Urban Gardening: The Beginner’s Guide to Planting in the City

I want to start a garden but don’t have the space” is one of the most common complaints I get from people living in a city. And indeed the restriction of space is one of the biggest downsides of living in an urban area.

But truthfully, urban gardening is not limited to space. In fact, you can easily start a garden of your dreams from your balcony and even a window sill.

Read on to find out HOW in this guide to urban gardening for beginners.

Benefits of Urban Gardening

Urban Gardening The Beginners Guide

An urban garden encompasses plants of all types and varieties in an urban environment. Unlike our ancestors who lived in rural and open areas – a majority of us are residing in cities. In fact, the UN World Urbanization Prospects estimates that more than half of the world’s population is living in an urban setting.

And while this gives us easy access to many facilities, it also means lack of green space, higher rates of pollution and increased cost of living. The benefits of urban gardening helps resolve many of these issues and provide the homeowners with better physical and mental wellbeing.

Some advantages of taking up gardening include:

  • Plants are natural purifiers and reduce pollution in the air by eliminating the toxins. Those with recurring respiratory issues, dry coughs, and sore throats can prevent their ailments by adding a few plants in their surroundings.
  • Plants like Jaime, Lavender, and Aloe have a soothing smell. Keeping them in your room can help you sleep better and ease stress.
  • Growing your own vegetables and fruit give you access to local source of food that is sustainable, high-quality, and safe from added preservatives.
  • If you are someone who purchases a lot of herbs or vegetables for daily cooking, an urban gardening balcony can give you access to cost-effective groceries – anytime you want.
  • Plants add an ambience to your home. This not only makes your home an attractive place but also give you more leisure space to wire down in evenings.
  • Working on plants give you a chance to exercise in the open sun – something that many city livers are deprived of. Ultimately, this helps improve your productivity, physical wellbeing, and mental awareness.
  • Adding a green space to your home increases its property value as many people will pay more for an apartment with a thriving garden.
  • In the technology era, children’s hardly go out to play as much as their ancestors. Having them join you in planting, watering, and harvest gives them a good time-out. They also learn about the origins and importance of food.
  • Above all, gardening is a fun activity that keeps you busy for hours. It is a great skill to learn with a rewarding outcome.

7 Steps to Urban Gardening for Beginners

City dwellers are often overwhelmed with the idea of apartment gardening. And yes, there is no magic formula for growing plants if you have never experimented with it before. However, there are plenty of options for urban gardeners and basically all you need is some containers, soil, seeds, and an area that gets direct sunlight.

Here is how to get started:

Step 1: Choose your Space

Always remember that there is no such thing as a garden that is too small. Just be creative with your space and choose an area that gets sufficient sunlight according to the plants you want to grow.

Generally, patios, balconies, and rooftops serve as an ideal space for planting while indoor gardeners can grow on window sills, doorsteps, bookshelves, and even fire escapes (just make sure not to block the exit).

However, before you buy your plants, evaluate the amount of sun your chosen space receives. Eight hours of direct sunlight on a specific area is considered full sun and is a necessity if you are planning on planting kitchen ingredients such as tomatoes and peppers.

On the other hand, leafy vegetables, flowering houseplants, and herbs have lower light requirements depending on the variety you are planting.

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When buying plants or seeds, read the labels carefully for their unique light recommendations:

Full SunSix to eight hours of direct sunlight per day, preferably starting from dawn till late afternoon.
Partial SunBetween four and six hours of sunlight per day – from morning to early afternoon.
ShadeLess than four hours of direct sunlight every day.

Step 2: Pick a Container

Container gardening is the way to go when gardening beds are not accessible. Available in all shapes and sizes, containers and pots can be used to cover any area you choose for your home garden.

They have an advantage of being portable. If you find your plants not happy with the amount of sunlight it receives, you can easily pick the containers up and move them to a relatively better area. You can also switch their places with convenience according to the season.

