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DIY Container Garden In A Small Urban Space

The Back Porch Container Garden is a fun way to encourage kids’ interest in gardening. You can plant flowers for beautiful bouquets all summer long or get your veggies in the ground and harvest them fresh for a snack! This is a great way to get kids involved in gardening. You can do this on any small area of your apartment patio or even on a balcony.

Plan for your Space

The first thing you have to do is figure out what kind of space you will have for the garden.

For some, a patio or balcony is an excellent option for your garden. Of course, you can get creative with your space and maximize your square footage with unique containers, but we'll get to that!

No outdoor space? Grow hydroponic herbs on the kitchen counter!

Another option is to think larger than your own home.

Rent a plot at a community garden and grow your vegetables alongside others in your community. This is a beautiful way to make new friends and learn from each other as you share tips and tricks for raising happy plants. Suppose you don't have room for an entire plot. In that case, almost every community garden has some kind of shared rows where people can plant a few vegetables or flowers together. Most also have events throughout the year, such as workdays or potlucks. Check with your local extension service to find one near you!

Do you know of a neighborhood park that could use some beautification? Talk to the local authorities about starting a garden there. This way, kids who walk past it every day can watch their creations. This is also an excellent option for High School students who need community service hours. Contact your local parks board and ask if there are any local parks or shared spaces where your family can adopt a garden and beautify the area for the entire community.

Shopping Time

The next thing that I like to do is list the things I need for my garden. This makes it really easy when you are at the store, and you can't remember what you want to get.

There are three categories to think of when you're making your shopping list:

Pick Your Containers

Now comes the fun part, picking out your containers! Container gardening is super fun because you can be creative with your choices.

Maximize your space by using hanging planters, wall-mounted planters, stackable planters, and more.

Ensure your pot has proper drainage and is deep enough for your plants. Most vegetables are suited for growing in long, narrow containers rather than round ones. This leaves room for multiple rows of vegetables without crowding them out. But do choose a style of container that works well in your space — an oblong container will be hard to fit on a round patio table!

Tools of the Trade

You'll need a few essential tools, but you can start small and build up your supplies as you go along.

A watering can. Regular watering is critical for container plants, so it's helpful to keep water at the ready. If you want to prevent spills, consider a watering can with a built-in sprinkler head, like the one pictured above.

Gloves. Gloves are optional, and I usually go without them; I like the dirt under my nails and really connecting with the earth. But suppose you are planting thorny plants or cacti or have a sensory-sensitive kid. In that case, they are great for protecting little hands from getting scratched or dirty. While I’m all for messy play, if you're trying to get your kids excited about gardening, you don't want them to be turned off by the experience of getting their hands all grimy. A good pair of kid-size work gloves will do the trick.

A trowel or small spade. Keeping soil turned and aerated is vital for healthy plants since that helps prevent compaction and allows for proper drainage. Kids can help with this task using a small spade or trowel — just make sure the tool is sized right so that they can easily handle it.

A bucket. While I use my wheelbarrows more than my car in the spring and summer, a 5 Gallon Bucket is the perfect version to collect food scraps for compost, weeds, plant trimmings, and blending soil if you have a patio garden.

A good pair of gardening shears - These will keep your plants trimmed and looking nice. They also help in removing unwanted leaves and twigs from your plants.

Plant Care

You'll need to get the last thing before digging into the fun stuff is your plant care supplies.

Plant care supplies. This category includes soil amendments, insecticide/fungicide, and fertilizer. These will help keep your plants healthy and happy. Soil is the foundation of any garden, so make sure yours is the right type for your plants: sandy soil drains quickly while clay soil holds moisture. Mix some compost to correct drainage problems or add nutrients to the soil (you can buy it or make it yourself with kitchen scraps).

There are also many different types of fertilizer available — including organic or chemical-based ones — so do some research to find the best one for your plants.

