20 May No Ground Gardening: How to Start a Garden in an Apartment
No yard, no soil, no garden, right? Wrong!
With so many people moving into apartments, condos, and even townhomes, those of us who love to get our hands in the dirt find ourselves with a bit of a challenge — but when you love gardening as much as we do, no amount of soil (or lack thereof) will deter us.
Here’s what we learned from years of apartment living — if you find yourself in similar circumstances, take heart! You’re still a gardener.
1. Become a houseplant gardener. Towards the end of my 4-year tenure in the apartment, my space looked like a jungle. Tabletops, corners, and windows all had plants. Potted plants, hanging plants, floor plants, air plants — there are a ton of plants you can grow inside. Start with the tropical plants that take indoor conditions better than most, and go from there. The key is giving them the amount of light and water necessary for them to thrive, so you may need to experiment a bit.
2. Consider hydroponic or aeroponic systems. There’s amazing technology out there; be sure to use it! Even on my full acre now, I use an aeroponic tower garden where I grow a variety of greens and herbs. Look for systems that have grow light accessories so you can use it indoors — there is literally no reason at all why you can’t grow food if you don’t have an outdoor yard.
3. Take advantage of your balcony space. Ever seen those Pinterest images of European apartments? Even they have what’s called a “Romeo and Juliet” step-out balcony. If you have a balcony that ranges anywhere from a Romeo and Juliet to a full-on small living space, take advantage of it. The tiniest of balconies can feature over-the-rail planters with a cascade of flowers and vines, while larger spaces can host outdoor furniture, a small fountain, and potted plants. Yes, these plantings are higher maintenance than their in-ground counterparts, but you also don’t have the back-breaking work of moving soil and hauling materials. It’s a trade-off.
4. Grow vertically. We’ve already mentioned aeroponic tower systems, rail planters, and container planters, but don’t forget about wall planters. There’s a huge selection of ingenious wall planters now, many of which include water reservoirs for easy maintenance. Add them to your interior walls, or affix them to your exterior balcony/patio walls for additional growing space.
5. Join a community garden. If I’d have really missed digging in the ground when I was an apartment dweller, I’d have joined the nearby community garden. Do an Internet search with “your city + community garden” or “zip code + community garden” for a list of hidden gems right around the corner from you. You’ll meet other gardeners, get outside for some fresh air and hard work, and you’ll get to grow whatever you want to your heart’s content. As for me, I found that apartment gardening was a new and enjoyable challenge, and actually welcomed the break in strenuous outdoor work. (Hauling everything up 3 flights of stairswas another matter, though.)
6. Grow sprouts or microgreens. This is another fun and plant-geeky activity for those without yards. You can grow nutritious sprouts on your kitchen countertop and, while microgreens may require a simple grow light system, they are equally easy for the soil-less gardener.
Growing Tips for the Soil Challenged
- Be prepared to water more frequently. Plants in any kind of container dry out more quickly, particularly those in windy balcony or patio conditions. You may need to water daily, depending upon the plants you choose and your weather conditions.
- Be prepared to fertilize and amend soil as necessary. Use a good organic fertilizer for your potted plants, make or purchase compost tea, and commit to repotting houseplants regularly to make sure they get the nutrients they need.
- Look out below! If you have a downstairs neighbor, be mindful of when you water your balcony plants, particularly the rail planters. I once watered mine on a Saturday afternoon when my neighbors directly below me were cooking out on their balcony. We all had a laugh when they suddenly had drainage water dripping down, but it could have ended with frustration and angry words. Plan to water when there’s the least chance of impacting other residents.
- Remember drainage. Just with their in-ground relatives, plants in containers need good drainage. If you use decorative cachepots without drainage holes, remember to remove excess water quickly.