Don't let a small footprint keep you from producing a big yield. Learn how to make a garden on your deck or patio that will not only be beautiful but will also provide you with a bountiful harvest in a limited amount of space. With a little planning and good plant choices, a garden on a deck or patio can become an enjoyable and productive part of your property.
What to Know Before You Grow
Use All Available Space
To get your garden off the ground, begin by taking inventory of your deck or patio's architecture. To optimize space, put deck railings to work with over-railing planters, hang baskets from a patio overhang, grow vertically up walls and fences, and plant accessible elevated containers to leave valuable floor space for stashing supplies and tools.
Optimize Growing Conditions
To flourish, plants in a garden on a deck or patio require good sunlight, fertile soil, adequate air circulation, water, nutrients and the right-sized containers.
Select as large a container as possible, opting for a few large pots rather than many smaller ones. They'll make a compact space appear larger and typically need less frequent watering than small planters. Choose food-safe lightweight plastic or resin containers that are easy to move. Place them on rolling dollies with castors so you can easily chase the sun. Make sure your deck can handle the weight of heavier, large containers.
Also, match the container to the plant. Shallow-rooted plants under a foot tall need at least 6 inches of soil depth, and deeper-rooted plants require at least 1 foot of soil depth. Containers must have adequate drainage holes and, to increase air circulation, raise them a few inches off the ground with pot risers or bricks.
Plants in containers dry out more quickly than those planted in the ground, so they require more frequent watering. During hot spells, you may need to water them once or twice daily, preferably in the morning.
To simplify the task, place containers near a water source or where they'll be exposed to rain. If your deck or patio doesn't have a spigot, choose self-watering planters with reservoirs you can fill using a watering can. These planters extend the time between waterings and help prevent overwatering.
Always use a good quality potting mix — not garden soil — to help maintain moisture.
A premium organic potting mix contains enough slow-release fertilizer for three months. After the first three months, fertilize container plants again with an organic granular fertilizer rather than a water soluble one, which washes out of the soil more quickly.
Plants That Grow Best on a Deck
With the right growing conditions, you can successfully grow just about anything in a container on a deck or patio that you can grow in the ground.
On a sunny deck, fill pots with long-blooming annual flowers and tropicals that can take the summer heat. Mix marigolds in with herbs, or for drama, combine ornamental grasses with striped-leaf canna or plant a combination of verbenas, nasturtiums, zinnias and lantanas.
For shaded patios or decks, plant small hydrangeas, hostas, caladiums or lush ferns. White impatiens that bloom through the summer will provide sparkle in the dappled evening light.
If the deck is on the west side of your house, flowering vines climbing up a trellis or arbor will cast some nice shade on hot summer afternoons. Ornamental gourds or feathery cypress vine will cover an arbor in no time along with morning glories, which are easy to grow.
How to Grow Vegetables in a Garden on a Deck
While some vegetables are better suited to containers than others, you can grow a variety of vegetables, fruits and herbs that will produce sizable yields in a container garden on a deck or patio.
Along with herbs, you can successfully grow many garden favorites, including tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, salad greens, spinach, peas, beans, cucumbers and cabbage.
Try Container-Specific Varieties
Consider choosing from varieties bred specifically to grow in tight spaces, such as the high yielding, early bearing 'Sweetheart of the Patio Hybrid' tomato or even the space-saving 'On Deck Hybrid' corn — the first-ever sweet corn you can grow in a container.
Compact plants with small root systems, including dwarf varieties, do well planted in containers. Bush-type plants, like the 'Salad Bush Hybrid' cucumber, typically take up a third of the space as their larger siblings while still delivering full-sized produce.
For rapid gratification, go for quick-growing vegetables like 'Space Hybrid' spinach, which grows in 40 days or less, and the prolific dwarf 'Patio Baby Hybrid' eggplant, which produces clusters of egg-shaped, 2- to 3-inch purple-black fruit.
When combining different types of plants, choose those with the same growing requirements for water, sun and fertilizer. Heat-loving plants like rosemary that favor dry soil won't be compatible with cucumbers that require a lot of water. Combine either all-sun or all-shade plants to prevent a faster-growing variety from overtaking its companion.
Most heat-loving vegetables, like tomatoes, peppers, squash and beans, need eight hours of sun, so make sure to place them in a sunny location.
But if your deck or patio enjoys less sunlight, you can still plant salad greens, herbs and some root vegetables, like carrots and radishes, that grow well with a minimum of four hours of sun.
Think like a French potager gardener and combine plants with overlapping and varied harvesting times. While some are still growing, others will be ready to harvest — all in close proximity to your kitchen when you garden on a deck or patio.
For more information on gardening for small spaces, check out Burpee's tips for small patio gardening.