Plan the perfect garden with our interactive tool →

How To Landscape a Small Area

Small, well-planned gardens can offer all the advantages of their larger cousins with one big benefit--their small size makes them easier to maintain and enjoy. Whether you are landscaping a condominium courtyard, an urban roof deck or a small suburban backyard, plan, plant and decorate your small-space garden with an eye toward its finished design. Your little corner of the world can be an oasis for you, your family and your friends, with time, patience and an eye for scale.

Assess your sunlight. Study your space at various times during the day. Make a rough sketch of your space, marking areas that experience full sun (6 hours of sun or more), partial sun (3 to 6 hours of sun) or full shade. Choose your plants accordingly. Plant catalogs clearly list light requirements for all offered plants.

Know your soil. Obtain a soil test from your local county extension. Soil tests measure fertility and pH. A soil test helps you pick plants that will thrive under the conditions that exist in your yard. Your county agent can help you interpret your results and offer recommendations for improving your soil if needed.

Plant for growth. When planting perennials, keep the ultimate size in mind. If planted too close together, plants will eventually crowd one another and overwhelm your space. Be patient. If your design looks too bare during the first year or two of growth, fill vacant spots with annuals.

Add color and textures in limited quantities. A riot of colors and textures can detract from your overall look and make a small garden look like a patchwork rather than a cohesive whole.

Consider scale. Choose dwarf varieties of popular shrubs. Small, flowering trees add vertical interest without overwhelming your space. Typical hemlocks grow 30 feet in 20 years, but the dwarf hemlock “bennett” reaches only 2 feet in that time.

Use a focal point. A single, dramatic focal point like a birdbath, bench or sculpture draws the eye and creates depth. Choose decorative items carefully for scale and maintain a consistent theme such as rustic, Asian-inspired or classical.

Go vertical. Take advantage of your airspace by planting a strawberry tower or a pole bean tee-pee. Grow a flowering vine up a porch post and hang flowering annual baskets from trees.

Add lighting. Low voltage lighting can increase the usability of your outdoor spaces by illuminating living areas for evening use. Place accent lights deeper into beds to create visual depth, add string lights to small trees to highlight height and spotlight a tree or sculpture to cast a dramatic, oversized shadow on an exterior wall.

Garden Guides