LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
When gardeners think of micro gardens, they may think of micro greens — but micro gardening is so much more than that.
Shrinking lot sizes and growing urban sprawls are leaving less room for vegetation, and that raises a challenge for both urban and suburban gardeners. They will have to grow to meet these changes.
Micro gardening is a method of gardening that is ideal for those with limited or nontraditional spaces to plant and grow vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers where they might not normally be found. These gardens can be created on balconies, kitchen counters, patios, porches, in small yards and even on rooftops — a wide variety of methods can be employed.
According to a U.S. Census Bureau report, the median lot size for an American home dropped by 10,000 square feet between 1992 and 2019. In 2009, 52% of single-family homes were built on mid-size to large lots while 48% were on smaller lots. Ten years later in 2019, 39% of single-family homes were located on mid-size or larger lots, and 61% were on smaller lots.
To compound the issue of shrinking lots sizes, new single-family homes tend to be larger and take up even more of the limited outdoor space. A National Association of Home Builders analysis shows that the average size of new single-family home is now 6.3% higher at 2,537 square feet, and the median size is 10% higher at 2,318 square feet. This trend — which was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic — likely will continue as people look for more space for working from home.
Having less space for a garden doesn’t have to be a problem; it just calls for some creativity. Micro gardening can be a solution and, luckily, it is not a new phenomenon. Plants have been grown in containers of all sizes for a long time with proven success. Additionally, raised beds have become popular for vegetable production and other plant growth.
Another form of micro gardening is hydroponics — the process of growing plants without soil in water supplemented with nutrients. This practice has been going on since the time of the Aztecs in the 1100s. Today, you can easily purchase or make your own hydroponic systems.
Rooftop gardens and vertical growing are perhaps the two most recent gardening practices to make use of limited space. You can add dimension and save space with vertical gardening, which recently has become one of the hottest horticultural trends. This type of growing makes use of structures to create a space for growing vertically. You can create garden rooms or hide other spaces with vertical gardens.
For container gardening, there are many types of containers that can be used. Recycled materials are a sustainable way to reduce your financial inputs. Plastic containers and buckets, grow bags, wooden boxes, ceramic pots, window boxes, barrels, water troughs and pallets can be used. Be sure all containers have sufficient drainage so that roots do not sit in water and get root rot.
Micro gardening can be an inexpensive way to produce food with what you have available to you. You can start small and expand. Just be aware that container-grown plants tend to have greater watering and fertilizer needs. Because these plants cannot get nutrients from the ground, it is vital to supplement throughout the season to get the best yields. Soil amendments such as compost or organic fertilizer are good choices.
Vegetables can be produced in a hydroponic system that utilizes small spaces. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter
Vertical gardens, or living walls, can be created from scrap materials and utilized to create small herb gardens. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter
Containers 10 gallons and larger are great for container production of vegetables. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter