“a consumer reports for the cheap” — the new york times
Home » blog

Cheap Gardening

Apartment Agriculture: Tips for the Frugal Urban Gardener

Subscribe
Posted on 4/10/2012 21:29 EST

City living has its perks, but a backyard garden is usually not one of them. Urbanites can still reap the benefits of cheap gardening and growing their own food by knowing the best plants for apartments and small spaces. Avoid having to buy expensive organic produce or fresh flowers by purchasing cheap seeds instead.


Photo by sxc.hu/nicci
Start by finding a container for your plant or container garden. No need to shell out for fancy stone pots or stained wood planters. Clay and terra-cotta containers are cheap yet look elegant. Any container can become a flowerpot. A coffee can is the perfect size for growing herbs and can be disguised and decorated. Kitty litter tubs, wooden pallets, old toolboxes, and even vintage tea kettles can be used as unique and cheap plant containers.

Next, figure out what grows best in your space. If all you have is a ...

Windowsill.

That two feet or so of sunlit space is enough to grow a variety of fresh herbs. Ever-so-useful basil, parsley, and thyme grow easily in small pots or containers as long as they get sunlight and good drainage. If you cook often, branch out to other herbs such as rosemary, thyme, and oregano; just make sure you group them by how much water they require. Many stores, including grocery stores such as Trader Joe's, sell containers of multiple herbs growing in one compact pot; these make great starter kits for cheap gardening. Growing your own fresh herbs is cheaper than buying them in the supermarket (not to mention tastier than turning to the dried herbs in the spice aisle).
Article continues below

For a small space, try a small tree: the bonsai tree. These beautiful miniature trees come in many different looks, from dense and gnarled to sleek and minimal, and all are interesting enough to be living apartment decorations. Many varieties, such as Baby Jade bonsai trees, thrive indoors with enough sunlight.

For a low-maintenance indoor plant, try one from Apartment Therapy's list of apartment-friendly plants. The dracaena or "limelight" plant not only brightens your apartment with its bright green leaves but also helps purify the air.

Terrace.

A terrace or balcony that affords an apartment dweller a sliver of outdoor space is more than enough room for some vegetables. Try growing plants with shallow root systems such as radishes, alfalfa sprouts, and lettuce. For spaces that are shaded by neighboring buildings, try spinach and kale.

Deeper containers that measure at least one foot in height broaden the cheap gardening possibilities and can make your balcony feel more like a backyard. Beans, carrots, and eggplant can all be grown in containers that fit on a terrace. Roses can also thrive as long as they are in containers at least 14 inches deep. Roses are especially good for apartment balconies because they need some protection from the midday heat.

Rooftop.

Urban rooftops often serve as the equivalent of backyards, so if you're lucky enough to have one at your disposal, turn it into a garden oasis. Many common fruits and vegetables grow well in large containers, so you can grow a complete salad.


Photo by sxc.hu/Snickup
Cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, and squashes all need room to grow horizontally and vertically, so large containers suit them best. They each have different spacing requirements, so don't overcrowd your pots. Also, make sure they're placed in ideal sunlight conditions, whether that's direct sunlight or shade.

Mini or midget fruit trees can also grow on rooftops and other small spaces. Citrus trees -- orange or lemon -- thrive in sunny Southern climates, while apple and pear trees may be better suited to Northern climates. Berries, particularly strawberries, can grow easily in smaller spaces.

Community Garden.

Urbanites with green thumbs but no space may be able to rent plots at local community gardens. With a "real" garden area, even city dwellers can do some cheap gardening and harvest their own organic (and very local) fruits and vegetables. When choosing which plants to grow in your garden, consider your region's climate, the amount of sunlight and shade, drainage, and soil condition. Then sit back and enjoy your bounty.


Filed in: Gardening, Home and Garden, Outdoors
Cheapism.com on Facebook