Small Space Gardening Tips for Apartment Dwellers + Urbanites

Don't let limited outdoor space prevent you from trying out your green thumb. From tasty fruits and veggies to flowering plants, trees and shrubs, container gardening is the trick to growing it all in less space than you may think.

April 16, 2020

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Get Your Daily Dose of Vitamin C

Dwarf variety citrus trees are not only beautiful, given the right conditions, they can also be bountiful. Fill terracotta pots with these flowering fruit trees to give your outdoor space a sunny, So-Cal vibe.

Get the How-to: Growing Fruit Trees in Containers

Green Up a Privacy Wall

Urban living often means cramped quarters both indoors and out so make the most of the space you have by thinking vertically. Designer Dan Faires repurposed wood beams from a New York City building that was slated for demolition to create this privacy wall with shelves he filled with potted plants.

See More Photos: Urban Spaces: Creative Couple's Shotgun-Style NYC Apartment

Make a Scene

When planning an outdoor room, work your container garden into the design plan by coordinating the blooms' colors with your decor. Height is also important, so choose planters of varying heights or boost shorter pots with garden stools or sturdy outdoor plant stands.

See More Photos: Patio, Perfected: 11 Amazing Amazon Finds for a Shady Outdoor Oasis

Pick the Right Shrub for Shade

If your patio or terrace is shady, consider planting a hydrangea, like this lacecap hydrangea 'Bluebird' whose showy blue, pink or purple flowers (dependent on your soil's acidity) will add a splash of color from late spring through summer.

See More Photos: 25 Shade-Loving Plants for Containers and Hanging Baskets

'Bee' Kind to Pollinators

No matter where you live, pollinators — bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, moths and bats — play an essential role in ensuring that you have fresh, bountiful food to eat. In short: no pollinators, no food. Make your patio a haven for our hardworking friends with a pollinator-friendly container garden that'll create a space-saving flower garden while providing them with everything they need to keep saving the world.

See More Photos: Attract a Host of Pollinators With a Backyard Pollinator Garden Perfect for Containers

Pot Patio Roses

For urban-dwellers lucky enough to have access to a patio or rooftop that receives at least 5-6 hours a day of sunlight, planters filled with patio, mini or dwarf roses will provide colorful blooms all summer long.

Get the How-to: How to Grow Patio Roses in Containers

Grow Strawberries in a Windowbox

No outdoor space? No worries. All you need is a sunny windowsill to produce a season's worth of sweet strawberries for topping salads or yogurt, or for filling pies, cobblers or crisps.

Get the How-To: Growing Strawberries in Containers

Garden Vertically

Perfect for the smallest of outdoor spaces, this multi-pocket fabric wall planter offers a kitchen garden's-worth of planting space for an assortment of fresh herbs like rosemary, thyme, chives and basil. Irrigation holes in each pocket allow excess water to drain away, ensuring plants stay moist but not overly wet.

See More Photos: Vertical Gardening Ideas

Or, Stack Pots to Save Space

Heavy planters, like whiskey barrels, are perfect for stacking for a tiered effect. An inverted bucket in the bottom barrel helps to position the upper tier and prevent it from shifting. Filled with row after row of pollinator-friendly blooms, this stacked container garden provides maximum color in minimum space.

See More Photos: Attract a Host of Pollinators With a Backyard Pollinator Garden Perfect for Containers

Green Up Your Little One's Thumb

Put that old sandbox to good use by repurposing it into a fun, kid-friendly garden chock full of healthy fruits, herbs and veggies they'll love planting, growing, then gobbling up.

Get the How-To: Upcycle a Sandbox Into a Kid-Friendly Garden

Be Selective When Picking Shrubs

When selecting shrubs for container gardening, it's important to keep the plant's mature size and growth rate in mind. Slow growers that maintain a small, compact shape, like this Japanese pieris 'Flamingo' are an ideal choice. With glossy dark leaves year-round and clusters of pink urn-shaped flowers in early spring, this shade-loving shrub will add color and year-round interest to even the smallest of outdoor areas.

