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Container Gardening 101: A Beginner’s Guide

April 27th, 2017


The good news with maintenance-free apartment living is that you don’t have any yard work. But if you have an inner gardener, that might be bad news. The solution? Container gardening. Your outdoor patio can be your own private apartment garden, with no weeds to pull. To get you started, here are the basics:

Understand your light:

Different plants respond to different amounts of sunshine. For anything described as “full sun,” you need at least six full ours of sunshine every day. Patio walls, northern exposures, and overhangs can all limit the sunshine your apartment garden gets, so plant with reality in mind. Here’s a collection of shade-loving container plants. Here’s another if your patio is sunny and hot.

Use large pots:

Plants don’t like small pots any more than you like small shoes. Give their roots room to spread out and you’ll also find yourself needing to water less often. If your patio is sunny and hot, roots will get scorched in small pots and your apartment garden will suffer. Inexpensive plastic pots are fine, and if they’re very tall (most roots won’t go more than a foot or so deep), use biodegradable packing peanuts at the bottom of the pot to make the pots lighter and save good potting soil for the plants.

Use good soil:

Buy potting soil, not garden soil. Garden soil is meant to enhance existing soil, not to be used as a planting medium by itself. Potting soil actually has very little soil in it, but is largely made up of other ingredients such as sphagnum moss, vermiculite, and bark, that give roots something to hold onto, delivering nutrition and moisture while also draining well. Good soil gives your apartment garden the best chance to flourish.

Pick healthy plants:

More important than whether a plant is covered in flowers or fruit is how the foliage looks. Choose plants with full, deep-green, vigorous foliage and stout stems. The fruit and flowers will come quickly enough. (Refer to this list for the best vegetables for container gardening.) Provide a cage or small trellis for climbing plants. Don’t worry—they’ll grow quickly and make a big statement in your apartment garden.

Crowd your flowers:

spread out your veg: With floral containers, make them full and beautiful from the beginning. Flowers will work their way through and around each other to give you a beautiful apartment garden. In large pots, plant something tall, surround it with plants that are bushy, and then tuck in something that trails around the edges. For vegetables, pay attention to the recommended spacing on the plant labels and give them plenty of room.

Feed and water:

The most important rule of apartment garden care is to feed and water frequently. Water whenever the soil feels dry on the surface, which probably means every day during hot times. Feed with liquid fertilizer (or granular fertilizer dissolved into water) weekly, or dilute it more and feed with every watering.

Maintain your plants:

Pinch off dead flowers throughout the season (known as “deadheading”) to encourage more blooming, and on plants where you can’t pluck individual flowers, you may need to shear the whole thing back by about a third at mid-season to encourage fresh new growth. No matter what you do, some plants get rangy and scraggly by mid-season. If so, it’s their fault, not yours. Pull them out and stick more in. Your apartment garden is small and you should enjoy it for the whole season.

And the best news? You can start your apartment garden containers right now. So indulge that spring fever and create your own garden oasis.


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