Urban Gardening: How to Garden in Your Small Space

Now, that's what we call an urban garden!

By Kathy Woodard

Urban gardening can seem to be a paradox; how can one garden in a small space especially in places like NYC that are renowned for their cramped apartments? The fact is, it can be done and it is a fast growing trend amongst city dwellers. There are a few guidelines that can help get you started if you too are determined to grow your own piece of paradise, no matter how small your outdoor space.

The fact is, for most city dwellers you are going to be doing your gardening in containers. The choices in containers are larger now than it’s ever been, including lightweight choices for those of us with balconies and rooftops. Many containers are made to look like expensive pottery or stone, but are in fact easy maintenance foam or other lightweight material. These pots are tough, beautiful and practical, and come in large sizes.

What you put inside the pot is important also. When growing on patios, terraces or balconies, it’s critical to make sure your pots are not too heavy. Using a soil less potting mixture will ensure you have healthy plants without the extra pounds. Many potting mixes even have time release fertilizer right in the mix, eliminating one more aspect of container gardening maintenance.

When space is limited as it is in an urban garden, think up. Many plants can be grown in pots up trellises, tepees or poles. This is a great way to utilize your small space garden effectively to ensure you have room for a variety of plants. Think easy colorful vines, fresh pole beans, even roses!

Growing down simply means using hanging pots to create space where there is none! Trailing plants are perfect for this, but shorter upright plants can be used in these designs as well.

What makes your garden grow?
An urban container garden in a small space needs the same things any garden does… water, nutrients and sunlight. Make sure you water regularly, as containers have a tendency to dry out quickly, especially during hot weather. Make sure each container has adequate drainage so the roots don’t sit in water and rot.

Nutrients get washed out of the soil in container plants quickly. Make sure there is a time released fertilizer in your potting soil, and every other watering consider adding a water soluble fertilizer to your watering can at half strength for an added boost.

You may be limited in the plants you can have in your garden if your outdoor space faces only one direction. Whether your small garden space gets mostly shade or mostly sun, or somewhere in between, there are great plants you can use. Be sure to stick to ones for your exposure. Planting a shade loving hosta in the blazing afternoon sun is never going to work. Likewise, expecting dwarf sunflowers to give you beautiful blooms with nothing but filtered shade is unrealistic.

Finally, while there is definitely a lot less weeding and maintenance with a container garden (one of the many percs!) make sure you take care of those things when they occur. Birds can drop weed seeds, flowers still need to be snipped off as they fade and occasionally you will want to replace plants that aren’t working.

Grow this!
Here are my top choices for plants to grow in your urban garden…


  • Pole and bush beans
  • Herbs of all kinds
  • Lettuce and other greens


  • Allysum
  • Lobelia
  • Geranium
  • Sweet potato vine
  • Purple fountain grass
  • Verbena


  • Pole vegetables
  • Morning Glory
  • Cardinal Flower
  • Black eyed Susan Vine

No matter where you live, there is always a way to garden. Look for what you have, not what you don’t have. Grow, nurture and enjoy a garden in your small space!

Want free home and garden ideas? Kathy Woodard, is an author, columnist and home decorating expert. Visit her at her website and also at

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