See More Photos: 17 Low-Maintenance Plants and Dwarf Shrubs

Add Columns of Color With Flowering Vines

Compact climbers, like jasmine and clematis, are great container plants. All they need to thrive is a pot with good drainage, a trellis or post for support and regular watering and feeding.

See More Photos: Colorful Climbers

Grow Tomatoes From Seed

A little early planning and a few packets of seed are all you need to grow a bumper crop of the country's most popular homegrown veggie. Establish the seedlings indoors, then transfer them to a waiting pot in a sunny spot for a summer's worth of farm-fresh produce.

Get the How-To: Growing Tomatoes From Seed

Plant a Palm

A beautiful accent to any shady outdoor space (direct sun will burn them), palms add tropical flair while the sculptural leaves are perfect for creating a lush, living screen for added privacy. But, as tropical natives, these heat-loving plants are prone to damage in areas with harsh winters. Container gardening makes it easier to overwinter them indoors for year-after-year of frilly fronds.

Learn More: Palms

Sunny, Warm Spot? Plant Chiles

Break apart a spicy or mild dried chile to release dozens of plantable seeds. Sow the seeds in multipurpose soil, then place the pot in a sunny, warm location, like a windowsill. In just a few months, you'll be spicing up everything from soup to cocktails with fresh-from-the-garden chiles.

Get the How-To: How to Grow Chile Peppers

Or, Try a Tropical

Nothing says summer quite like a mandevilla vine. A native of the tropics, this stunner is hardy only in the warmest climes (Zones 9 to 11) so they perform best as a container plant that can be overwintered indoors.

Learn More: Our Favorite Flowers: Mandevilla

Opt for Low-Care Succulents

If your green thumb is a little ... um ... brown, a low-maintenance plant like echeveria, shown here, is a safe bet. Thanks to their ability to store water in their fleshy leaves, stems and roots, succulents require very little watering — but they do require plenty of sun. Position the pots where they will receive at least 2-4 hours of direct sunlight each day and water sparingly only when the topsoil is completely dry, about every 10 days.

See More Photos: 12 Succulents Worth Knowing

Or, Craft a Maintenance-Free Topiary

If your containers could use a little bit of kitsch, this DIY is for you. A plastic flamingo covered in faux boxwood will add a tropical twist to your front porch or back patio planters. Best of all, this crafty topiary needs no maintenance to keep its playful good looks.

Get the How-To: DIY Faux Boxwood Flamingo

Start Small

Combining several small plants together in one pot is a great way to mix colors and textures. Plus, since young, small plants are typically cheaper than mature ones, it's also a budget-friendly option. To make brightly colored flowers — like this pink kalanchoe and zinnia — really pop, plant them in a terracotta pot that has been painted a flat black.

Get the How-To: The Dos and Don'ts of Painting Terra-Cotta Pots

Choose the Right Potting Soil

The difference between a healthy container plant and one that doesn't thrive could be as basic as choosing the right soil mix. Read through our tips, below, to learn the differences between potting soil and garden soil to help you select the right medium for your container plants' specific needs.

Learn More: What Is the Difference Between Potting Soil and Garden Soil?

Don't Forget to Water

Container gardens require more water than in-ground gardens — partially because there's less soil to hold moisture but also because some types of containers, like terracotta and porous coco-fiber liners allow the moisture to evaporate quickly. While watering needs vary depending on sun exposure, season and the plant itself, a good rule-of-thumb is to water early in the cool of the morning so the moisture can be more readily absorbed by the soil, instead of evaporated in the heat of the day. To determine if your plant needs water, just insert your finger into the top inch of soil. If it's dry and crumbly, your potted plant could use a drink.

Learn More: How to Water Container Gardens

Fertilizer for the Win

For a bounty of blooms, veggies, fruit and foliage, fertilizer is key. Composed primarily of three main elements —nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium — fertilizer provides the nutrients that are missing in your container's soil or were there initially but have been diluted or used up over time. While you can use granular fertilizer in containers, many gardeners prefer liquid fertilizers that are more readily absorbed. Most potted plants can benefit from a regular schedule of monthly fertilizer applications but be sure to follow manufacturers' mixing instructions — over-fertilizing is worse than under-feeding.