But when choosing containers, consider the type of plants you will be using. The containers should be big enough for healthy root growth – approximately 10 inch deep by 10 inch wide for small herbs and up to 7 gallons for larger plants like carrots.

Adding multiple plants to a single container is a good idea to use up as much space as you have efficiently. For example, tall plants like tomatoes go well with small shrubs like basil and will thrive well without overcrowding.

Moreover, the more plants you have in a specific area, the higher its humidity which is valuable for plant growth.

You have lots of creative options for container gardening apart from the traditional terra-cotta pots and plastic jars. However, avoid containers that are prone to rust. Pots that are dark-colored or painted from the inside are also not recommended for gardening as they absorb more heat and often – the paint can become toxic to your newly planted vegetation.

Other than that, you can be as imaginative as you want with household items such as buckets, paint cans, coffee jars, and milk containers. Take advantage of hanging pots/baskets, trellis, and windowsill pots to maximize your space and create visual interest.

 Just make sure to keep a tray or a saucer underneath each plant-holder to catch draining water. Even indoor plants would need adequate drainage. If you are using non-traditional planters, drill around three holes on the base so the water does not collect in the roots.

You can also add a layer of gravel or stones along the bottom of the container to keep water away from the root.

Step 3: Select the Potting Media

The potting mix you use should ideally be formulated with the ingredients suitable for plants that are not attached to the ground. Soil is generally not needed for urban gardening as the potting mix absorbs enough water and provides the plant with required circulation.

For my variety of potted plants, I prefer using a commercial-potting mix that includes compost, peat, vermiculite, and perlite. These ingredients make the potting medium light and fluffy with better aerating and draining capabilities.

You can even make your own potting soil by following the easy DIY recipes. This will give you a better and consistent supply of soils and save you tons of money.

Just keep the pH levels to neutral for best growth. The pH ranges from 0 to 14 with 7 being neutral. A pH level less than 7 is categorized as acidic while soil with a higher number is alkaline. Invest in a testing kit and make adjustments by:

  • Adding lime to raise the pH level
  • Adding sulfur to reduce the number

Additionally, a fertilizer at least once a week is a staple feed for the plants growth. Although, a little expensive – I always recommend going for organic fertilizers as they are safer than the synthetic variety. They also include the correct amount of nutrients for the healthy growth of plants.

Step 4: Plant your Seeds

Ultimately, the plants you choose for your garden is dependent on the growing conditions of your area. Here are some factors to keep in mind when purchasing seeds.

Seed Supplier: For urban gardening, it is ideal that you buy seeds from small, regional companies that provide seeds according to your USDA hardiness zone. Seeds from local vendors also take some of the guesswork out of which plant varieties to avoid as they are unlikely to offer products unsuited to your growing conditions.

Seeds vs. Transplants: Alternatively, you can buy baby plants, also known as transplants from the nursery and repot them in your container. However, some plants such as beans prefer direct sowing. Choosing seeds is also cost-effective as you get multiple seeds in one packet for a very small price while transplants give you an almost-ready plant at a higher price.

Seed Varieties: Once you have found the seed supplier of your liking, evaluate the growing condition of your specific garden to determine the plants which will work best. Along with sun exposure and space, you also need to consider the soil type, soil moisture, temperature, and the growing season of the seed you may potentially buy for a favorable outcome.

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Take a careful look at the seed catalog to understand their growing requirements before planting. For example, Cacti and Succulents such as Aloe, Jades, Crown of Thrones, Hedgehog Cacti, and Pincushion Cacti are ideal for apartment gardening and can be easily grown indoors where bright light is accessible.

