Tired of mowing your front yard? Try harvesting it instead. A front-yard vegetable garden is one way to brighten up the block while adding healthy fare to your dining experience.
“We’re seeing a splurge of homeowners using their small front-yard garden space — formerly used for flowers — to grow vegetables and other edibles, such as herbs and fruits, because of the increasing desire to eat more locally produced and organic fruits and vegetables,” said Craig Jenkins-Sutton, co-owner of Topiarius: Urban Garden & Floral Design in Chicago.
Check your local ordinances first. Front-yard vegetable gardens are not legal everywhere. If you get the green light, bring out your green thumb.
You don’t have to live on a large lot to enjoy an awesome vegetable garden. Even those in cramped quarters may produce crops worth crowing about.
“The key is to maximize the available square footage and to take advantage of all the available sunlight,” said Jenkins-Sutton. “Most vegetables will require a minimum of four to six hours of direct light each day. To create the most productive front-yard vegetable garden, installing traditional raised beds on the ground and on front porches is an excellent strategy.”
Raised beds are ideal for front yards and porches because they allow for a significantly larger volume of soil than would otherwise be available in a small or confined area, providing ample space for growing a variety of vegetables, including tomatoes, zucchini, potatoes, eggplant, peas and beans, said Jenkins-Sutton.
For even smaller spaces, he suggested “pot-sized” vegetables that have been specially bred for tight squeezes, such as Tom Thumb tomatoes, Gold Nugget carrots and Spacemaster cucumbers.
Another benefit of raised beds is the ease of adding soil amendments to increase fertility and maximize drainage. If space doesn’t allow for raised beds, you may use any available container as an alternative, Jenkins-Sutton said. Be sure to add drainage holes, and because plants love soil, use the largest containers possible for the available space.
Planning Your Plots
For the ideal front-yard garden, the materials you use and the crops you choose are almost equally important. Improper materials can leach potentially harmful chemicals into the soil, Jenkins-Sutton warned.
“Natural stone or untreated and rot-resistant lumber, such as cedar, are good examples of products to choose,” he said. “Newer products, such as recycled decking products, are also options.”
As for containers, anything that will hold soil will work, he said. When working with containers, make sure the soil stays evenly moist and aerated, but not saturated or compacted, to allow the roots to get the oxygen they require.
Cassy Aoyagi, president of FormLA Landscaping Inc. in Los Angeles, recommended planning your plots around crops that have predictable rotations from season to season.
“For example, beans in the fall, lettuce in winter and eggplant in spring could be one dedicated plot,” she said. “Another could be radishes in the fall, broccoli in the winter and tomatoes in the spring. This strategy makes planning and harvesting the easiest.”
Squirrels love vegetable gardens. So do deer, rabbits and even family dogs.
Rabbits and pets may be held at bay with fencing, Jenkins-Sutton said. He suggested burying fencing at least six inches below the surface to keep rabbits from digging under, with openings kept to a minimum to keep them from squeezing through.
“Squirrels and deer are much more difficult garden adversaries,” he said. “Short of building a fence fortress around and over the entire garden, use a variety of deterrents, from organic sprays to sensors that trigger sounds/sprinklers when invaders get too close.”
Growing Good Neighbors
Front-yard gardens also serve a social function that can make you the hit of the ‘hood. For a “neighborly” garden, Aoyagi recommended planting close to the street instead of enclosing the area with greenery, as you might treat a more private area.
“If you really want to engage your neighbors, plant cherry tomatoes or berries that can be picked while passing by,” said Wendy Weiner, who teaches clients how to make attractive and functional gardens through her business, the Front Yard Farmer. “Plant something for this specific purpose, and put up a sign that says, ‘Yes, please pick the cherry tomatoes.’ ”
To stimulate passer-by curiosity, put up signs offering the names of specific plants or saying, “Guess what this is?” Another helpful sign, Weiner said, asks dog walkers to keep their pets out of your garden.
To be a good neighbor, keep your front-yard garden fully maintained, attractive and appropriate to the surroundings so it doesn’t become a neighborhood eyesore, Weiner said.
“I built raised bed boxes in my front yard for utilitarian reasons,” she said. “In doing so, I was able to lay them out in a way that I found attractive and balanced within a classic suburban yard. I like the way the wood has weathered. I wouldn’t paint them showy colors.”
If you want to add whimsical features to your garden, consider what they might look like when everything has died back. “I prefer to give the plants the leading role in the garden and let a well-tended plant stand on its own,” said Weiner. “Too many whirligigs and ornaments can be a distraction.”
The Veggies of Your Labor
“The most important thing to remember in front-yard vegetable gardening is to have fun,” Jenkins-Sutton said.
“Making a connection to where our food comes from, understanding the difficulties of food production, recognizing the taste and nutritional benefits of growing vegetables and, most of all, the satisfaction of the first vine-ripened tomato are invaluable lessons for people of all ages,” he said.