Even if you live in a tiny apartment, you should be able to grow plants. In addition to typical houseplants, certain herbs, fruits, and vegetables can thrive in an apartment garden. Start with just a few containers as you hone your gardening skills. Factors, such as access to sunlight and the sheer weight of your containers, need to be taken into consideration. Here's how to start your apartment garden off right.
How to Grow Plants in Apartments
While some plants are more hardy and forgiving to beginner gardeners than others, all plants have specific growing requirements that must be met. Here are some elements to consider as you're choosing plants to grow in your apartment garden:
Most fruiting and flowering plants need a full day of sunshine. That means six to eight hours of direct sun daily. This can be hard to come by in an apartment—especially in a city where tall buildings can block the sun for at least part of the day. Balconies and rooftops offer the best chance of full sun. If you're gardening on a windowsill, you can either choose plants that require less sunlight, such as certain salad greens and herbs, or you can add a grow light to mimic the sun's rays.
Plants depend on their soil for water, oxygen, and nutrients. Because your apartment garden will likely involve containers, you can't use ordinary garden soil because it will compact in pots, limiting access to oxygen and preventing water from flowing through. Thus, a well-draining potting mix is necessary. Potting mix is light and fluffy, efficiently circulating oxygen and water to keep roots healthy. And it's somewhat sterile, so you won't have to worry about bringing diseases or pests into your apartment.
Plants in containers need a lot of water, often multiple times a day. So choose a spot for your container garden that has easy access to a water supply. Carrying watering cans can get tedious, especially if you have several containers to keep watered. If it works for your setup, consider purchasing a hose that can be attached to a sink faucet. It’s handy when you need it, and it coils away when you don’t.
If you are growing your plants on an indoor windowsill, you might need to provide some extra humidity, especially when the heat is on. Spritzing the plants with a fine mist can help, or you can place the plants on a tray of water.
If your plants will be exposed to high winds, especially on a rooftop or a balcony, your containers might need some added protection. Wind can tear through leaves and overturn top-heavy pots. So provide a wind block, such as a screen or railing. Or make sure your containers are wide and heavy enough to anchor the plants.
Containers full of soil are heavy to begin with, and once they are saturated with water their weight can triple. Make sure your apartment garden location can handle the weight. Window boxes will need to be secured to the windowsill. And if you're gardening on a balcony or rooftop, check with your landlord or building board about weight restrictions.
Best Plant Choices for Apartments
You can grow just about any plant in a container to a certain extent. For instance, a full-size apple tree might be out of the question, but there are skinny columnar varieties that can fit in a one-square-foot corner of your balcony. Think about what you enjoy eating, and then choose a few types of plants to experiment with. You can start with seeds, which offer more variety and are cheaper. But small nursery plants will establish your garden sooner.
- Herbs: Although many herbs grow well in containers, they won't grow as large and bushy as they would outdoors in the ground. And you might have to replace your plants if you harvest frequently. But it is wonderful to have fresh herbs close by for cooking. Some top choices for apartment gardening include mint, chives, parsley, lavender, basil, and thyme.
- Salad greens: Salad favorites, such as lettuce, spinach, and arugula, are fast-growing, shallow-rooted plants. They're not overly fussy about their growing conditions, if they receive plenty of water.
- Tomatoes: Tomato plants can get large and heavy, but they grow well in pots. They will do best in a container that is at least 14 inches in diameter but even larger is better. You can grow the patio varieties in a hanging basket. Make sure you choose a dwarf or determinate variety of tomato.
- Chili peppers: If you like heat, hot peppers grow very well in pots, and they can set fruits year-round. You also can try growing sweet peppers in containers, but they typically don't do as well as hot peppers.
- Meyer lemons: Some of the easiest fruits to grow in a container are dwarf citrus trees. Meyer lemons do well indoors if they get six to eight hours of sun each day, along with some humidity. Put something underneath the pot to protect your floors and furniture, as lemon trees give off a sticky sap.
- Strawberries: A window box of strawberries is as beautiful as it is delicious. Strawberry plants generally need at least six hours of sun per day and consistently moist (but not soggy) soil to produce their best fruit.
Apartment Garden Care
There are certain tasks that you can expect to tend to regularly in your apartment garden, including:
- Watering: By far the most important gardening task is watering. Even if your garden is exposed to rain, that probably won't be enough water. The soil in containers dries out quickly, especially as your plant grows. Test the soil by poking your finger an inch or two below the surface. If it feels dry, you need to water.
- Feeding: You will need to feed your plants on a regular schedule, according to their individual growing requirements. A water-soluble fertilizer that can be added when you water is usually the easiest method. Also, note whether your potting mix has fertilizer already in it, as this typically will delay the need for you to feed your plants.
- Problems: Pests and diseases have a way of finding plants no matter where you grow them, and there are no natural predators for insects indoors. Inspect your plants for problems whenever you water them or harvest. If you spot signs of pests or diseases, such as discoloring or holes in the leaves, move that plant away from the other plants until the problem is remedied.
- Harvesting: Learn when your specific plants are at their peak for harvesting, and then don't delay picking the fruits of your labor. In some cases, harvesting actually promotes the plant to produce even more food for you to pick.
Apartments don’t always offer vast amounts of space to indulge in gardening. But there's bound to be a sunny corner where you can test your green thumb and enjoy the fruits of your labor.