  • The Sun Plants: Peppers, Tomatoes, Potatoes, Beans, Eggplant, Zucchini, Cucumbers, Petunias, Zinnias, Chrysanthemum, Daffodils
  • Shade Tolerant: Beets, Broccoli, Kale, Cabbage, Peas, Radish, Turnips, Spinach, Carrots, and Herbs
  • Shallow Growing Plants: Lettuce, Beans, Eggplant, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Bell Peppers, Hot Peppers
  • Space Saving Plants: Beans, Carrots, Cabbage, Lettuce, Beets, Peas, Peppers, Tomatoes
  • Vigorous Growers: Tomatoes, Peppers, Cucumbers

Step 5: Water Regularly

Healthy plants require the right type of water in proper amounts. Simply don’t assume that the plant needs water every day. Instead, research on the specific plant to ensure you are not overwatering or keeping it dehydrated as per its needs.

Keep a consistent check on the soil as well to see if it is moist enough. Another urban gardening technique is to conduct a finger test to check the moisture level in soil. Simply insert one finger in the middle of the container. If the finger cannot enter the soil or comes out completely dry, it definitely needs water.

But if the top layer of soil feels moist and your finger has some dirt sticking to it, the water levels are sufficient for the plant growth.

The coloring of leaves are also a good indication of both – over and under watering. Keep an eye on them in conjunction of the soil test. If the plant has dried out for some reason, water it slowly. Giving too much water at once can damage the roots and kill the plant.

I prefer watering in mornings as watering at night can cause the plants to develop diseases. Always use room temperature water. You can also water again in the late afternoon when the weather is dry.

Pay attention to the water you are using as well. Unfortunately, city water often has chlorine and fluoride that is intolerable by plants. I always try to catch rainwater for my collection of plants during the monsoon season. Melted snow is also a good option if you live in an area with a colder climate.

Another trick is to fill an open container and leave it aside for a day or two. This will allow the chemicals to evaporate before you use it on your plants.

Step 6: Keep a Watchful Eye

Just like any garden, your urban garden is also receptive to diseases and pests. Some of the most common garden pests you will encounter in your garden include spider mites, whiteflies, fungus gnats, and common brown scale.

The good news is that most of them are immobile and are easy to control. You can also spray them with insecticidal soap, neem oil, or an insecticide containing sulfur to prevent infestation.

I usually keep a new plant isolated for a couple of weeks before getting it together with other flora. It is also a good idea to keep a magnifying glass handy for regular inspection of the leaves – especially the undersides to ensure there is no unwanted critter.

Also be sure to remove any weeds from your garden area, as they can act as a carrier for new bugs and plants. When it comes to indoor plants, they are very unlikely to grow weeds but make sure to clear out dead leaves from the plants to keep them protected.

Step 7: Harvest and Have Fun

The fun part begins it’s actually the time to harvest your plants and even enjoy them in meals. Keep an eye on the crops close to their harvest time to avoid them from becoming overgrown or overripe.

Typically, the vegetation is ready for harvesting when you see them at a useable size. Check their seed packets to get a rough idea when the plants will be ready for harvesting.

Always remember, vegetables start losing their flavor and nutrients as soon as you pluck them out so harvest them on the same day you are planning to serve. Try keeping aside the mornings for harvesting as at this time the plants are least stressed.

Involve your children in the fun too! Have them pick out easy vegetables that don’t require tools such as tomatoes and carrots.

Above all, make sure to remove the vegetation/herbs without damaging the main follicle. Avoid pulling too hard on the crop and instead use a knife if it’s difficult to pluck them out.

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Urban Garden Ideas

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Here are some urban garden ideas to help you get started with your plants – regardless of the space you have.

Raised Beds

Raised beds are a great way to create a sleek landscape. They take up less space and do great if placed in a patio or rooftop. It is also functional as you can grow the same varieties of plants in a single planter. For example, lettuce plants in one and root vegetables in other.

Vertical Urban Gardening

A great option to make the most of your tiny balcony is vertical urban gardening. As the name implies, here you build your garden upwards rather than outwards, leaving a lot of foot space for mobility.

Wall pockets are also a good option for beginners. They are readily available and can be installed easily on the balcony walls. Ferns, Succulents, Dracaena, Begonias, Air plants, and vines all make a great addition to vertical gardens.

