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Gulf Coast Gardening: Crops for Small Spaces

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

Wondering what edibles you can grow in a confined area in your Gulf Coast garden? Our regional gardening contributor shares some ideas.

lemon and slices
tomato plants in pots

By Mary Glazer

From apartment balconies to backyard gardens to micro farms, plant enthusiasts all ask the same question: Which crops grow best in small spaces? At first, my imagination visualizes Lilliputian-type crops, and hazy memories of Jonathan Swift’s book from the 1700s, “Gulliver’s Travels,” come to mind. But, luckily, I don’t grow crops that small.

For me, small spaces can be anything. Think a narrow flowerbed, a raised or elevated vegetable garden, or even a simple potted plant. But I like to mix it up a bit. I fill a 20-inch-wide pot with petunias in the winter, but as those annuals die off with warmer weather, I switch to tomato plants in the spring. Basil also grows well in pots.

For veggie growers with limited space, try Malabar spinach, shitake mushrooms, culinary ginger, or culantro, a totally different herb from fast-bolting cilantro. Culantro is a staple in Caribbean countries. This crop grows in organic soil and tolerates heat and sun, but it should be grown in a shady location for larger tastier leaves. Flavor-wise, it tastes like cilantro.

Malabar spinach does well in hot, humid climates. Like many food crops, it needs full sun and an organic, well-drained soil. This is a terrific crop for a small space because can be grown on any vertical structure. Don’t be fooled by that diminutive young plant, however. It can grow to be 8 to 10 feet. I made the mistake of growing mine on a trellis next to a flowering vine. The two fought each other all season. The flower won.

Culinary ginger, not to be confused with its showy non-edible cousins, is a small, plain-looking plant that loves humidity.

shiitake mushroom on log

For shiitake mushrooms, all that’s needed is mushroom seedlings (spawn), a section of an oak log -- 3 to 4 feet in length -- shade, moist conditions, and time. Anywhere from six months to a year is required to produce this crop.

This Florida gal can’t resist mentioning one citrus tree: Meyer’s lemon. This dooryard fruit tree is thought to be a cross between a true lemon and a sweet orange, resulting in a less acidic flavor. As far as trees go, their mature height of 6 to 10 feet might fit the bill of a crop for a small space -- but don’t ask an inhabitant of Lilliput Island.