Urban Gardening For Dummies book cover

Urban Gardening For Dummies

By: Charlie Nardozzi Published: 01-29-2013

The easy way to succeed at urban gardening

A townhouse yard, a balcony, a fire escape, a south-facing window—even a basement apartment can all be suitable locations to grow enough food to save a considerable amount of money and enjoy the freshest, healthiest produce possible.

Urban Gardening For Dummies helps you make the most of limited space through the use of proven small-space gardening techniques that allow gardeners to maximize yield while minimizing space.

  • Covers square-foot gardening and vertical and layered gardening
  • Includes guidance on working with container gardening, succession gardening, and companion gardening
  • Offers guidance on pest management, irrigation and rain barrels, and small-space composting

If you're interested in starting an urban garden that makes maximum use of minimal space, Urban Gardening For Dummies has you covered.

Articles From Urban Gardening For Dummies

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42 results
42 results
10 Tips to Manage a Sustainable Urban Garden

Step by Step / Updated 06-30-2021

Sustainability involves three practices that ensure the wise use of water, materials, and other resources to make sure they last from one generation to the next and in harmony with nature.

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10 Kid-Friendly Ways to Garden in the City

Step by Step / Updated 06-29-2021

Children’s gardening has become huge all across the country. Many educators, parents, and public officials see gardening as a way to reconnect kids with nature, get them outside for some healthy exercise, and teach them about healthy eating habits. You can find many ways to encourage and entice your children to be involved in the garden at home. Actually, if it’s not seen as a chore, kids love to garden.

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Ten Tools for Urban Gardeners

Step by Step / Updated 03-02-2017

Creating the perfect urban garden is one thing. The right tool makes or breaks a gardening job. Using a hoe to dig a hole for planting a tree is like eating soup with a fork. It’s just not the right tool for the task.

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Urban Gardening For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 03-27-2016

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.

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Creative Ways to Garden in the City

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

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.

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Easy Urban Herbs

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

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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Growing Vegetables for a Family of Four

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

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

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How to Build a Vertical Garden

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

So where do you begin when it comes to vertical gardening? There are a number of reasons for growing plants in urban areas on vertical structures. Vertical structures for growing up Whatever you’re looking for, adding a vertical structure to an urban garden is a space saver and can provide a three-dimensional element of colorful and creative context to your urban garden. 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 wood trellis. Besides acting as a plant support, a series of trellis panels can work well as a privacy screen between you and your neighbor or provide a vine-laden fence to block an unattractive view. Credit: Illustration by Kathryn Born. Some common plants to grow on trellises include climbing roses, clematis, morning glory, grape vines cucumbers, peas, and summer squash. If the trellis is going to be placed adjacent to a wall, it needs to be attached with supports. You can support the trellis with small, wooden blocks between the trellis and the wall. Securely mount your blocks to the wall and the trellis to the blocks. Be sure the blocks hold the trellis a minimum of 4 inches away from the wall. Garden arbors and pergolas Woody vines planted and trained to climb an arbor or pergola create a beautiful and definitive urban garden space. Once the plantings are established, they provide a break from direct summer sun and also help screen unsightly views. Arbors are smaller, simpler structures than pergolas. A garden arbor is typically used as an entry feature and is at least 3 or 4 feet wide and is often arched above. A pergola is a much larger structure and usually given much more architectural treatment than an arbor. Credit: Illustration by Kathryn Born. Credit: Illustration by Kathryn Born. Annual and perennial vines are wonderful but they do take some time during the growing season to get big enough to provide needed shade. Woody vines can cover an arbor or pergola structure in a few seasons, providing years of beauty and the bonus of summer shade. Here are a few recommended varieties: Trumpet Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) — This climbing vine is noted for its colorful, trumpet-shaped flowers, sweet scent, and attractiveness to butterflies and hummingbirds and can grow 10–20 feet. Select a site with full sun to shade and moist, well-drained soil. The plants will flower more profusely in full sun. Zones 4–10a. Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata) — The native vine sports rusty brown-red to yellow blooms. The dazzling variety ‘Tangerine Beauty’ is a showstopper with its tangerine-to-coral blooms. It blooms profusely in spring and more sparsely later in the season, and also attracts hummingbirds. Plant in full sun to part shade. Zones 5–9. Trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans) — The “wild” version is often cursed as a rampant weedy vine. Newer cultivars like ‘Madame Galen’ and ‘Georgia’ offer larger blooms and have a place as a strong vine for a large arbor or to cover the expanse of a western wall. Full sun to part shade. Zones 4b–10a. Wisteria (Wisteria spp.) — Several species and varieties are available. Long cascades of blue-to-purple flowers in spring. Looks great trained along the top of a fence and cut back heavily each winter. Also outstanding for the side walls and ceiling of a large, sturdy pergola. Full sun to part shade. Be careful not to plant wisteria vine too close to foundation walls as the root system is very vigorous! Zones 5–9. Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) — This evergreen vine puts on a spring show of trumpet-shaped yellow blooms. Great for a post or vertical lattice-type outdoor wall. All parts of the plant are poisonous. Full sun to part shade. Zones 5b–9b. Lady Banks rose (Rosa banksiae) — Long, arching, thornless canes bear yellow blooms in spring. Needs lots of room and a sturdy trellis support to do its thing. A lightly fragrant, white blooming form is also available. Full sun. Evergreen in zones 9–11 and deciduous in zones 6–8. Check your hardiness zones to ensure these plants are appropriate for your region. Teepees Of course many city residents, condominium owners, apartment dwellers, and urban residents have limited space to develop a complete vegetable garden each season. Vertical garden teepees can create the additional space needed to help urban gardeners grow a larger and more abundant vegetable garden. Credit: Illustration by Kathryn Born. Repurposed materials Here are a few more creative solutions specific for vertical gardens: Porch and balcony posts PVC pipe framing Livestock panels Vertical veggies and fruits Here are some of our favorite vegetable varieties that will grow well or can easily be trained vertically: Pole (climbing) beans — Excellent climbers and many varieties. Cucumbers — Although not real climbers, cucumbers can easily be trained by weaving it along your trellis as it continues to grow. Grapes — Excellent climbing perennial vining varieties. Melons and pumpkins — Provide additional support to fruit. Peas — For large harvests, plant tall growing varieties. Squash — Be sure to select vining varieties. Tomatoes — Select indeterminate varieties to train up a trellis or use tomato cages. Keep the size of your vertical support system in mind with the size of your garden planting. A simple square-foot vertical grid system made of garden twine may support your climbing beans, even the cucumbers too, but you’ll likely need a stronger and more rigid system to support heavier squash, melon, and pumpkin plantings. Support heavy fruits like cantaloupe or muskmelon with a “sling” made from pantyhose, a piece of T-shirt fabric, or a mesh bag that produce comes in. When you garden vertically, you can tighten up the spacing of your plants. It is usually the horizontal competing growth that restricts the spacing of your plantings.

