How to Grow a Garden in a Small Space

Jul 12, 2019 / Matthew Sanderson

Annette Gutierrez constantly receives questions at her plant and lifestyle shop about how to grow a garden in a small space. Customers even email her photos asking what to do.

“Common feedback we get is fear. ‘What if I kill it?’ ” she said. “Get another one. You’re going to kill plants and it’s okay. It’s going back to the ground.”

You may want to test out your “green thumb”; at some point while you’re renting an apartment. Given your limited space and access to the ground, it can seem like a challenge that’s hard to overcome.

We have advice from experts, however, that should assure you that growing a garden in a small space is easier than it sounds and, ultimately, can be a fun experience!

How to Grow a Garden in a Small Space: Starting Off

smiling man holding public storage moving boxes with plants

If that tiny windowsill succulent, or the lucky bamboo on your desk at work has left you wanting for more. There really are other easy options for tending more plants in your small spaces.

Herbs, for example, are super easy plants to start growing in your home, says Gutierrez, who owns the store Potted in Los Angeles.

“You can get away with it in a sunny window,” she said. “There’s a lot of bang for your buck with that stuff. It punches up salads.”

People living in an apartment or small space are often also interested in multi-use plants that add beauty but have another feature. Other favorites are vegetables, herbs and houseplants that clean the air or gardenias that add fragrance, says Desiree Heimann, vice president of marketing at Armstrong Garden Centers in California and Pike Nurseries in Georgia and North Carolina.

Whether you’re looking to start with seasonings or punch up your décor with a gorgeous-looking plant, there are plenty of easy options to bring in more green. Don’t hesitate to ask questions at the store. And experiment with some of the options out there to find what works for you.

In fact, more households, including ones with young renters, are gardening. About 77% of Americans enjoy tending to plants at home, according to a national survey in 2018 by The National Gardening Association.

“People are really getting into it,” Gutierrez said. “It could be a year-round interest or if you’re going to feed yourself.”

Choose the Best Location For Your Garden

man potting plants in a small indoor garden space

Plants thrive in different light conditions, from a bathroom without natural light to a living room that has bright sunlight from a large window all afternoon.

“Plants are perfect inside for areas that need a pop of culture or texture,” Heimann said.

But it’s helpful to know the quality of light in different areas of your home so you match your spaces with the right plants. Just ask at the store or read the label to learn how much light you’ll need.

You can even do a quick light test of your space. Use a white piece of paper, and hold your hand about a foot over it, says Heimann. If you don’t see a shadow, you have low light. If you see a slight shadow but the outline of your hand is blurred, it’s a medium light condition. And if you see a defined shadow, congrats, you have lots of light.

If you have a balcony or deck at home, you may be able to grow a garden in your small space outdoors. Vegetables and fruits are fun to grow and even better to eat. You may need a lot of sun, however. If the area only receives three to six hours of sunlight, go for plants that prefer partial sunlight, says Heimann. If an area receives less than three hours of sunlight, consider shades plants.

Certain apartments do create a challenge. If you’re on a lower floor, say in New York City, you likely have limited light. Also, heaters and air conditioners can negatively affect your indoor plants, since plants prefer airflow and humidity to thrive.

North-facing windows receive the least amount of light. East-facing window light is only useful in the morning hours. South-facing and west-facing windows offer the most intense light. Regular fluorescent lights can help quite a bit for those with very limited light but want to grow a variety of plant types.

“You have to be really honest with how much light you have,” Gutierrez says.

You can conquer your space challenge with a vertical garden planter. A Woolly Pocket (now called WallyGro), are pouches that hang on a wall. Window boxes are also a nice way to do an herb garden. Gutierrez adds that as a really fun, inexpensive do-it-yourself planter is a rain gutter garden.

Find the Correct Plant Soil

man wearing orange flannel and potting plants in small garden space

When planting in pots, it’s important to use a soil mixture formulated specifically for container gardening.

“A potting mix is light enough for roots to easily establish while having great water retention properties,” Heimann said, who recommends Dr. Earth Pot of Gold All Purpose Potting Soil. It is a quality potting soil that is organic and non-GMO, which is ideal for all plants including veggies and herbs.

There are many different brands, and two main types are potting and cactus soil. Cactuses need something that drains, while most house plants need soil, peat moss and something to hold the water.

Follow Your Plant Watering Schedule

watering can with spider plant

For food plants, there’s a general watering schedule of two to three times a week. While houseplants have a general watering schedule of every 10 days to two weeks, says Gutierrez. On the hottest summer days, your veggies and herbs may need to be watered every other day. There are also pretty aqua glass self-watering globes you can place in soil, as well as nontoxic gel beads that can hydrate.

“A 4-inch pot will need more water than 8-inch pot,” she said.

It is also important to know if your deck or patio receives rainwater. Water-wise plants such as succulents and cactuses thrive in drier, sunnier, conditions and once established they may only need occasional watering.

With all that said, continue asking questions and be active in monitoring your home garden. Even if you live in a small space, there’s countless examples of plant owners who are able to grow a garden in some form.

“Plants should match the lifestyle of its owner,” Heimann said. “There are houseplants and succulents that need little care, which are perfect for owners that travel or don’t want to fuss with their plants. With so many plant options available, choosing a plant in the perfect color, shape or size is easy.”

For more DIY gardening tips, such as vegetable gardening advice for beginners and how to transport your plants to survive a move, be sure to go read our blog!

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