If you live in the city, you might be wondering whether urban gardening is an option for you.
The short answer? It is!
However, you’ll have to do a bit more planning and prep work than if you were to create a garden in the traditional rural setting.
Urban gardening presents its own unique set of challenges. Still, with a bit of tenacity and the right amount of planning, it can be done just as quickly and successfully as it could if you were living in the middle of nowhere.
Here is what you need to know.
What is Urban Gardening?
Urban gardening is simply gardening in the city or suburbs, compared to gardening in the traditional sense in the countryside.
If you plan to create a city garden, know that it need not be limited to just a few herbs on your windowsill. In fact, with a bit of creativity, you can easily create a large garden that meets all of your food needs.
From balcony gardens to patio gardens, rooftop terrace gardens to hydroponic arrays, there’s no shortage of options when it comes to all the things you can grow in an urban park.
Some of the best options for urban gardeners include:
- Vacant lot gardening
- Allotment gardening
- Community gardening
- Rooftop gardening
- Portable (container) gardens
- Hydroponic gardens
- Patio or balcony gardening
That’s just a brief list of everything you can do in an urban garden, of course – in reality; your urban garden can be whatever you want it to be! You need to be willing to be creative – and to get your hands dirty, of course!
Urban Gardening: What Can You Grow?
You can grow just about anything you want in an urban garden, just on a smaller scale, of course. Don’t plan on increasing acres of sweet corn in your garden since this obviously will not be possible.
Instead, start small and consider growing leafy greens and herbs to get started. These will be much easier to manage if you don’t have a lot of space, especially if you are inexperienced in the world of gardening.
Once you gain more experience in the garden, you can branch out and grow anything you’d like. Your only limitations are how much space you have available and which fruits, vegetables, and other crops you enjoy eating.
Some good plants to consider growing in your urban garden include space-saving picks like:
- Salad greens
- Root vegetables (like turnips, radishes, and carrots)
- Green onions
- Summer squash
How Do You Make An Urban Vegetable Garden? Tips to Get Started
Ready to start your verdant oasis in your very own backyard? Here are some tips to help you get started.
1. Survey the Urban Gardening Space
No two spaces are exactly alike, so it’s a good idea to begin your urban garden by taking a close look at your area through the eyes of a plant. You’ll need to consider light exposure, first and foremost.
Do you have access to light, and if so, how much and from what direction?
If you can take advantage of south-facing window sills, balconies, or front yards, that’s best, especially if you’re in the northern hemisphere. Your plants will have light all day long and plenty of it.
However, if you don’t have south-facing light exposure, that’s fine, too – you can grow shade-tolerant plants instead.
Of course, growing indoors in containers or under grow lights is always an option too.
2. Decide on the Best Growing Method
Once you’ve figured out the best space for your plants, you need to decide on the best growing method.
This might be determined by the area in which you plan to grow your plants – for example, if your only good spot in terms of light exposure is on the back balcony, you might be forced to grow in containers.
If you have no excellent light exposure at all, then indoor growing is probably going to be the best bet for you.
If you are lucky enough to have any outdoor space, raised beds might be your best bet. These will give you the most room for your urban plants to thrive, and you’ll have excellent control over the growing conditions, too.
Choose untreated wood whenever possible – redwood and cedar are good options. You can also buy a premade raised bed kit, if that’s an option where you live, or build one out of materials like brick or cement.
Another excellent option for the urban gardener is to grow in containers. Containers will allow you to move your garden around to wherever makes the most sense at the given time. You can also bring them indoors.
No matter what kind of material, size, or shape you choose for your containers, make sure they have excellent drainage. Containers tend to leach nutrients and water more quickly than in-ground counterparts, but they also can be prone to becoming waterlogged if they don’t have drainage holes built-in.
If the containers you buy don’t have suitable drainage holes, punch a few holes in the bottom just in case.
A vertical garden is another option. Although this method works best for trailing edibles or vining plants like peas, strawberries, and squash, it can be an option for just about any kind of plant. I
t saves space and allows you to maximize vertical space, which urban gardeners tend to have more of (skyscrapers, anyone?) instead of horizontal acreage.
Indoor gardening is yet another option. You aren’t just limited to houseplants, either.
You can grow herbs, sprouts, and even microgreens indoors. Take advantage of gardening under grow lights, hydroponics, and even aquaponics if you want to grow indoors!
