Living in an apartment has its perks: minimal maintenance/cleaning, amazing on-site amenities, free coffee in the lobby (most of the time); the list goes on. Living in an apartment can also sometimes mean sacrificing space and privacy. The remedy you maybe never considered? Planting a small-space or balcony garden! Imagine grabbing a handful of fresh basil to add to your pesto, or picking homegrown jalapenos to heat up some Tex-Mex.
We’ve got the 4-1-1 from a local pro, Annaliese Olson, who dished out her top four tips for creating a small-space garden:
Most apartment balconies or patios are concrete. Here’s a fresh take on an old (and super cute) concept – container gardening – and how to build your small space garden around it. There’s no one way to find the right container. Buy them at one of those pottery places along the highway, or get some red earthenware pots from the store. You can also build your own wooden boxes or get hanging baskets. From there, choose plants that do well in Texas’ humid, subtropical climate. Herbs like rosemary, basil, and peppermint like the heat. There’s a reason there are peppers in so much of Texas’ cooking; they grow well here!
If you don’t have a patio space, or you can’t go directly outside of your apartment, try windowsill gardening. Those wooden boxes we mentioned above? Put them in the window sill to catch lots of sunlight, and you’re set. (You don’t have to make them either. You can buy them at the garden store.)
The basics are soil, water, and sunshine. For soil: it needs to be rich in organic matter. Don’t just grab anything marked “garden soil” at the store. The dirt that works best in container settings, isn’t really dirt. If you do get garden soil, mix it with peat moss and a little bit of coarse sand. * googles ‘peat moss’ *
Water is tricky – not too much, not too little, and container gardens dry out faster than gardens planted in the ground. I like to fill up a plastic cup and water my hanging plants with one cup of water per basket, every couple of nights. A Texas summer is HOT, so you’ll definitely need to water more than once a week no matter what kind of plants you’re tending.
Sunshine is essential. Most vegetables, like tomatoes, require hours of sun a day. If your patio or balcony sits in the shade, it’s best to stick with herbs. Some flowering plants, like roses, need a lot of sunlight too. Read the tags or seed packets, and pick your plants based on how much sunlight they’re going to get in your apartment.
Choose your plants wisely. A small space garden is not the place to grow giant beefsteak tomatoes, or a rambling pumpkin vine (pumpkins don’t really seem to like Texas, anyway). Stick to seed varieties that have dwarf, mini, baby, or patio in the name. Most seeds and seedlings are marked with how big they will get when they mature. Pay attention to it. Dwarf heirloom tomatoes, mini roses, dwarf Texas sage – they’re all guaranteed to thrive if you maintain them.
Clever design ideas will allow you to make the most out of the space you have. Consider a verticle garden to maximize your space and add some privacy to your patio. Another advantage? You won’t have to bend down as often to water your plants.
Companion planting is the official term for planting stuff that ripens at different times or doesn’t crowd each other out. For example, spinach ripens early in the season. Plant it with a habanero plant, and by the time you’re getting sick of spinach smoothies, your peppers will be ready to pick. Basil and tomatoes are good together (BYO balsamic vinegar and you have a salad). Marigold flowers grow well with veggies too and repel pests! Plant smart and you’ll harvest all season long.
With a small-space garden you probably won’t grow all your own produce or rival the botanical gardens, but you can grow some amazing things on your patio or in your windows and make your apartment just a little more awesome. With a little bit of effort, you can soon sit back and watch your space explode with green.
Written by Annaliese Olson, a gardening and animal care writer. When she moved to the city from her family’s farm, she decided she needed more nature in her life. She is dedicated to urban farming, loves to creatively discover spaces for her animals and plants to blossom in her city home.