Tips for Starting an Apartment Garden

in Gardening on by

Whether you’ve got a certified green thumb and are lamenting your move to a yard-less apartment or you’re a longtime apartment dweller looking for a nature-friendly hobby, apartment gardening can be a rewarding way to spend some time, decorate your home, and maybe even grow something edible. This article shares a few tips for getting an apartment garden started.

Location is a primary concern for an apartment garden. Perhaps you have a small—or, if you’re lucky, medium-sized—patio or balcony. If so, that’s a great place to put some pots. Getting down and dirty won’t be as much of a problem outside, and the plants will also be able to absorb more sunlight. If you don’t have any outdoor space to speak of, putting some plants by your windows or growing highly shade-tolerant varieties are also good options.

The aesthetic

Just because you don’t have a garden plot to plant in doesn’t mean you can’t grow something beautiful or beneficial. Container gardening presents many options for growing a variety of plants, from asparagus to zinnias. It’s also a great opportunity to be creative. Almost anything can serve as a receptacle for soil with a modification or two. From overturned football helmets to watering cans to old boots, you can create a patio- or window-full of eclectic containers holding exciting plants. Even if you’re just using plain ol’ terra cotta pots, consider painting them in interesting ways to help liven up your balcony. Drainage holes are the main necessity for any container being used for plants. If you can’t or don’t want to put holes in a particular pot, think about how to fit a smaller container already equipped with drainage holes inside the pot in question. This can be a good way to hide the not-so-pretty plastic containers you might buy your plants in. You may have to empty the larger containers of water and clean them every so often, but it’s a small price to pay for having better-looking pots.

Consider style

And much as you planned a decorating scheme for your apartment itself, you’ll want to plan a decorating scheme for your garden. Should it be country? Cutesy? Modern and austere? Make sure your containers match each other, as well as your balcony’s general construction and the atmosphere of the rest of your house. If you have a colorful house with eclectic decoration, a dull garden with terra cotta pots will seem out of place. Likewise, if your house overflows with Victorian decor, a set of bright, funky flowerpots painted like cartoon characters might seem a bit out of place next to your Chippendale cabinet.

Eschew clutter

The multitude of exciting plant container possibilities might send you overboard, prompting a shopping spree at the nursery and quickly cluttering up your balcony. Before getting too involved, think realistically about what you can handle, both in terms of time and money. At the same time, you’ll want to remain conscious of any clutter that might develop in your small garden scheme. You may get very gung-ho about the container gardening thing, but that doesn’t mean your patio will look attractive or organized with 1000 tiny plants on it. Consider having a few larger “core” plants around which you can arrange some smaller ones. Larger plants are trickier to grow in smaller pots, but some, like the ever-popular Japanese maple, come in smaller or dwarf varieties and can be very happy in container situations.

Experiment

In addition to being practical for small spaces, container gardening is also convenient and beneficial in other ways. It allows for a lot of experimentation without a lot of investment. Instead of trying to purchase and cultivate enough of an interesting ornamental grass to cover a quarter of your backyard, you can just fill a medium-size container. You can also easily move your plants around to see what looks best, or which plants can provide shade (or thrive in it), all without the mess and uncertainty of constant transplanting. Come winter, you probably won’t need to cover, trim or transplant your entire garden—instead, you’ll just be able to lug some containers inside to brighten up your home.

Get wild

Keep in mind that, depending on their size, your containers by no means need to hold only one type of plant. Many plants thrive in symbiotic relationships with one another in nature, and you can replicate these beneficial pairings in containers. Furthermore, you can create beautiful arrays of color by joining different types of flowers in the same pot or window box. Your neighbors will gasp in envy over the rainbow of hues on your porch!

The practical

The size of your containers is important. Unless you’re growing seedlings or very small single plants, you don’t want to use containers that are particularly small. This will restrict the root system and negatively impact the plant’s growth. Remember, smaller containers retain less water than larger spreads of soil, so your container garden will require more frequent watering. You may want to look into layering some pebbles, mulch, or shavings over the soil to help keep in moisture.

Consider climate

Most types of plants can be grown in containers, but some varieties will thrive better than others. Annuals can be a good choice, as there’s less need to be preoccupied with the plants’ winter needs, and you can change things up with more frequency. Depending on your climate and commitment, plants designed for arid conditions like cacti and succulents can lend great variety and color to your container garden without requiring much watering or other care. You might want to grow herbs—small and very suitable for containers, they’re also practical and can be used (or even kept) in the kitchen.

