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URBAN GARDENING: Interplanting makes the most of small food gardens [VIDEO]

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Interplanting is a great way to save space in your garden. Video by Jason Margolis.

Our garden is jam-packed right now. The tomatoes are showing no signs of slowing down and our summer kale is chest-high. We’re still planting salad greens each week. Our true winter crops, like curly kale, leeks, parsley and parsnips are happily coming into their own.  

This time of year marks a crucial transition in the garden. While our small backyard has been overproducing since June, the slightly colder evenings at this time of year are a reminder that fall is around the corner.

As August draws to a close, we’ve been focusing on getting remainder of our winter crops into the ground. That can be challenging because many of our summer plants are still going strong. I recently removed our zucchini plants, even though they were producing, in order to make space for fall chard seedlings. It was kind of sad, but the plants were showing signs of stress and our freezer is completely full of frozen summer squash.

Urban gardens are small by definition. In order to master the art of growing food in the city, we need to master the art of creating space. Want to eat carrots in February? You might need to take your cucumber plants out now, even though they have a few flowers. They’re slowing down anyway. Getting comfortable with taking plants out is one of the key tasks to master as an urban gardener.

Another space-saving technique I’ve focused on this year is interplanting. It’s the art of planting small crops in between larger crops to get a higher yield from your garden. Interplanting is an “advanced skill” that’s best for gardeners with at least a couple of years of experience, because if it’s not done well, your garden can turn into an overgrown mess pretty quickly. However, for those who want to take their gardens to the next level, interplanting can be a joy. Watch the video above to see how we do it in our garden.

How to save space in your garden with interplanting.Leeks are a slow-growing crop, so grow small greens between the rows to get more out of your small urban space. Photo by Rebecca Cuttler.

Save space in your garden with interplanting: general recommendations

  1. Make sure your soil is rich and fertile. Add extra compost and an organic granulated fertilizer at the time of planting.

  2. As a rule of thumb, pair small greens with larger non-shading plants.

  3. Sow your seeds in small pots rather than directly in the ground, and transfer them to the garden once they have their first true leaves.

  4. Try to pair companion plants, such as those in the “recipe” list below, and combine a slow-growing crop with a fast-growing one.

  5. Keep everything neat and tidy, use mulch if possible, and harvest your crops regularly.

Interplanting “recipes”
Here are some combinations that have worked well in our garden:

  • Lettuce, basil, parsley or carrots under tomatoes. Tomatoes don’t cast much shade and don’t mind having their roots disturbed, making them a great choice for interplanting. I’m especially fond of growing parsley with tomatoes, since parsley is my favourite winter crop and can happily hang out until I’m ready to remove the tomatoes.

  • Lettuce or mescluns between rows of leeks or garlic. I’m a big fan of home-grown leeks and garlic, but their long growing season can tie up a lot of space. Because of their upright growth, leeks and garlic are great for interplanting with small greens, like lettuce or mesclun mixes. Just be sure to “hill up” the soil around your leeks first.

  • Arugula under kale. This one’s tricky but can be really cool. If you have baby winter kale plants in your garden, try planting a smaller fast-growing brassica, such as arugula, in between. Eventually, the kale will get big and shade out the smaller crop, but while it’s small, the two can grow happily together. By the time the kale gets big, the arugula will already be established, and the shade from the kale will actually help prevent the arugula from bolting.

On a different note, it’s too early to plant garlic, but now’s a good time to order it from your favourite seed catalogue before it sells out. This low-maintenance crop is an urban garden favourite. It can even grow in a large pot!

Rebecca Cuttler is an urban gardening teacher, member of the Vancouver Food Policy Council and board member of the Environmental Youth Alliance. She blogs about urban food gardening at

How to save space in your garden with interplanting.

Tomatoes don’t cast much shade, so they’re a perfect crop for interplanting. Try pairing them with lettuce, basil, carrots or parsley. Photo by Rebecca Cuttler.

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