When you think about apartment living, being able to garden isn’t usually the first thing to come to mind. While it’s easy to understand the appeal of a personal herb or vegetable garden – saving money on groceries, reducing your carbon footprint, a certain amount of bragging rights – usually gardening requires a certain amount of land that apartment living simply doesn’t have. While you may not be able to grow corn, watermelon, or other veggies that do need room to spread, there are plenty of herbs, fruits, and vegetables that can thrive in planters on an apartment patio or balcony. With the average last frost in Kansas City being in early April, now is the perfect time to start planning your own small garden!
Step 1: Do Some Research
You know what they say: Fail to plan, plan to fail. Unless you’re a seasoned gardener it’s a good idea to do a bit of research before going head-first into your patio or balcony garden. First, what kind of space do you have, and how much room can you dedicate to your garden? Also, how much sunlight does your space get? Many herbs only need a maximum of six hours of sunlight per day, but if your patio or balcony is always in the sun or constantly shaded you may have to rethink your plan. You should also have a good understanding of what planting zone you’re in so you know what types of plants will thrive (here in Kansas City you may have some problems growing tropical fruit, for example).
Step 2: Gather Supplies
Once you have a basic game plan you can start purchasing supplies. Things like planters and gardening tools can be bought any time in the year – keep an eye our for sales! – but unless you have a decent amount of storage space it’s probably best to wait to buy any potting soil. Keep in mind other items you may need, like a table if you don’t want all your pots in one level on the ground. Regarding planters, it’s easy to just go for the cutest items, but keep practicality in mind as well, thinking about the space itself and what will fit best.
Step 3: Buy the Plants
If you have a bit more gardening experience, you may opt to grow all your plants from seeds. However, there’s absolutely no shame in starting with seedlings. Seedlings are much heartier and easier to work with, not to mention that there’s a better chance of them growing and thriving, whereas seeds are known to not germinate properly or otherwise go bad before you’re able to harvest. You have many options on where to purchase seedlings, like the local farmers market or nursery, or even a chain hardware store.
Step 4: Plant
Now that you have your plan and supplies it’s time for the fun part! Make sure there’s no – or at least very low – chance of frost to give your plants the best chance of survival. Check the tags that came with your seedlings to make sure you know how deep to plant them, how far apart each plant needs to be, and how much sunlight and water they require. Fill your planters nearly all the way full with soil, dig out a small well for each plant, then gently place the seedlings in that well. If the roots are balled up carefully break them apart to encourage growth before planting. Fill in the wells then pour more soil over the roots and gently pack it down before generously watering each seedling.
Step 5: Upkeep and Harvesting
If all goes well, in a few short weeks you’ll be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor, so to speak! The seedling tags should also give you some harvesting tips, or you can do a quick online search if you’re not sure about plant maintenance or when to harvest. Some plants – especially herbs – will need regular pruning to encourage growth. For example, leafy herbs like basil and mint will need to be trimmed by the stem once they reach a certain height to become fuller and produce more over time. It’s also a good idea to think about preservation like drying, freezing, or preserving in oil, to make the most out of your produce even if you can’t use it right away.
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