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How to Create a Container Garden

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Container gardening is key to successfully gardening in the city. No matter how busy you are or how limited your yard, a beautiful container situated near the front door or back patio will help highlight, accent, and jazz-up your urban garden with color and pizzazz! A drab-looking porch, patio, balcony, or driveway can be transformed with the addition of flowering container gardens! Once you have the container and the proper soil mix for your urban container garden, it’s time to plant. Container planting requires some special considerations. How to prep your pots for planting Getting your pots ready for planting requires a few easy steps: Make sure your pots are clean. Check your pots to ensure they have adequate drainage holes in the bottom. If a pot doesn’t come with enough holes, use a hammer and nail or drill to create more. Cover the drainage hold with window screening, cheesecloth, or landscape fabric. Credit: Illustration by Ron Hildebrand. Fill the container about two-thirds full with your selected container soil. How to plant your containers properly Here are the basics for planting annual or perennial flowers, veggies, and herbs: Take the seedling plant you grew or purchased from a garden center and pop it out of its plastic pot. If it’s in a biodegradeable peat or cow pot, simply break apart the bottom of the pot with your hands, then plant it, pot and all. Keep the root ball intact. Select a Container at least 2 inches deeper and 2 inches wider than the original pot so the plant will have enough room to grow. It’s important to select the right-sized container for the plants you wish to grow. Smaller-growing annual flowers, such as alyssum, narrow-leaf zinnia, pansy, dwarf marigold, and viola, will grow fine in a 2-gallon containers. However flowers that reach a height of 2 to 3 feet need at least a 3- to 5-gallon container. Groupings of multiple plants may require something even larger. Be sure to read the labels when selecting the right-sized plants for your containers. Credit: Illustration by Ron Hildebrand. Plant your seedling at the same depth it was growing in the original pot. The exception is tall, leggy tomatoes that can be planted deeper because they form new roots along their stems. Fill the container with soil to within a few inches of the top. Water well. If it’s a small pot, consider placing it in a tub or basin filled a few inches deep with water. Let the pot sit in the water until it has slowly soaked up enough through its drainage holes to make the surface of the soil moist. When planting berry bushes, trees, and shrubs in containers, water from the top slowly so the water has a chance to permeate the soil medium. Water once, let it sit for 10 minutes, then water again. When the water comes out of the drainage holes on the bottom of the pot and the medium is moist when you poke your finger into it, it’s all set. Bottom watering is best used for plants that don’t like to get their leaves wet, such as African violets. Water on the leaves can cause staining and rot. Set the plant in its desired location. Elevate your containers. No matter how many holes you place in the bottom of your container, if there isn’t a space between the bottom of the container and your deck or patio, the water won’t drain away properly. It’s best to elevate your containers a few inches off the ground with pieces of brick, wood, stone, or purchased “pot feet.”