Pick Your Plants

Researching plants before bringing them home is important! While you may get lucky with just throwing some plants in and hoping for the best, chances are, without research, you'll plant the wrong plants in the wrong place.

Some plants hate to be in specific soil or get too much sun. Reading up on how much light, water, and soil each plant needs will help your garden flourish. Pick plants that will thrive in your space. Don't put sunflowers on a shady balcony or ferns in direct sunlight.

Also, consider the parings in your containers. While some plants do great when planted next to other plants, some should never be planted next to each other. For example, you shouldn't plant tomatoes and potatoes next to each other because they can harm one another. Similarly, beans shouldn't be planted next to onions, as they can stunt their growth.

If you have a problem with pests or specific plants that aren’t thriving in your garden, it might be due to the plants around them.

Conversely, plants can protect each other from pests and disease, attract beneficial insects and pollinators, provide shade for sensitive plants, and provide nutrients for their neighbors. Companion planting is about choosing plants that work well together. Here are some examples:

  • Plant basil next to tomatoes to deter whitefly and improve the flavor of the tomato by attracting bees.

  • Plant garlic and onions among roses to deter aphids.

  • Plant chives among carrots as they both help each other grow better, and the chives can help deter carrot fly.

  • Don't plant sage near cucumbers, as it will inhibit the growth of both plants.

  • Don't plant mint next to anything as it invades everything! I grow my mint in containers and keep a close watch on it to keep it from jumping into my garden beds!

I have two favorite resources for identifying plants and researching their care:

This is my favorite reference book; I constantly pull it out to check and double-check light and drainage requirements before choosing a spot for a plant! While planning my spring garden during the cold winter months, it's my best friend.

And the app Picture This. Probably my most used app, outside of Instagram. Just grab a picture of the plant. It can identify the plant, diagnose disease or infestations, and provide options for treatment. You can save plants to your garden, and I even just found a new Tree Ring analyzer they added. They don't even have an affiliate program, so I don't get anything if you download it. I just really, really love this app. Side note, there's a bird, fungi, and insect version too.

Seeds or Seedlings?

While growing from seed is a great learning opportunity and fun to watch, container gardens are best planted from seedlings, not seeds. Seeds are fun to plant and grow, but they're easily damaged when planted too deep or too shallow or when they aren't watered enough. Seedlings are already growing hardy roots, so they have a better chance of surviving mishaps. If you want to grow from seed, start in small pods and transfer them to your larger container once roots are established!

Time to Plant!

When you are ready to plant your seedlings, water the soil in the container thoroughly so it's evenly moist but not soggy. If you're planting seeds instead of seedlings, read the seed packet carefully and follow all instructions.

Make a hole in the soil that is deep enough to accommodate your plant's roots. If you're using a potting mix with fertilizer added, don't place the plant too deep, or the fertilizer could burn its tender roots.

Carefully remove your plant from its nursery pot and loosen any roots that may have wound tightly around the root ball. If you see any black or mushy roots, cut them off with a sharp knife so they won't rot and spread disease to your other plants.

Place your plants in their new home and fill in the space with soil. Pat down gently as you go to help eliminate large air pockets, but do not pack tightly, as root systems need oxygen to thrive. Water again, making sure all of the soil is moistened.


Frequent watering is required for container gardens because water evaporates quickly from exposed pots. Also, if the pots are sitting on your porch floor, very little moisture seeps into them from below. Check your container plants daily and give them a thorough watering whenever needed. Water until it begins to drain from the bottom of the pot, but be sure to let the soil dry out between waterings.

In the end, growing your own foods is a great way to save time and money, eat healthier, and get more intimate with your food. Container gardening is another excellent way to reap these benefits. All it takes is a small space and a few simple materials. But then, it’s time to grow your own! We hope you’ll follow these tips and that you get a chance to experiment with container gardening. This can be a rewarding pastime for all small apartment or condo residents. Indeed, it just might foster a more rewarding relationship to your own personal space, as well as the plants in your community.

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