If you live in an apartment, condo, or townhouse without a yard, you might think your gardening dreams are out of reach. But everyone can grow their own food! Here’s everything you need to know on how to start an apartment garden.
Since my teenage years, I’ve been dreaming of a cottage style garden filled with flowers and homegrown produce. But during the decade and more that I spent renting, that goal seemed far out of reach. When I finally bought a condo last year and it too was yardless, I felt pretty defeated. Accordingly, I thought I was shelving my homesteading dreams for a few more years.
But I was wrong. Over the past two years, I’ve made a major step toward self-sufficiency by growing dozens of plants with only a shady balcony and a sunny concrete slab. And I’ve learned a whole lot about how to start an apartment garden along the way.
Fortunately, you don’t need a large piece of property to easily produce your own food. And you don’t even need a yard. With a sunny spot, a few supplies, and a little bit of effort, you be growing more than you can eat in no time. All year, I’ll be sharing all that I’ve learned in my Apartment Gardening for Beginners series.
Though it’s tempting to buy the first enticing plants that catch your eye in the garden center, a bit of planning will go a long way toward making your container garden as productive as possible. Today’s tips are the steps you should take before you buy a single container or seed. Then start planning as early as you can!
How to Start an Apartment Garden: Getting Started
Start Planning Early
By all means, the best time to plan your garden is the dead of winter; chase away the winter blues with dreams of homegrown produce. But don’t despair if you’re just getting started in April, May, or even June! While you might not be able to rotate out your plants for multiple crops, but there’s still plenty you’ll be able to grow.
Check your HOA Rules
Chances are that if you live in a space without a yard, you’re living in an apartment, condo, or townhouse. In all of those cases, you probably have a Home Owner’s Association dictating where and what you can plant. First, look into the community’s rules and bylaws so that you won’t be forced to get rid of something you’ve put time, effort, and money into.
How to Start an Apartment Garden: Choosing a Location
Measure Your Space
How much surface area do you have to work with? Start by measuring it out, remembering to leave space for walking and watering. Above all, remember there are planters of all different kinds to help maximize your growing space.
Think Outside the Pot
Even if you only have a small balcony, you’ll be able to grow more than you might think. Container gardening doesn’t just (or even mostly) mean round, terra cotta pots on the ground. All of the following could expand your growing space to two or three times what you’d expect.
Strawberry planters (Great for herbs, too! Not self watering)
For most vegetables and some herbs, self-watering containers are preferable. For example, these large, self-watering containers from Patio Pickers are my favorite (I have nine of them!). And for smaller options, I’m a fan of the Lucca line from Bloem, which come in all different sizes, shapes, and colors.
Whichever containers you choose, make sure they have either a tube for watering and a spot for excess water to escape, like the Patio Pickers option, or a spout near the bottom, like the Lucca line from Bloem. While a lot of containers advertised as self watering have space to hold water in the bottom, they are still watered traditionally. This means you’d end up with the nutrient loss problems of a traditional planter, plus potential for root rot.
Don’t Forget About Sunlight
Is the space you’re working with covered by a roof? Shaded by a building? How much direct sunlight will it receive? Keep this in mind as you choose your plants, since it will affect which ones you’ll be able to grow.
How to Start an Apartment Garden: Choosing What to Plant
List Your Favorite Vegetables and Herbs
First, list every vegetable you can think of and use google to see what you’ve forgotten. Do the same with cooking herbs. Next, I recommend placing them in categories – ones you love, ones you like, ones that are just okay, and ones you’d never eat in any form.
After that, forget about the “nevers” and probably the “okays” altogether. The “likes” and “loves” will be your contenders for planting.
Rank Your Favorite Plants
Now, if you like veggies at all, you probably have too many “loves” and “likes” on your list at this point. So to narrow things down, we’re going to score them. First, give all the “loves” two points to start out and all the “likes” one point. Next add a point to each for any of the following questions you can answer yes about.
- Is it especially tasty when fresh? Peas and tomatoes are real standouts here.
- Is it expensive at the store?
- Can it be preserved in a way you love (canning, dehydrating, etc.) and that you would actually do?
- Is it a heavy producer? Tomato plants and cut and come again lettuce are a better choice than artichokes, for instance.
- Can you easily find a bush or cut and come again variety? These will allow you to produce more in a smaller growing space.
- Is it suited to the light in your growing space? Cucumbers need a lot. Leafy greens need little.
Figure Out What You Can Plant
Now that you have a ranked list, it’s a matter of figuring out the planting requirements for each plant. I highly recommend two books for figuring this out, The Vegetable Container Gardener’s Bible by Edward C. Smith and All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. While I may be biased, I think this blog is another great resource.
Seed packets and the markers that come with seedlings will make you think you need far more space than you actually do. Since you’ll be growing in nutrient dense soil with constant water availability, a square foot planting style will be best for maximizing productivity in a limited space.
How to Start an Apartment Garden: Sketch Your Design
Although it’ll take some figuring out, use all of this information to draw out the container garden you’re picturing. It doesn’t need to be fancy, but graph or even college ruled paper can help in keeping things to scale.
And with that, my gardening padawans, you’re ready to shop! May the green thumb be with you.