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How to Plant a Tree or Shrub in Your Urban Garden

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Digging a hole big enough to add a tree or shrub to your garden in urban soils can be challenging. Many urban soils are compacted or made up of gravel, fill, and concrete. Often what looks like a nice green lawn is really only a few inches of topsoil on top of old construction debris and fill. After you have the hole, the planting process is similar to the way you plant many other plants. Here’s a quick look at how to plant a tree or shrub, from digging the hole to laying the mulch: Dig a hole. Regardless of what kind of soil you have, follow these tips to dig a good hole: Dig it wide. Dig the hole three times as wide as the root ball. For bare root plants, just dig the hole wider than the extent of the roots when you spread them out horizontally. Most tree and shrub roots grow in the top foot of the soil, so they need room to expand as the tree grows. By loosening the soil around the root ball, you give those young roots a place to take hold. If the soil is rock hard, the roots won’t penetrate it and they’ll just stay around the root ball. Don’t dig too deep. Dig the hole just deep enough so that the top of the root ball is level with the native soil. When you set the root ball on undisturbed soil, it’s less likely to settle later and end up planted too deep. Place the plant in the hole. For container plants, remove the pot. If you can’t get the root ball out of the container, run a sharp knife around the inside edge of the pot and cut off any roots that protrude from the drainage holes. You may have to tease out the root ball if it’s heavily root bound. For balled and burlapped plants, rock the root ball to one side and then the other to remove any burlap, twine, and wire. Just be sure to push on the root ball, not the trunk, or you may break off roots inside the ball. Although it’s biodegradable, the burlap may take years to break down and it’s best to remove as much non-plant material as possible without causing the root ball to fall apart. If you notice any roots that are kinked or encircling the root ball, trim them away. For bare root plants, make a small, volcano-like mound in the center of the planting hole and drape the roots evenly over the mound. Check the height of your plant. Stand back and take a look at your work. Rotate the tree or shrub so that it looks the way you like. Double-check the height of the plant in the hole to make sure it’s not too shallow or too deep. Backfill the hole to the soil line. In most cases, you should backfill your hole with the native soil that you dug out. The tree or shrub needs to get used to growing in the native soil, so it’s best to use it from the beginning. However, because many urban soils lack fertility and even real soil, sometimes you have to amend your native soil with a combination of compost and topsoil. Don’t make the soil in the hole too fertile. If the soil around the roots is too different from the native soil, the roots will stay only in the planting hole and not venture out into the native soil. As the roots grow in the confines of the planting hole, they can encircle the trunk and eventually strangle the tree. Also, during a strong wind storm, a large urban tree may blow down if the roots haven’t anchored themselves well into the native soil. As you backfill the planting hole with soil, run a hose on a trickle or add water from a watering can in the hole at the same time. The water helps remove any air pockets from the soil, making for less settling later, and keeps the roots moist. Make a basin. Make a low berm of soil around the outer circumference of the planting hole to create a basin that will catch water and direct it to where the new roots are. When you water, just fill up this basin and let the water naturally drain into the soil. Add a 2- to 4-inch-thick layer of bark mulch over the root zone. The mulch helps preserve the soil moisture and keeps weeds from growing and competing with your tree. Keep the mulch a few inches away from the trunk of the tree or shrub. Mulch that sits right next to the trunk can cause disease problems, especially during wet weather. Unless you live in a windy area or you plant a large tree, you probably don’t need to stake your trees and shrubs. But if you want to add stakes, here’s how: Place two stakes opposite each other and perpendicular to the prevailing winds. Use commercial tree ties or soft cloth to wrap around the stakes and tree at a height just above a side branch or about halfway up the trunk. Don’t tie the tree tightly. You want to allow your tree to rock in the breeze; the natural movement of the trunk in the wind builds trunk and root strength. Remove the stakes after one year when your tree is well enough established to stand on its own.

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