Let’s stay together

Because container planting can bring plants together in close proximity, it’s a good opportunity to practice companion planting, which pairs plants that have beneficial biological relationships with one another. Most plants, especially those of a similar type (all herbs, or all flowers) and size, can get along reasonably well in the same pot. Companion planting is most beneficial for agricultural crops and food items, but can be done with flowers as well. One of the best known beneficial pairings is roses with garlic; do some research and see what plants go well with your favorite flowers, herbs, or small trees. Some plants (marigolds, for example) are also well-known as pest deterrents and can help protect all the other members of your small garden.

Going up?

A trellis or hanging pole is a great way to add more plants and additional depth to your small garden without taking up lots of space. If you don’t want to spend money on a shiny new trellis, consider making your own out of miscellaneous items. Many vines, like clematis, honeysuckle, or morning glory, can be trained to grow on a trellis. Some food plants, like beans, peas, and tomatoes, can also be staked to grow vertically.

Feeling generous?

If you’re not into growing vegetables for yourself, perhaps you’d like to grow a vertical plant like those described above, or maybe a small pot of strawberries, and donate the edibles produced to those in need. The Garden Writers Association of America has a program called Plant a Row for the Hungry that could help motivate you to really equip your garden to do something useful. Even if you don’t need the food, someone else might.

Showing off

Windowboxes, the quintessential feature of any perfectly manicured home, are also effective on balconies. They may be more accurately termed “railing boxes” in this case, but still provide a functional and attractive way to grow plants. Many windowboxes can be purchased online, at local gardening stores, or you can build your own if feeling ambitious. You may have the urge to clutter up your windowbox with lots of plants to create the traditional lush, full look, but don’t forget about the constraints of container gardening, and remember that these plants will require special attention to their water and space needs. Overcrowding puts plants in competition; it’s better to have three thriving plants than four struggling ones.

Dive in

Container gardening can also be a good opportunity to get into aquatic gardening. Digging a giant hole in the middle of your backyard (if you have one) to create a pond is a daunting prospect, but having a pot of aquatics on your porch can feel like a somewhat more manageable task. Get some floating plants, submerged plants, and emerging plants, and have a ball with unusual species. Keep in mind that your aquatic garden will be heavy even if it’s not very large, so make sure to situate it in a location you can commit to for a reasonable period of time. A great guide to aquatic container gardening is available at Water Gardening.

Bonsaiiiiiii!

Bonsai gardening is a relaxing and rewarding hobby, perfect for container or indoor gardening. You can start with the aforementioned popular Japanese maple and go from there. Whether pruning or just appreciating your small trees, you’ll rest assured knowing you have a unique and individualized garden.

Resources

We’ve seen that container gardening has as many or more possibilities as traditional gardening or landscaping. Whether you want to start out with a single potted violet or jump in feet first with an aquatic container garden, there are resources on the web and in print to help you out. Just a few of them are listed below.

Most gardening websites will have a section on container gardening, companion gardening, or both. These sites are good places to start in your garden adventure.

Garden Buddies

Garden Web

Garden

Garden Guides

Gardening About

HGTV

City gardening

Container gardening:

Suite 101

Garden Guides

Indoor Gardening

My Container Garden

Books on Container Gardening

Tabletop Gardens: Create 40 intimate gardens for the home, no matter what the season

Glorious Indoor Gardens

Urban Sanctuaries

Above all, have fun, and enjoy your container gardening experience!

16 Responses to “Tips for Starting an Apartment Garden”

  1. July 21, 2006 at 3:50 pm, Guest said:

    For those of us who are genetically built with nothing but lazy bones…there is also the perfect “apartment” garden…How does eating fresh lettuce, tomatoes, or gourmet herbs, sound? How about growing and eating them yourself, indoors, with no soil and virtually no maintenence? Thanks to the AeroGarden (hydroponic-home-garden.com), this is possible.

    Reply

  2. April 18, 2007 at 1:36 pm, Guest said:

    If you live in an apartment building with lots of children, then you may have to restrict your gardening to indoors only.

    I tried growing a small container garden outside underneath my window, but the four sons of the ——–speaking lady next door to me completely destroyed it. I came home from work one night to find that all of my plants had been pitched over the railing and were strewn all across the parking lot below. I knew instantly that the wind couldn’t have done it because even the heaviest pots were gone but none of the plastic saucers underneath were disturbed (if it were the wind, it would have taken them too). I went downstairs to the parking lot to see if anything was salvageable, but everything was ruined and although there were several big piles of potting soil and crushed plants everywhere, all of my pots were mysteriously missing. Later, one of the kids was bragging to another neighbor that he and his brothers had smashed all of my pots. I went over and calmly and politely confronted them about it. Not only did the kids admit to destroying my container garden, but they also didn’t really seem to understand why their actions were wrong. When I tried talking to their mother about their behavior, she acted like it was my fault for planting pots out there for her kids to get into in the first place.

    I guess that you can’t realistically expect children to have respect for other people’s property if their parents don’t have any respect either.

