April 27th, 2017
Part of the joy of spring and summer is the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors in bloom. And there’s nothing about apartment living to keep you from doing it. Follow these steps to bring the outdoors home with an apartment garden on your balcony or patio:
Plants have very specific light requirements, and when you see something described as “full sun,” you can expect that it wants six hours of sun every day. Pay attention to the way the sun tracks across your apartment garden, and what kinds of shadows are cast by overhangs or the patio walls. If you want plants for a shady patio, check out this list of shade-loving container plants, or this one if your patio is sunny.
You don’t need expensive pots, but you do need large ones. Healthy roots make healthy plants, so give the roots plenty of room to spread out. Roots for most plants don’t need much more than a foot of depth, so feel free to save weight (and soil) by filling the bottoms of tall pots with lightweight biodegradable packing peanuts. Make sure your pots have drainage holes.
When you’re shopping for plants, look for sturdy base stems and vigorous green foliage. The quantity of flowers or fruit is immaterial—healthy plants will grow more in your apartment garden through the summer. For vegetables, consult this list for the best container vegetables.
For ornamental pots, choose a tall, upright item for height in each pot, bushy blooming plants for volume, and trailing greenery or flowers to overflow the pot. Pack the ornamental pots in your apartment garden as full as possible. In a big pot, the roots will still have room to spread while the flowers look spectacular. For fruiting plants, though (e.g., tomatoes, beans, peas), give them lots of shoulder room, and provide cages or trellises to support them as they get taller.
Be careful to choose potting soil, not garden soil, at the garden center. Potting soil is specifically mixed to retain moisture, drain well, and provide nourishment and structure to the roots of potted plants. Don’t pack the soil, but just scoop or pour it into the pots until they’re nearly full, then make holes with your fingers, drop your plants in, and fill the pots the rest of the way to the top with potting soil. Make sure the bases of your plants are well tucked into the soil.
Water anytime the soil feels dry, until water runs out the bottom. In hot weather, that’ll probably be every day. Your apartment garden will reward you richly if you feed with diluted liquid fertilizer with every watering, or at least weekly, even though the potting soil says it has time-release fertilizer. As blooms fade, pinch them off and you’ll encourage more blooming. If a plant gets leggy or has small flowers you can’t pinch off individually, you may need to just give the plant a 1/3 haircut at mid-season. If you ever don’t like the way your apartment garden looks, it’s okay to pull out the plants that aren’t working and replace them.
With a little planning and effort, your apartment garden will reward you with the beauty of the outdoors right outside your patio door.