7 Vegetable Garden Layout Ideas To Grow More Food In Less Space — Food Garden Life: Edible Garden, Vegetable Garden, Edible Landscaping (2024)

By Steven Biggs

Garden Layout for Vegetables

7 Vegetable Garden Layout Ideas To Grow More Food In Less Space — Food Garden Life: Edible Garden, Vegetable Garden, Edible Landscaping (1)

I was delighted when a neighbour removed her front lawn to grow vegetables.

One more edible garden in the neighbourhood! It's a nice departure from the driveway-and-shrub aesthetic around here.

She asked me to help her plan her vegetable garden layout.

But...

I didn’t have a simple explanation about how to make a vegetable garden layout! Keep reading, because this inspired me to map out the way I think when I'm veggie gardening.

As we studied her small, partially shaded front yard, I saw numbers in my mind—distances between plants, between rows, and between crops. I saw centimetres and inches (because we’re in Canada and can’t decide on which to use.)

There's a simpler approach, and I share it below.

Before we get to my top tips: Remember that there are lots of possible vegetable garden layouts. There are many ways to organize and space out vegetables in a garden. There's the growing. And then there's a creative aspect to it. That means that two gardeners given the same garden bed can come up with completely different layout plans. Enjoy the creative journey! There’s no perfect vegetable garden layout—there’s a layout that suits you and your situation.

Here are 7 tips to help you come up with a vegetable garden layout that suits your situation:

1. Grow in Blocks

Rows are for Farms

7 Vegetable Garden Layout Ideas To Grow More Food In Less Space — Food Garden Life: Edible Garden, Vegetable Garden, Edible Landscaping (2)

In a traditional row-gardening layout, there's space between rows for cultivating. That cultivating chops down little weed seeds that are germinating. Gardening this way allows one person to weed and tend a lot of plants when labour—not space—is limited.

Planting in rows can make sense on big pieces of land.

But in a home vegetable garden, we're growing on a different scale. In a home veggie garden, we’re limited by space.

And that means growing some vegetables in blocks, instead of spread-out rows of plants. By growing in solid blocks of plants, we fit lots of plants into a plot and have less bare ground showing.

(There are still some vegetables that will do best as single rows of plants, and we'll cover them below.)

Perennial Plants

If your garden design includes perennial vegetable plants, give them a separate block.

2. Grow Vegetables Vertically

7 Vegetable Garden Layout Ideas To Grow More Food In Less Space — Food Garden Life: Edible Garden, Vegetable Garden, Edible Landscaping (3)

Plan for the dimension of height in your garden. Use the vertical space! This just means growing some plants upwards instead of letting them sprawl around the ground.

For example:

  • Growing a climbing plant up a stake or trellis frees up space on the ground for different plants.

  • Grow crops in layers. By growing vertically, you can also grow more than one crop in a small space. For example, make an A-frame for cucumbers, and underneath the A-frame, plant leafy greens that benefit from some shade during the summer.

And one more idea if you're making layers in your garden: Hanging baskets. They're great for herbs and many of the leafy greens.

Climbing Plants for Vertical Gardens

Here are a few of my favourite climbers to grow in a small space.

  • Malabar spinach (a vining spinach substitute, not really a spinach…but excellent during the heat of summer)

  • Achocha (a.k.a. Bolivian cucumber, it’s absolutely prolific, and a fun novelty)

  • Vining peas

  • Pole beans

  • Runner beans

  • Cucumber

  • Squash

3. Plant Densely, and then Thin

Seed Spacing…How Many plants?

7 Vegetable Garden Layout Ideas To Grow More Food In Less Space — Food Garden Life: Edible Garden, Vegetable Garden, Edible Landscaping (5)

Seed-spacing recommendations on seed packets and in articles are often geared towards commercial production. And these recommendations work fine in a home garden.

But…

Most plants do well with less than the spacing recommended on a seed packet.

So if you want to grow more food, plant more densely.

Forget Finicky

Commercial growers (or hard-core gardeners with big gardens) often use seeding machines to place seeds at a specific spacing. There are also hand-operated seed dispensers to help get perfect spacing.

Your plants won’t know the difference—and you can make your seeding less complicated by not being finicky.

Scatter-Seeding a Block is Not Finicky

When seeding a block, I hand-scatter seed. With practice, you can scatter seeds so that they are spread at approximately the distance you want. Don't sweat the exact spacing.

It’s not an exact process. You will get some seeds too close together; and some too far apart. (Remember, gardening is detox for perfectionists.)

Where seeds are too close, thin as plants start to grow.

  • Beets too close? Thin out a few and enjoy baby beet greens.

  • Carrots too close? Thin your block of carrots and have some baby carrots for supper.

When scatter-seeding blocks, you will use more seed than if you seed in rows.

That’s fine: It saves time and you get more veg from the same area.

4.Choose Crops to Maximize Your Harvest

To grow more food in less space, be strategic with your crop choices as you’re laying out a vegetable garden.

My first rule of vegetable gardening is to grow things you like. Sure, radishes are easy to grow. But do you like eating them three times a day?!

