Home Mini Garden - Good Choices

Updated on August 13, 2013
V.G. asks from Lake Villa, IL
5 answers

Hello Moms,

We moved into new house comes with a back yard and everything. WE also have a small section in yard that we want to use as home garden. WE are in Chicago and cold weather. Please suggest what are good options for us.

Also I do work over 60 hours a week so taking care of plants have to be quick - or fairly low maintenance.

Thanks in advance!

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answers from San Francisco on

Talk to the people at your local garden center, they will have the best advice and plant information for your particular area.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

How much sun or shade does the area get per day?
What sort of soil have you got? (sandy, clay, rocky, loamy?)
How much water?
Is it windy?
What is your grow zone?


Do you want to grow veggies, berries, herbs, flowers or ornamental plants?
Do you want annuals (they die off every year) or perennials (come back every year)?
With annuals, you can have a fresh look every year - it's easy to turn the whole garden bed over, mulch it and start fresh.
With perennials, they come back every year so you don't get as much variety and you might have to weed more because you don't dig the whole bed up as often.
Do you want bulbs/tubers (crocuses, tulips, hyacinth, iris, day lilies) (they tend to come back for a few years at least), do you have squirrels, rabbits or other wild life that would dig up your bulbs or eat your flowers?

With enough sun, almost anyone can grow tomatoes.
Some northern type blue berry bushes might do well (you need at least 2 bushes to cross pollinate well - use azalea plant food to feed them).
Mint will grow, BUT it's very invasive and you'll have to beat it back often otherwise it will take over your yard.

Check out your local nurseries and plant centers.
They'll be able to help you a lot!



answers from Seattle on

Peas, Lettuce and Spinach can be put into the ground as soon as it is workable and grow very well under almost any condition with little to no effort.

If you have a short growing season consider summer vegetables from starts instead of seed: tomatoes, zucchini or other summer squash (they make smaller bush varieties) and green beans are fairly easy and usually give you a good crop.

That's what I would start with and then you can add and experiment with things that you like.

Since it is pretty late in the season for the rest of this year I would work on soil enrichment. Work some compost into the soil and plant a cover crop like clover or alfalfa, which will enrich the soil's nitrogen content so you will need less fertilizer next year.

Good luck and have fun!



answers from New York on

Congrats on your move.
find out what growing zone you are in, and the relevant planting dates and the dates to harvest.
contact your county extension office, they will do soil testing to see if your soil is fit for growing.
consider putting in raised planting boxes with fresh soil and compost. weed blocker below, and weed blocker above. mulch well, install a passive watering system, even if that means upended 2 liter soda bottles.

easy plants are probably herbs, tomatoes, zucchini, and certain leaf lettuces. people have a lot of luck with peppers and cuccumbers too. don't plant anything you aren't fond of eating, because, hey what's the point.

to make things easier start with seedlings, not seeds, leave adeqate room between plants and room between rows.

start small with say no more than 3 plants of each of 6 sorts, for a total of 18. If it proves manageable and easy, you can always expand to more plants or more varieties next year.

good luck to you and yours,
F. B.


answers from Boston on

Sounds great - just realize that most gardens are not really low maintenance!

My neighbors have a small garden patch and do wonders with it - it's about 6 x 12 and every inch is used, which keeps the weeds down. They have a raised bed and a fence to keep out the rabbits (important!), and a soaker watering system. They are Israeli and really know how to get a lot out of a tiny patch without wasting water.

Add good soil and compost and mulch. And be sure you have a lot of sun - I used to have a garden here but then the trees grew in too much and it's kind

They have a trellis against the garage wall which supports beans and cucumbers, and the surrounding fence supports peas in the 4 corners (so they don't cast shade on the low-growing plants). Tomatoes in cages are in the back row too. They use cardboard collars to keep the cutworms from going right through the tender stems. By the time the cardboard rots from the rain, the tomatoes are strong enough.

They plant early crops around later crops. So they plant their lettuce in a little circle and stick a pepper, broccoli or cauliflower plant right in the center. By the time the weather gets hot and the lettuce is done and has bolted, the larger plant takes over the space. They just have a few of each kind of plant so the crop doesn't get overwhelming, and they grow a full salad with carrot and radishes and cukes and lettuce. The eggplant, peppers and tomatoes all hit around the same time, and that turns into grilled veggies, spaghetti sauce or ratatouille, things you can make in bulk and freeze as needed.

It's also fun to grow something you aren't used to - kohlrabi, for example, is delicious and mild, and fun to look at because the bulb grows above ground. And don't forget herbs like parsley and basil - whatever you like. If you grow mint, put it in a flower pot you sink into the ground because it completely takes over.

Melons and pumpkins take up a lot of space so you might want to skip those. Zucchini is a big plant and after a big rain you can always look under those huge leaves and find something that tripled in size! If you have a small space, you might skip that for the first year.

Planting marigolds around the outside can help keep the rabbits away - they don't like the smell. You can "dead head" the first faded blooms and that will help you get more flowers as the season wears on. They are a low maintenance flower.

These are all crops we grow here in the northeast and I think they will work for you in Chicago. You can buy seedlings at garden centers but you can also start seeds indoors to save money.

If you have room, get a compost bin with a lid - it's a great place to throw the trimmings off the plants as well as the peels and cores of kitchen waste, and that gives you free fertilizer in the form of compost the next year. You can throw in some grass clippings all year and some brown leaves in the fall to get a nice mix. I find this really really cuts down on my garbage and it makes me feel good to do it. You can put in stale or moldy bread, eggshells, and lots more - just not citrus and no meat/dairy. You get more decomposition if the compost bin is in the sun.

I'd spend this fall drawing out your plan and reading up on ideas, and go from there.

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