Learn More: The Fertilizer 411

Don't Skip Proper Prep

Plants need water — that's a given — but too much water is too much of a good thing. Pots without adequate drainage can cause plants to wilt, lose color and ultimately rot. So, it's important that you drill holes in any containers that lack proper drainage.

See More Photos: How to Prepare Flower Pots for Planting

Make a Mobile Garden

Add casters (available at your local hardware store) to the bottom of metal trash cans to create rolling planters you can easily move around your outdoor space or even bring indoors when temperatures dip.

Get the How-To: Create a Mobile Container Garden

Save Space With Raised Beds

Make the most of even the smallest amount of gardening space with a raised bed that doubles as a handy bench. Easier to maintain than a traditional in-ground garden (plants are at a more comfortable level) these elevated containers also warm up sooner in the spring and stay warmer later into fall making your patio or rooftop the envy of the neighborhood.

Get the How-To: Building Raised Beds

Winter-Worthy Plants

The container gardening fun isn't over when winter arrives. Blooming annuals, like pansies, ornamental cabbages and primrose will cheer up containers till spring arrives.

Get the How-To: What to Plant in Winter

Put Railings to Work

Plant-filled baskets that line the railings surrounding this Brooklyn, New York City, patio provide a natural break between the outdoor living room and a view of lower Manhattan beyond.

See More Photos: Design Ideas for a Small Outdoor Space

Fresh Salad at Your Fingertips

Salad greens are not only tasty and oh-so-good for you; they're also quick to grow — and best of all, when you cut leaves for your salad, new ones replace them so you can munch happily all summer long.

Get the How-To: Growing Salad Greens in Window Boxes

Grow Your Own Blackberries

In under an hour, you can plant a large container with a blackberry plant (choose a thornless variety) to provide you with fresh fruit for topping salads or filling cobblers and pies from the end of summer to early autumn, depending on your location.

Get the How-To: Guide to Growing Blackberries

Apples in the City

Even the smallest patio can produce a bumper crop of crisp apples. Popular apple varieties include 'Egremont Russet', 'Cox's Orange Pippin', 'Discovery', golden yellow 'Elstar' and 'Blenheim Orange' (pictured) with its crisp, nutty flavor.

Learn More: Growing Apples

Hang Time

Plant a hanging basket with an assortment of herbs — like basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano or parsley — to keep fresh seasonings within easy reach.

Get the How-To: Grow Guide: The Best Vegetables and Herbs for Containers

Plant a Mini Orchard of Peaches

Although most peach trees aren't well-suited to growing in pots, varieties that have been grafted onto dwarfing rootstocks, such as 'Pixy', 'St. Julien A.', 'Bonanza' or 'Garden Lady' are safe bets. Be sure to plant in large pots and fertilize before and after flowering.

Learn More: Test Your Peach I.Q.

Pot a Pair of Blueberries

Harvest a bumper crop of these tasty superfoods by potting a pair of blueberry bushes in acid-rich soil. Fertilize regularly to promote growth and be prepared to cover the bushes with netting while they're producting fruit to keep birds from eating the fruits of your labor.

Learn More: Tips for Growing Blueberries

Green Up Outdoor Rooms

High above West Hollywood, this patio enjoys sunshine 300+ days a year. Planters filled with bamboo surround the loft's outdoor spaces for privacy while a Kimberly Queen fern on the table and a pair of asparagus ferns on the ground filter Los Angeles' famously polluted air while requiring very little maintenance.

See More Photos: Urban Spaces: Industrial Modern Los Angeles Loft

Get Creative With Containers

Don't toss out that empty tin — instead fill it with a potted plant to add a splash of color and pattern to your outdoor space. To prevent excess water from rusting the container's bottom, be sure to punch drainage holes using a hammer and nail before adding the potted plant.

Get the How-To: Clever Container Garden Ideas

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