Urban gardening is becoming more and more popular each year, as city dwellers come up with new and innovative ways to use the little outdoor space they have to grow gorgeous vegetables or flower gardens. Even if you don’t have a large yard with plenty of open space, or if you live in an apartment with either a balcony or no outdoor space at all, you can start a productive and easy to manage garden using temporary raised beds, hydroponics or small space gardening techniques. You can even produce your own organic fertilizer using small home composting systems.
While urban gardening used to be considered a radical idea, cities around the country are starting to embrace the concept as they realize the positive effects it has on beautifying urban areas, cleaning the air, and giving people more control over their food source. For example, in Los Angeles it became legal in 2015 for anyone to plant a garden along unused land in between sidewalks.
Gardening in the city may sound like an intimidating prospect, but it is easy to set up your own urban garden. We have put together this easy guide on how to start your very own organic urban garden on any budget, no matter how little space you have.
1. Make a Plan
The first thing you need to do is look at your home situation and find out what the best strategy for you is. Here are some ideas for different living situations:
Apartment with balcony or patio:
- A container garden is best for balcony or patio spaces
- Containers are easily portable and th size and arrangement can be customized to any sized balcony
- Hanging or vertical gardens also work great on patios
- Another option is hydroponics, which can be set up either indoors or on your balcony
Apartment with no outdoor space:
- Hydroponics using grow lights removes the need for natural sunlight and can go anywhere, even a closet
- If you prefer using natural soil, plant a container garden in a sunny window or with a grow light
- Hanging gardens in windows do not require any floor space
Town home with small yard:
- Square-foot gardening is a great idea when you have a small amount of land
- Raised beds allow you to organize small gardens for maximum efficiency and yield
- A small aquaponics system could also be installed in your yard for growing both produce and fish
Abandoned municipal lot:
- This is a great opportunity for an urban community garden
- Work with people in your community to start a group project to beautify your neighborhood and provide fresh produce
- Raised beds are a smart idea in abandoned lots due to probable soil contamination
- Raised beds can be built of wood, metal or found materials and you can add ready-made soil and compost to them to start growing right away
Watch more about planning your garden here:
2. Gather Your Supplies
There are some tools like hoes or full sized shovels that usually aren’t necessary for most urban gardeners, unless you are able to work a small patch of land. Some tools are more universal though, and can be useful even in the smallest indoor or outdoor garden.
Things that every gardener needs:
- A good trowel can last for years of use
- Gardening gloves to keep your hands protected
- Organic fertilizers, or a composting kit to feed your plants
- A variety of seeds, it’s fun to mix edible plants with decorative flowers
- Plant markers, so that you don’t lose track
- Containers: A whole variety of these are useful for putting in different nooks and crannies of your gardening space
- Potting soil, especially if you are unsure of your native soil quality
3. Check for Contaminants and Add Soil Amendments
If you are going to be gardening outside in the soil in an area such as between sidewalks or in an abandoned lot, you will need to clean it out as much as you can before planting. Make sure to remove all the visible trash, and use a hoe and rake to work the soil so that you also get any trash or waste that might be buried under the surface. No one wants to harvest a coke can along with their potato crop! This process will also get the soil ready for planting, since abandoned areas are often compacted due to years of neglect.
It is also a good idea, especially if you are growing food, to access public records and make sure that the site was not used for any sort of dumping in the past. Some contaminants, like oil or gasoline, may be hidden from the naked eye but can pose a serious threat to your garden. If you find any of these contaminants were dumped in your garden area, you can always use the space for raised beds with clean potting soil.
The next step is to add soil amendments. You can purchase topsoil or potting soil online or in a garden store and add this directly to your soil to give it a boost. Compost tea or commercial organic fertilizers are also great to add in at this point, to ensure that your plants get the best possible start in life.
If you want to know exactly what your soil composition is and add amendments accordingly, you can contact your local soil extension service to get soil samples tested, or do it your self using a home soil sample testing kit. This will tell you the pH, organic content and nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium levels.
Watch more about soil sampling here:
4. Change Your Lifestyle
Composting and recycling have a big place in gardeners’ hearts. Composting food scraps allows you to use every bit of your produce, and keeps you connected to your garden all year long. There are plenty of kitchen compost bins on the market to fit any sized kitchen, and you can either get a full sized composter if you have a yard, or use a small space vermiculture or Bokashi composter right in your house or apartment to make rich compost tea to feed your plants.
Recycling, like gardening, is good for the environment of course, but did you know that many of the things that are often sent to the recycling bins could also be repurposed for your garden? Tin cans and plastic bottles can easily become seed starting containers, plant markers, hanging vertical gardens and more. All it takes is a bit of creativity and some scissors!
Watch a video about starting seeds in soda bottles here:
5. Design and Plant Your Garden
Now comes the fun part! Taking all the knowledge you learned about your living space, what kind of plants you want to grow, what your budget is and if you can use repurposed materials, it is time to plan and plant your garden. Take a look at books about urban gardening, square foot gardening and small space landscape design to get inspired Keep in mind that in a small garden, vertical space is just as valuable as horizontal space. Look for plants that do well together so that you can use your limited space to its full efficiency. And above all, have fun!