Growing your own food is appealing for many reasons: You know exactly where it came from, you can control your chemical use, and it’s a cheap source of healthy food. But without an expanse of land, gardening can seem impossible. But it’s easier than you might think to grow produce in an apartment setting, even if all you have to work with is a windowsill on the 20th floor of your New York, NY, apartment building. The first step is to figure out your Plant Hardiness Zone, which determines what plants “will be most successful based on where you live,” says Jenny Prince, brand manager at American Meadows, a gardening retail site. Then read on for tips on how to pick the right types of plants and get them to grow. Happy harvesting!
Consider an herb garden
Chives, oregano, parsley, lemongrass, and basil are easy to grow indoors. Try to keep them near a window and use a breathable pot, such as one made of terra cotta, with drainage holes — the bigger and deeper the pot the better, says Rebecca Lee, founder of RemediesForMe.com, a resource on holistic healing. And don’t overwater them! “Herbs only need to be watered once a week,” says Lee. “Make sure the soil is completely dry, bring the plant to the sink, and run the water until the soil is completely wet. Let the water drain, repeat, and then bring the pot back to its saucer to let it completely drain.” If you’re just starting out, skip the seeds and buy baby plants, or seedlings, from a nursery. Just be sure they’ve been raised indoors because you don’t want to drastically change their environment.
Get your greens on
Lettuce, spinach, arugula, and chard tolerate low-light conditions, so they’re easy to grow indoors or on a shady balcony garden, says Prince. Greens also grow well in window boxes because of their shallow roots, which is ideal for apartment dwellers.
Don’t be afraid to mix and match plant types
“Thrillers, spillers, and fillers is a common design technique for container gardening,” says Prince. Container gardening is the idea of planting a variety of plants in one large pot — or container. “The idea is to choose plants that behave really differently but complement each other visually.” For example, you could plant eggplant or mini bell peppers (thrillers because of their dramatic texture and color) with romaine lettuce, spinach, chives, or oregano (fillers because they are bushier, medium-height plants) and finish the pot with cascading cherry tomatoes or sweet potato vines (you guessed it; these are spillers because they fall over the sides of the container).
DIY an ideal growing environment
Too much sun on your balcony or roof? Use an awning to create shade or place sun-loving plants like tomatoes in front of or next to shade lovers to block the light. Too little sun? Paint a pallet white and lean it against the wall to redirect what little sunlight you do get. For hot, dry climates, Prince says to make sure your pots are resting in drip trays that you keep filled with water, or invest in self-watering planters.
Be choosy about where you buy your plants
You’re selective about the produce you buy, so employ the same caution when buying seedlings, advises Prince. “Try to buy from a nursery rather than a big box store,” she says. “Often the plants you buy at big box stores aren’t well cared for. (Think pesticides and synthetic plant food.)”
Eat what you grow
Once your garden is producing veggies, fruits, and herbs, reap what you sow. This is especially true for herbs, because the more you pick them, the more they’ll grow. One tip? A pair of herb scissors can make harvesting a cinch. “When harvesting, avoid tugging at the leaves,” says Lee. “This can strain the entire plant and dislodge its roots.”