    Reply

  3. January 31, 2008 at 6:37 am, Guest said:

    Top stuff. It’s great to see an interest in apartment gardening.

    One problem though, on the porch and verandah, it can be exposed to the elements.

    In this case i recommend a mini greenhouse. Check out the article at apartment-gardening-homes.com

    Happy Gardening Marty

    Reply

  4. April 30, 2008 at 6:39 pm, Guest said:

    We live in a town house and are lucky enough to have a patio and a garden around our corner unit that we are allowed to take over. We are planting all types of herbs and veggies and lovin it. at least 6 or seven types of veggies and the same amount of herbs. We also have the occasional problems with kids walking on things, but we put up a small fence for a “Visual” barrier more than anything else and it seems to work. I can’t wait to really get into cooking with all our home grown food.

    Reply

  5. May 22, 2008 at 10:21 am, Guest said:

    im sure YOU wouldn’t have done that as a child right??
    my son would never do that.
    sounds like your naborrs
    SUCK

    Reply

  6. July 28, 2008 at 12:58 am, Guest said:

    Starting an indoor or outdoor garden can at times be a little tricky, but with good planning success can be at hand. One of the main problems with indoor plants is temerature control, some plants just can’t stand airconditioning or extreme temerature changes. You will need a good list of plants if you have airconditioning or heating, plants such as Philodendron -Sweet Heart Vine
    Sansevieria -Mother- In-laws Tongue
    Spathiphyllum -Madonna lily, Peace Lily do extremely well in these conditions. For more great indoor plant tips go to: http://www.apartment-gardening-homes.com/easyindoorplants.html

    This website- http://www.apartment-gardening-homes.com/index.html is extremely helpful to find all the Apartment gardening tips you need!
    Happy Gardening Marty

    Reply

  7. January 15, 2009 at 5:01 pm, Guest said:

    This gave me some great ideas. I’m starting a garden on the deck of my new apartment – the old one was in a basement and all the windows faced north! So I can’t wait for the 3 feet of snow out there to melt so I can get started on planning and arranging the layout! I’m chronicling the whole process on my blog

    Erin
    The 6×8 garden

    Reply

  8. May 07, 2009 at 11:55 am, Anonymous said:

    When your neighbors do that kind of stuff, destroying and vandalizing your property, it’s your responsibility to let the management know. They’re the ones who can do something about it.

    Reply

  9. May 18, 2009 at 8:55 pm, Bruce M said:

    I would have taken them to small claims court. There should be consequences for such behaviour.

    Reply

  10. March 03, 2010 at 2:03 pm, Five Ways to Celebrate Springtime in March | The Second Impulse said:

    [...] you can plant, but being able to have some fresh vegetables is better than none at all.  There are many sites that offer tips on how to have a garden with limited [...]

    Reply

  11. March 03, 2010 at 2:40 pm, Lauren B said:

    Check out http://www.apartmentgarden.net for simple gardening tips and tricks for urban living so you can grow plants, fruits, and herbs all year round in your apartment garden or other type of garden.

    Reply

  12. April 05, 2010 at 3:34 pm, Anonymous said:

    Just please keep in mind your neighbors want to enjoy the deck below yours. The woman living above me drowns her plants and thus my deck with water, fertilizer, god knows what else. It continues to drip for long periods of time making different portions of my deck unusable. Some people…

    Reply

  13. September 10, 2010 at 8:49 pm, Joshua said:

    We are planting all types of herbs and veggies and lovin it. at least 6 or seven types of veggies and the same amount of herbs.

    Reply

  14. October 25, 2010 at 11:28 pm, Potted Vegetable Garden said:

    Gidday Marty Ware here!
    I used to comment a lot here when I was the owner of apartment-gardening-homes.com, but I sold that and started a new site.
    Great to see this site is still around and doing well.

    At the moment I am trialing a miniature water melon that I purchased from Bunnings in Australia. The plant only grows up to one metre in length so the fruits will only be small.
    Will keep you all up to date
    Happy Gardening
    Marty, Karin and the Potted Vegetable Garden

    Reply

  15. November 09, 2010 at 11:27 pm, Growing Daylilies said:

    It’s always nice to have a garden especially when you work so hard at it. I always like to add a little color to the mix as well and mydaylilies.com make a great companion plant for the garden. A little known fact is that the daylily flower is edible so it makes a great garnishment for a fresh salad.

    Reply

  16. December 09, 2010 at 10:36 pm, Minimalist Gardening said:

    I agree with you on that, “Just because you don’t have a garden plot to plant in doesn’t mean you can’t grow something beautiful or beneficial.”

    As for my neighbors, they have resorted to growing along the corridor, so I’m kind of greeted with a “jungle” when I get back ^^

    Reply

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