Member Login

Premium Content

6 Ideas for Small Urban Landscapes

Urban landscapes aren’t as limiting as you think. Columnist Craig Crabow presents six simple ways to make a small landscape lush and full of life. 

Do you have a tiny yard (or “green patch” may be more like it)? Here’s the knowledge you need to make the most of a small outdoor space.

1. Scale it Down.

Let’s be real: large plants, like huge oak trees, are not going to flourish in a crowded space – not to mention they’ll eat up your outdoor living space! Go for small, ornamental shrubs and trees that stay petite and take longer to reach their mature size.

2. Embrace the Light Scarcity.

Unless this is a rooftop space, chances are you’re going to be low on light. Urban areas have tall buildings with less space in between. That makes for shady landscapes. Look at shade to partial shade plants. There are a lot of beautiful ones out there!

3. Pot it Up.

Lots of concrete or paved area and not much grass or plantable area in your outdoor living area? Put things in pots. What’s great about planters is that they give you the freedom to put a plant where you like it (as long as the light conditions in that spot are right for the plant) and you have control over the soil quality, quantity and drainage. Plus, it’s mobile! Move it around to catch just the right light. When the cold season hits, you can take the plant in and enjoy it all winter. 

4. Go Vertical.

Think planter stands that stack plants upward or wall planters. Linear features give the space rich depth without cutting down on your living area. Have a beautiful brick wall or privacy fence? Consider training a plant up the vertical surface – maybe with the help of lattice or wire.

5. Choose One Main Focal Point.

Clutter makes any space feel smaller. So keep your focal point minimal and maybe central. Get creative. Consider a water feature, a large plant or a piece of artwork like a sculpture. Then add seating and you’re good to go. 

6. Details, Details.

Add nice little touches in unexpected places to turn a small outdoor space into a magical place. Have a stone wall? Plant hens and chicks between the stones to soften up the feel of the hard surface. Grow a (non-invasive) climbing vine in a utilitarian corner or on a chain link fence to add life and charm. Cracks in the patio? Instead of fighting weeds all season, plant a ground cover in that crack for an ornamental hint of green in an otherwise all-concrete area. 

Craig Grabow is the manager and staff horticulturist/arborist at Central Lawn Care. He is the treasurer of the Kentucky Arborist Association and president of the Fort Mitchell Tree Board. He graduated from the University of Kentucky with a degree in plant and soil science.

Image via Toa55 at