7 Tips for Planning a Postage Stamp Garden

Grow abundant amounts of fresh produce with these tips for planting in the smallest of spaces.

postage stamp garden plan

Postage stamp garden along the border of a flower bed.

Illustration courtesy Ten Speed Press

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Fully revised and updated, The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden (Ten Speed Press, 2015) will inspire a new generation of gardeners. Author Karen Newcomb offers proven approaches for growing a tremendous amount of veggies in a tiny space. The following excerpt shares several tips on how to design your postage stamp garden for the best results.

You can purchase this book from the Mother Earth Living store: Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden.

By proper placement of individual vegetables in your postage stamp garden, you can produce extremely large quantities of vegetables in an extremely small space. The following are postage stamp planning guidelines that will help you obtain maximum results.

1. If your plot is large—say 10 by 10 feet or even 8 by 8 feet—you can plant different types of vegetables in separate squares or rectangles. In plots more than 5 or 6 feet wide, you’ll need pathways in order to reach all your plants. However, if the plot is narrow or small, simply block out irregular groups of vegetables and fill in the spaces any way you wish.

2. Plant tall vegetables on the north end of your garden to avoid shading the smaller crops, and plant the other vegetables in descending order of size down toward the south end of the garden.

3. Plant vines (cucumbers, melons, peas, squash) against a fence or supĀ­port at the north end of your garden. Smaller vertical supports can be used within the interior of the garden. Use the air space above your garden as much as possible. That is, train tomatoes, cucumbers, and other vines and trailing plants to grow up trellises, fences, or poles, so that they won’t run all over your garden bed, crowding out the other plants. The better you get at vertical growing, the more things you’ll be able to pack into your postage stamp garden. (Several methods of vertical growing are discussed in the detailed sections on each vining vegetable later in the book.)

4. Forget about planting in rows. In a postage stamp garden you scatter the seeds across the bed to use all the space in your garden, and then thin out the seedlings (the small plants) as they come up. If you set out seedlings rather than seeds, space them without concern for straight rows. The mature plants should just touch one another on all sides. Make sure you space all major plants properly on your plan. Winter squash, for instance, requires at least 12 inches between plant centers (if grown up a fence). This means that if you have a 5 by 5-foot garden, you can plant six squash across the north end to grow up the vertical support frame.

5. For root vegetables (such as carrots and beets), leafy vegetables (such as lettuce and spinach), and corn you need a special plan. The areas chosen for each of these vegetables should be subdivided into thirds or fourths, and each subsection should be seeded or planted a week to ten days apart. In this way you get continual harvests—as one subsection stops bearing mature vegetables, another begins. This is not so with, for example, tomatoes and cucumbers, which bear from the same plant over a long period of time. After you’ve harvested a subsection of leafy or root vegetables, you can replant that subsection. That way your garden will produce everywhere all the time.

6. Major vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants should be surrounded by secondary vegetables or herbs, such as green onions and bush beans. Plant vegetables that mature quickly between those that mature more slowly. For instance, plant radishes in the same space in which you have transplanted tomatoes. Harvest the radishes four to five weeks before the tomato vines take over the space. You can also use this same space underneath the grown tomatoes as a microclimate for radishes in warm weather to ensure a continuous supply of radishes long after they stop growing in the regular garden.

7. Remember to include flowers and herbs in every garden. Certain plants can repel or attract insects. Borage, for instance, can attract bees, while marigolds are said to keep bean beetles away from snap beans and to repel nematodes. Garlic and chives may repel aphids. I urge you to put herbs and flowers among the vegetables when you have the space.

Reprinted with permission from The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden, by Karen Newcomb, copyright © 2015, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.