There are lots of advantages to apartment living, but a yard of your own is not typically one of them. That’s no reason to give up on the idea of your very own garden, though. Urban gardening makes use of containers and vertical space to grow crops like tomatoes, radishes, lettuce and other greens — even deep soil crops like sweet corn. A little planning and an assortment of containers of different sizes and depths are all you need to set up your apartment garden “plot” on your balcony or porch.
In general, the larger the container, the more crops you can grow. You’ll need varying depths, too. For example, some crops — chives, basil, radishes, and lettuce — will do just fine in fairly shallow containers that will hold 4-5 inches of soil. Other crops like onions, mint, peas, garlic and bush beans, will need at least 6 inches of soil to thrive. For things like pole beans, carrots, chard, peppers, parsley, and rosemary, you’ll need deeper containers able to hold at least 9 inches of soil. Finally, if you’re ambitious enough to try urban gardening for your own bed of sweet corn, potatoes, summer squash, beets or broccoli, you’ll need at least a foot of good soil and a longer, rectangular container. Pay attention to seed packets or plant picks for specific instructions on spacing and other requirements.
Speaking of soil, it’s best to stick with soil that’s meant for outdoor containers, and which you can find at most garden stores and even in the gardening departments of the big box stores. You can buy container soil that’s fortified with plant food, or mix in some organic fertilizer or manure when you plant.
A variety of containers of different heights, widths, and shapes will afford you the most flexibility. Make sure that they have drainage holes. If not, you’ll need to drill a few holes in each container so the roots of your plants are sitting in water at the bottom of the pot.
Seed or Plants?
If you decide to go with seeds, it’s a good idea to get your urban gardening plants established under indoor grow lights and then transplant the seedlings into your containers. Otherwise, hit a garden store for a variety of herbs and vegetable plants that are generally priced at two to three dollars apiece.
Make sure that you plant seedlings with compatible needs together. You don’t want to end up with a plant that needs lots of water paired with something that needs a lot less to thrive. Ditto for sun/shade requirements.
How Much Sun?
Most plants require at least 6 hours of sunlight a day to thrive. If your urban gardening space doesn’t get that much, you’ll either have to stick with varieties that can do with less, or consider putting your containers on casters so that you can move them around to follow the sun as it moves throughout the day. When you’re gardening on a balcony or a porch, you’ll have to consider things like adjacent buildings that might shade a sunny area at certain times of the day. If you’re not sure how much sun your garden area will get, you can get a “sun calculator“, a gadget that measures how much sunlight is actually hitting a particular container.
Here’s one that’s in expensive and has been very favorably reviewed on Amazon, that also measure PH and moisture:
If you’ve got a really sunny balcony or porch on which to start your urban gardening, most of your plants will be happy there. However, bear in mind that some plants, (lettuce, for example) can’t take extreme heat and sun all day. So if you plan to grow more delicate crops, you may have to consider a way to partially shade them.
The same advice applies to wind. It won’t bother most plants, but some will suffer and even die if exposed to too much wind on a regular basis. You can mitigate the effects of a windy site by placing containers with wind-tolerant plants in front of those that are more fragile, and keeping the more delicate plants lower to the ground, thereby creating a windscreen of sorts. Another thing to consider in windy conditions is the fact that wind dries out plants as quickly as the hot sun does, so you may want to consider a drip irrigation system that will provide a steady supply of moisture to plants.
You’ll need a good watering can or drip irrigation system, of course, and you’ll also need something for upward-growing plants like tomatoes to climb on and/or be supported by, so figure that into your budget. And bear in mind that if hand-watering is your chosen method, there will be days when you may need to water plants at least twice, if not three times, a day if they’re exposed to lots of sun or wind. Mulching your containers can help keep soil from drying out as quickly. You want to keep your apartment garden looking as fresh as can be.