Just because you live in an apartment or other space that doesn’t have a yard, it doesn’t mean you can’t grow your own outdoor summer flowers, herbs or vegetables. It just means you need to be a bit creative in how you go about doing it, particularly if you’re in a congested urban environment, like New York City, for example. If you live near a community garden with available space, that may be an easy solution, especially if you are also seeking camaraderie from fellow gardeners. Otherwise, you need to consider container gardening in or proximate to your living space.
Don’t let the fact that you may be new to the world of gardening scare you. Anybody can grow just about anything, armed with a little knowledge and confidence. And while full sunlight is crucial for many plants, though there are some beautiful shade-loving varieties you can grow instead. However, what’s not optional is water; plants need water, though there are self-watering containers available which can ease the burden on those with busy schedules.
Where to Grow the Garden?
Before you can decide what to grow, you need to figure out what space and conditions you have available for that purpose. Possibilities include:
- Terrace or porch
- Fire escape
- Windows that support flower boxes.
- Roof top
- Outside wall space
If you have multiple options, it makes sense to choose the sunniest spot to maximize your plant possibilities. Please be aware that exposed, windy locations are not ideal.
What do you Want to Grow?
Next, what do you want to grow in the space available? Here are a few examples of favorite plants that are easy to grow in pots—sorted by different light conditions. Bear in mind there are thousands of plants from which to choose, depending on where you live, so you should do your own research and due diligence to learn more. If possible, you may also want to consider flowering plants that attract pollinators important to our environment.
Full Sun (more than 6 hours/day)
Herbs: Basil, rosemary, cilantro, thyme, oregano, dill, sage
Veggies & Fruit: Tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, spinach, cucumbers, radishes, kale
Annual Flowers: Geraniums, daisies, marigolds, sunflowers, blanket flowers, zinnias, asters
Note: “Cool weather” leafy plants such as lettuce, arugula and chard can be grown in an area that doesn’t quite get full sun. Lettuce prefers coolish temperatures and grows best in spring and fall.
Partial Sun (3-4 hours/day)
Herbs: Parsley, mint, chives
Veggies & Fruits: Blueberries, alpine strawberries,
Annual Flowers: Nasturtiums, snapdragons, forget-me-not, baby blue eyes, bachelor’s buttons
Colorful Plants & Flowers: Coleus, hydrangea, ivy, fuchsia
Whatever venue and plants you choose, we recommend starting out small at first so you have a manageable inventory of plants to care for, increasing your chances for success. In addition, you should take notes and snap photos so you can learn from your mistakes and build on your knowledge next spring.
One thing you might want to consider is planting a succession of early, mid and late season “crops”, thereby ensuring a pleasing steady harvest schedule. Check out our popular herb and vegetable collections for additional ideas.
Choosing Containers for Plants
You’re undoubtedly familiar with the ubiquitous terra cotta planters you see everywhere and might be tempted to use them yourself. While we agree they’re certainly attractive, we think there are better, choices which won’t dry out as quickly and aren’t as heavy. Containers made out of wood are also attractive and don’t dry out like terra cotta, but they are relatively heavy as well and don’t last over time. A good alternative is recycled plastic containers designed to look like ceramic or fabric pots. It should go without saying that the container should have drainage holes in the bottom and should have an appropriately sized saucer underneath to retain and return excess water.
As mentioned earlier in this piece, there are self-watering container systems available which make a lot of sense, particularly for people with erratic schedules. Using them, not only do you ensure your plants’ roots get consistent moisture, you can avoid overwatering which can be as problematic as letting plants dry out.
Depending on what plants you have decided to grow, the size and shape of your containers is very important. Vegetables require larger, deeper containers; herbs can be planted in smaller containers. Lettuce is very shallow-rooted so it would be best in a shallow, broad container. The bigger the better, is our recommendation, depending on your space limitations. Instructions printed on your seed packets provide information on the plants’ space requirements. It’s a fun—and helpful way to discourage pests in some cases—to mix plants together, but make sure you do your homework first. For example, you can plant basil in with your tomatoes to repel flies and mosquitoes. Any herbs work well to protect lettuce as well. Some veggies don’t go well together, however, such as carrots and fennel.
Potting Soil & Fertilizer
For best results, use a commercial organic potting mix designed to retain moisture, with a some compost mixed in. You will also need to add some fertilizer at planting time; we recommend a granular, all purpose organic formulation. From there on out, the plants will benefit from weekly feedings with a water soluble fertilizer. Remember, planting in containers is different than planting in soil that has been enriched by native organic material and organisms; you are the sole supplier of necessary nutrients to the container.
Container Gardening: Pleasing Payoff
Container gardening sounds cool and looks cool when you see or hear about other people doing it. And, once you have planted a few containers of your own, you will realize that it IS cool—and very gratifying. The feeling of being able to grow some of your own food is hard to put in words—maybe because it touches some primal urge, or at least elicits a measure of indescribable pride.