Written by Alexandra Grant-Hudd, Grant Writing and Development Intern
When I think of a garden, my mind travels to a wide open green space, full of colorful flowers and edible plants. Growing up, I was privileged enough to have access to an amazing backyard space that my parents would spend hours upon hours cultivating. But when I turned 18 and moved out of my childhood suburban home to attend university, I was lucky to find an apartment with a balcony, let alone a full backyard.
In the United States, and across the globe, most people do not have access to outdoor gardening spaces. If this sounds like you, don’t worry, you can still grow some of your favorite flowers, fruits and vegetables with extremely limited space. Whether you live in a big city, apartment complex, or high rise building, keep reading for some tips on how to create an organic container garden without a backyard!
- Take a moment to evaluate the space you have
Before you rush to your local nursery, think critically about the space you have and how you want to use it. If you have a small balcony, measure that space and take note of how much direct sunlight it gets throughout the day. Certain plants require more sunlight than others, so it’s important that you invest in the ones that will thrive in your space. Only have a windowsill to work with? Research plants that do well in smaller containers with limited room to grow.
Taking stock of what you have to work with will save you time and money in the long run!
- Choose your materials
If you’re committed to growing organically, opt for an organic potting mix found at your local gardening store. Unfortunately, like most organic items, organic potting soil can be on the expensive side. If you’re interested in cutting down costs and making your own soil mixture, follow the Organic Terrace for detailed instructions.
When it comes to choosing a container, the general rule of thumb is that bigger is better. Plants thrive when their root systems have room to grow. If you’re growing on a balcony, patio, or windowsill, water drainage can be an issue. Play it safe by placing a water tray underneath your pots to catch excess water. If you’re wondering about shape, materials, and sizes of containers for specific crops, go to Grow it Organically! for a breakdown of container types most suited for your needs.
Fertilizer may be worth investing in, especially as potted plants often lack the beneficial microorganisms found in ground soil. Again, organic is better. Staying away from chemical fertilizers like Miracle Grow will not only benefit soil and plant health, but will ensure that you aren’t ingesting chemicals from your edible plants. You can find organic fertilizers at your local nursery, but if you’re interested in trying some DIY fertilizers, check out The Practical Planter, which is a great resource for homemade fertilizer.
- Plant what you can indoors
Even if you have an outdoor patio or balcony, save your outdoor space for bigger plants and look to first utilize sunny indoor window sills for smaller herbs and vegetables. Most herbs and vegetables require at least six hours of sunlight per day, so it’s best to utilize a south facing window if you have one. Herbs like dill, parsley, oregano, and thyme are all great options for an indoor garden. Microgreens can also thrive indoors with little maintenance. Surprisingly, even larger fruits and vegetables such as scallions, peppers, carrots, bush beans, lettuce, cucumbers, and radishes can be grown successfully indoors. Make sure to do some research about the plants you’re trying to grow, and accommodate their needs as best as you can.
- Get creative!
To maximize limited outdoor square footage, think of ways to most effectively utilize vertical space instead. Vertical wall planters, trellises, mounted planter boxes, stack planters and hanging baskets all can provide ample space for beautiful flowers and yummy produce. Climbing plants like honeysuckle, clematis, trumpet vines, Chinese gooseberry, and edibles like gourds and beans are beautiful plants that grow upward, provide an appealing aesthetic to your outdoor spaces and add privacy.
Hopefully by now it’s clear you don’t need a backyard to grow a garden. Start small, do your research, be patient, and before you know it your balcony, patio, or windowsill will be sprouting with luscious greenery!