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Cheat Sheet

Urban Gardening For Dummies

From Urban Gardening For Dummies by The National Gardening Association [with Paul Simon, Charlie Nardozzi]

Urban gardening requires some creativity and flexibility, but the benefits you reap are well worth the effort. Your family can enjoy fresh vegetables and herbs all season long, and gardening is great exercise. You can plant an urban garden in a vacant lot, an underused parking area, or your roof, back deck, or patio. Wherever you grow, you can enjoy beautiful flowers and tasty edibles in even the smallest of spaces.

Creative Ways to Garden in the City

City residents in many areas are challenging the notion that they can't grow gardens in their urban settings, by finding creative ways to garden in limited space. Some folks are even pulling up their small city lawns to plant vegetable gardens, urban orchards, and edible landscapes. Of course, there are plenty of other ways to garden in the city.

Following are some obvious and not so obvious ways to grow some greenery amidst the urban concrete and steel:

  • Vacant lots. Many cities are taking vacant lots and transforming them into small parks, green oases, and community gardens.

  • Container growing. Containers help avoid many soil issues because you are using soil specifically adapted for what you plan to grow. Containers can also fit in unusual places, like fire escapes or even straddling balcony railings, and can be moved with the sun and season.

  • Balcony gardens. An apartment balcony or patio however small, may provide an opportunity for you to develop a garden, with perimeter potted plantings, unique containers, hanging baskets, and planters affixed to railings. To save on useable space, you can also incorporate vertical garden structures.

  • Vertical gardens. One of the many vertical techniques is to use simple wall hanging pocket planters which can easily hang and affix to walls, rails, and fences, and can be used indoors or outside.

  • A trellis garden. Growing on a trellis is an efficient and cost-effective way to develop your vertical garden. Even a 12-inch-wide planter can accommodate a small wood trellis.

  • A teepee garden. Vertical garden teepees can create the additional space needed to help urban gardeners grow a larger and more abundant vegetable garden within a limited space. Teepee structures work especially well for beans, peas, and cucumber plantings.

  • Indoor gardening. Using grow lights and maximizing the light received through windows, you can enjoy numerous houseplants, create a fabulous herb garden, and grow other edible plants to provide food.

  • An herb garden. For many urban gardeners, growing herbs on a sunny windowsill can provide a convenient source of fresh basil, mint, rosemary, thyme, and other herbs for you and your family to enjoy.

  • A salad bar garden. Leafy greens take little time to mature, withstand less than ideal sun conditions, and fit in the smallest of places. One fun way to grow greens is to sow a mix. Mesclun mix includes a blend of lettuces, spinach, and kale with other spicy greens such as mizuna, arugula, chicory, and mustard, depending on the blend.

  • Picture frame garden. A picture frame garden is a vertical assortment of plantings that are planted within a growing medium behind woven wire mesh. Many different succulent varieties and sedums are good recommendations for a picture frame garden.

  • Flower box garden. One very common urban gardening solution is flower box gardening. Urban residents can decorate their facades, entrances, and windows with flowerbox planters. These small garden touches can add the accenting colors and texture needed to highlight and distinguish your urban residence. .

  • An urban "parklet." Parklets are a type of pavement to park project many cities are now developing where they repurpose approximately two to three parallel parking stalls as a new pedestrian space. Parklets are built as elevated platforms within former street-side parking spaces matching the grade of sidewalks to create a larger pedestrian useable space. Just like a larger park, these mini-sized parks allow people to sit, relax, and enjoy the city environment.

Growing Vegetables for a Family of Four

Who says families who live in the city can't grow their own vegetables! If you'd like to grow enough to feed your family all summer, here are some guidelines on how much of the most popular vegetables to plant to keep your family stocked with super-fresh veggies. You can adjust these numbers based on which vegetables you most like to eat. If you don't like to eat cabbage, don't grow it. If you love beans, grow lots of them.

Type of Vegetable Number of Plants Needed for a Family of Four
Beets 20 plants
Broccoli 5 plants
Brussels Sprouts 5 plants
Bush beans 15 plants
Pole beans 3 plants
Cabbage 5 plants
Carrots 20 plants
Cauliflower 5 plants
Swiss Chard 5 plants
Corn 20 plants
Cucumbers 2 plants
Eggplant 3 plants
Kale 5 plants
Lettuce 10 plants
Onions 20 plants
Peas 20 plants
Pepper 4 plants
Potatoes 10 plants
Radishes 20 plants
Summer Squash/zucchini 2 plants
Tomatoes 4 plants

Easy Urban Herbs

Herbs are the perfect edibles for the urban gardener. They are mostly small plants that produce abundantly all season. Herbs fit equally well in a container, flower garden, or vegetable garden. Many are perennials that will come back year after year. They grow best in full sun, but some, such as parsley and chives, can tolerate part shade and still produce well. You can even grow some indoors under lights or on a window sill to extend the growing season through the winter months in colder regions.

Most culinary herbs such as basil, thyme, and oregano grow best in well-drained soil conditions. You can start most of these from seed, but it's simpler to buy plants, especially for small plantings. Here are some of the easiest culinary herbs to grow in your urban yard:

  • Basil (Ocimum basilicum)

  • Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)

  • Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum)

  • Dill (Anethum graveolens)

  • Lavender (Lavandula)

  • Mint (Mentha)

  • Oregano (Origanum vulgare)

  • Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)

  • Rosemary (Rosmarius officinalis)

  • Thyme (Thymus)

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