces sweet, medium-sized fruit, and because it’s a dwarf vine, the plant will not require caging or staking.
  3. “Window Box Roma” tomato. This varietal produces small plum tomatoes on compact plants—no special equipment required.
  4. “Northcountry” blueberry. This is a half-high blueberry variation that does well in containers or small spaces.
  5. “Little Leaf” cucumber. This is a self-pollinating cucumber, so you won’t need multiple plants to grow fruit (unless, of course, you want them).
  6. “Miss Jessup’s Upright” rosemary. Many rosemary varieties sprawl, but this type grows tall rather than wide. Clip branches to cook with when it starts to get too tall.

If traditional fruits and veggies just aren’t your thing, or if you have a little more space to play with and want to add year-round color to your landscape, consider planting edible shrubs in place of ornamentals such as azaleas and arborvitae. These shrubs bear tasty fruit and boast beautiful foliage:

    cluster of red American Cranberrybush berries among green and reddish-brown leaves
  1. Blueberry. There are so many varieties of blueberries that you’ll undoubtedly be able to find at least one that will satisfy both your climate and space requirements.
  2. American cranberrybush. More common in northern states but perfectly happy in warmer areas, this shrub produces late-summer berries. If your space is limited, you may need to prune the branches periodically.
  3. Nanking cherry. Also referred to as a bush plum or a sand cherry, the Nanking cherry bush bears showy pink and white flowers in the spring and produces small, red berries in the late summer. Depending on space, it too may need periodic pruning.

Edible landscaping is a fantastic way to beautify your outdoor space and lessen your family’s environmental impact at the same time. There is a lot to think about as you plan, but don’t be afraid to take risks with new-to-you plants and creative landscape design choices.

Remember that you don’t have to revamp your entire outdoor space all at once.

Begin by replacing the hedges by your front door, for example, or planting lettuces and carrots (or another favorite vegetable or fruit) in the big flower pots on your patio or balcony. Seeing success with these small steps will keep you motivated, and before long, you’ll be enjoying a bountiful harvest of fresh produce along with a lively, colorful outdoor space.