Balcony and Rooftop Gardening
Last but not least, balcony and rooftop gardening are two other options for urban apartment dwellers. Just be aware of how height can impact the health of your plants – they tend to be exposed to more intense sun and higher winds. Water access can sometimes be an issue, too.
This is a great option for urban gardeners who don’t have a lot of space – and perhaps are living in apartments – yet still want to be able to reap all the benefits of gardening. In many cases, balcony and rooftop gardening integrate other techniques, like container gardening or vertical gardening.
3. Double Check the Ordinances
For the most part, most cities and large towns have few restrictions on urban gardening (urban chicken keeping, on the other hand, is another can of worms entirely!).
The only exceptions are if you are part of a homeowners association or any ordinances related to hedges or fence heights.
Some cities may restrict certain types of watering while others forbid grass from being over a certain height. You’ll also need to pay attention to laws regarding hell strips – these are the areas that exist between the street and sidewalk. They usually belong to the city by law, but you are required to maintain it.
Backyard compost piles in the backyard can sometimes be regulated by the city, too, so do your research before you plant to know what you are allowed to do (and, more importantly, what you are not).
4. Gather Your Equipment
Urban gardening requires the same type of equipment as gardening in rural locales. Depending on what kind of garden you decide to grow, you’ll need gear like:
- Gardening containers
- Potting soil and compost
- Plant markers
- Gardening gloves
- Watering can and irrigation supplies
This list is not exhaustive, of course, but it should be enough to give you a basic idea and help you get started!
5. Get Growing
Now that you have all the supplies you need, it’s time to start growing your urban oasis! Here are a few essential tips.
Choose the Right Container
If you’ve decided to grow your urban garden in a container, you need to make sure you have the right one to meet your goals. If you have a sunny window, a window box planter is a great idea. For a larger plant, like a tomato, you’ll need a larger container.
When weight is a concern, choose a fabric planter. This kind of container is easy to move and won’t collapse under the weight (but can collapse when not used for easy storage).
Tomatoes and peppers generally require five-gallon containers, while smaller plants like leafy greens, carrots, and radishes will do just fine in one-gallon pots.
All About Potting Soil
When planning for your urban garden, make sure you have the right kind of potting soil, too. You don’t want to use dirt from outside, especially if you live in the city, where soil can easily be contaminated by chemicals and other types of urban runoff.
Instead, choose a potting mix that’s composed of lightweight growing media like bark, perlite, and peat moss, along with compost. It would help if you had something that’s fertile, light, and quick-draining.
You can start your urban garden from seedlings that you buy at the store, but the far more economical option is to start seeds indoors. They take a longer time to reach maturity but will allow you to save money.
You can even direct seed some types of plants such as carrots and peas. Read the instructions on the seed packet for more specific planting information but know that usually, you should plant a hole that is twice as deep as the size of the seed for best results.
Caring For Your Plants
Once your seeds are planted, all that’s left to do is care for your plants. Check on it every day, but know that watering isn’t required every single day.
To see if it’s time to water, insert your finger into the soil. It should be allowed to dry out between waterings just a little bit – though seedlings and new transplants need the ground to remain moist at all times.
You may wish to fertilize your plants during the growing season. You can use a store-bought fertilizer or homemade compost – the choice is yours!
Other than that, keep an eye on your plants for pests. You can remove most by hand, and for severe infestations, a diluted organic insecticidal soap should do the trick.
6. Get the Community Involved
As they say, it takes a village – and there’s no better way to garden in the city than with the people around you. Suppose you’re interested in reaching out to other gardeners to learn from them and grow your community.
In that case, you might want to start a shared gardening experience, also known as a community garden.
These are designed for growing vegetables, fruits, and other plants. You can use the garden to grow plants for your own family or support a food bank, shelter, or food mission.
Gather some information by attending information sessions on community gardens at your local library – or consult your local cooperative extension office for more details on how you can start a community garden in your very own city.
What Does an Urban Gardener Do?
Urban gardening offers so many benefits to both novice and experienced gardeners alike. It can serve as a small extension of your home and a reflection of your life, giving you a place to relieve your stress and reconnect with nature.
It can also provide enough food to support your entire family if you’re good about planning out your space and crops to provide the best possible yields.
You can easily make use of season extenders like cold frames and row tunnels to extend your harvest and make it possible for you to grow crops even in inclement weather.
Above all, growing an urban garden is a great way to connect with Mother Nature and to savor everything the wild has to offer – even amid your very own urban jungle!
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