Here are three other things to think about as you fit more food plants into your space.

7 Vegetable Garden Layout Ideas To Grow More Food In Less Space — Food Garden Life: Edible Garden, Vegetable Garden, Edible Landscaping (7)

  1. Next, avoid the space hogs. These are crops that take up a piece of garden for the entire growing season...and only give you something at the end of the year. That's right: if you have a small garden, think twice about those parsnips and Brussels sprouts!

  2. Keep the vining space hogs, but grow them vertically (see above.) So instead of squash sprawling around the garden, grow it up a fence or trellis. (I’ve even grown squash along a cedar hedge!)

  3. If you have a small plot, skip the stingy crops. I'm talking about something like edamame, which is easy to grow and delicious...but takes a fair bit of space considering what you get from it. You'll get way more bang for your buck with something like bush beans.

And let’s get back to the idea of rows versus blocks as we think about choosing which vegetables to grow.

What to Grow in Blocks

Here are examples of crops that I like to grow in solid blocks, instead of rows.

  • Beet

  • Carrot

  • Leafy greens

  • Garlic

What to Grow in Rows

It makes sense to grow certain crops in rows. Here are the ones I prefer to grow i rows:

  • Potatoes (so I can easily "hill" them)

  • Tomatoes (because I stake them, and it's easiest when I can access them from both sides)

  • Peas (for ease of picking)

  • Pole beans (for ease of picking)

Find out more about different ways to stake tomato plants so you can grow more tomatoes in less space.

5.Keep Pathways to a Minimum

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An easy way to grow more food in less space has nothing to do with the distance between your plants!

Use less of the available ground for pathways.

As you map out your beds and pathways, play around with different layout options. Easy access is important, but sometimes there are ways to plan a garden that has access, but fewer pathways. A simple way to do this is with dead-end pathways that go part of the way into big beds…but not all of the way through. That way less of the growing space is sacrificed for pathway. (Having trouble picturing this? Imagine a keyhole garden, where there’s a pathway into the middle—but it doesn’t go all the way through.)

6.Plant Two Crops Together

7 Vegetable Garden Layout Ideas To Grow More Food In Less Space — Food Garden Life: Edible Garden, Vegetable Garden, Edible Landscaping (10)

Companion planting is another way to fit more plants into your vegetable garden.

Plant two vegetables in the same space—ones that are good companions because they mature at different speeds.

My favourite combination is fast-growing radish, with slower-growing carrots or beets.

When I scatter carrot seed on a block of garden, I also scatter radish seed. The radish grows much more quickly than the carrot, and is ready to harvest while the carrot seedlings are still quite small.

Harvesting the radishes frees up space for the carrot seedlings, and as the tap root of the radish comes out, it also loosens the soil around the carrot seedlings. It's a perfect combination.

(There is a lot of rubbish information out there on companion planting. I suggest this science-based book: Plant Partners: Science-Based Companion Planting Strategies for the Vegetable Garden.)

7.Grow Succession Crops

7 Vegetable Garden Layout Ideas To Grow More Food In Less Space — Food Garden Life: Edible Garden, Vegetable Garden, Edible Landscaping (11)

Growing vegetables in succession as each parcel of your garden makes sure none of it goes unused during the growing season.

As your spring-planted cool-season crops finish, plant a heat-loving crop for summer.

  • Bush beans done? Sow some beets.

  • Garlic done? I like to grow rapini (and for those of you who are avowed rapini haters because of the bitterness, get yourself a bowl of orecchiette pasta with rapini and some chunks of spicy sausage fried to crispy, and you’ll see rapini in a different light.)

Need more Vegetable Garden Layout Ideas?

In Edible Garden Makeover I walk you through lots of vegetable garden layout ideas, raised beds, making garden beds, raised beds, and lots of other ideas that help you grow your own food in a way that suits your setup. I help you imagine an amazing kitchen garden, and also an entire edible garden layout. Find out how you can make your yard into an edible landscape.

Still Not Enough Space?

7 Vegetable Garden Layout Ideas To Grow More Food In Less Space — Food Garden Life: Edible Garden, Vegetable Garden, Edible Landscaping (12)

If you're using these seven approaches to make the best vegetable garden layout for your garden area, and you still want to grow more, think about adding containers to your vegetable garden.

Plant vegetables in containers on:

  • Paved spaces such as driveways

  • Decks or balconies

You can also incorporate containers as part of a vertical garden, to add the element of height. (I've squeezed in pepper crops between an asparagus and horseradish patch...where normally they wouldn't have stood a chance because of the competition. But because they were elevated above the ground in a container, they got sun exposure and had lots of growing space in the container.)

One more space-making idea for you, something that I've used to transform a long, little-used driveway into a tomato oasis.

This idea is quick to set up, easy to care for, and inexpensive compared with permanent container or raised-bed systems.

Add a straw-bale garden to your garden layout. Find out more about straw-bale gardens.

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7 Vegetable Garden Layout Ideas To Grow More Food In Less Space — Food Garden Life: Edible Garden, Vegetable Garden, Edible Landscaping (2024)
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