Hanging Baskets

Hanging baskets are usually limited to flowing flowers but truthfully, they make a great container for growing produce.  Especially herbs do quite well in hanging baskets as they don’t require much growing room. Hang these baskets in your balcony or even out the window to make the most use of the little space you have.

Planting Tables

Another gardening technique for a creative green space is the planting tables. Though generally expensive, planting tables give you the advantage of planting without bending. Obviously they are portable and you can move them around the balcony or roof for a more suitable spot if your plants are not growing properly.

Grow Bags

If you are not particular about the aesthetics of your garden, then grow bags are the perfect medium for planting. They are cheap, easily movable and can even be washed for reuse multiple times.

How to start a Community Garden?

Community gardens are shared places where the people of the neighborhood maintain a garden space to grow vegetation, herbs, and even livestock. These type of gardens are ideal for low-income areas as it provides healthy and budget-friendly food options for the families.

The people working in these gardens take advantage of physical exercise, sunshine, and therapeutic/mental benefits. A community garden can also change the culture of a neighborhood by connecting them with a shared activity/interest and enhancing togetherness.

Environmental benefits are also apparent with a small garden in the neighborhood. Plants reduce the overall temperature of the paved spaces. The environment of a community is improved by adding greenery in the area so rather than empty lots, the space between buildings can be filled with flowers or even food.

Urban Gardening Books

I am sure the above tips have given you an inspiration to start your own garden. For more comprehensive details on how to start your own garden, planning the basics, and maintenance tips, check out our top five picks of the urban gardening books.

1.    Small-Space Container Gardens: Transform your Balcony, Porch, or Patio with Fruits, Flowers, Foliage, and Herbs – by Fern Richardson

Buy On Amazon

As the name suggests, the book by Fern Richardson explores the possibilities of garden in small spaces. But what makes it unique is that it includes several tips that can help you start a container garden even if you have a limited budget.

Moreover, the book includes colorful and easy-to-follow designs that can be replicated by gardeners of any experience level.

2.    Balcony Gardening by Jeff Hasse

Buy On Amazon

Most city dwellers live in apartments with only balconies as their escapades for the outside world. Unfortunately, most balconies are neglected by home owners and are used only for hanging laundry and storing extra items.

In this book, Jeff Hasse shows how he started his urban gardening journey right from his balcony and grew various vegetables and herbs from the confined space.

3.    Urban Gardening: How to Grow Food in Any City Apartment or Yard No Matter How Small’ by Will Cook

Buy On Amazon

The introductory course to gardening in the city, Will cook explores multiple urban gardening techniques that are suitable for people in both – apartments and small houses. The 14-chapter book will teach you everything you need to know about growing your own fruits and vegetables.

Complete with pictures and step-by-step tutorials, the book is a handy resource for aspiring green thumbers.

4.    Homegrown Herbs: A Complete Guide to Growing, Using, and Enjoying More Than 100 Herbs by Tammi Hartung

Buy On Amazon

Herbs are a favorite amongst urban gardeners and with the help of this book – you can grow more than 100 herbs in your apartment. Tammi Hartung also shows you how you can make use of these herbs in food, herbal remedies, body care products, and even DIY crafts.

5.    The Ultimate Gardening Book – Joy Louis

Buy On Amazon

The four-in-one book on gardening, this guide covers everything you need to know about the topic. From planning the garden to watering properly, the Ultimate Gardening Book provides you with all the secrets you need to know about urban gardening.

Written by one of the best-selling authors, the book is perfect for both – beginner and veteran gardeners.


In today’s world, people are more cautious about the items they put in their mouth. Since there is no guarantee about the chemistry supermarket product contains – many people have resorted to growing their own kitchen ingredients with urban gardening.

And with these tips, you too can enjoy the joy of planting with ease. Good luck and let us know how it works for you in the comments section below!

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