Apartment Gardening: How To Get Started




September 1, 2023

Gardening, and all of its mental health benefits, is accessible without a big yard; apartment spaces can serve just fine. Whether you have a small balcony or a sunny windowsill, there are straightforward ways to bring some green into your living space.

It's a commitment, but many find the rewards worth it.

Why Start An Apartment Garden?

You don’t have to dig deep to find people online who attest to the benefits of gardening. Whether you fill up your balcony or start with a windowsill, apartment gardening offers therapeutic and mental health advantages. It serves as an avenue for relaxation, mindfulness, and a direct connection to nature—even amidst an urban backdrop. While the hobby comes with its set of responsibilities, many find the sense of pride and constant accomplishment well worth it.

  • Mental Health: Starting an apartment garden on a rooftop or a windowsill offers a holistic approach to well-being. It's not merely about acquiring green thumbs; the ongoing care of plants can serve as a meditative practice and provide a sense of accomplishment. And as a hobby, it immediately thrusts you into a global community of like-minded people who also enjoy plant life.
  • Improved Air Quality: Your indoor plants are more than just a personal sanctuary; they also enhance your living environment. A 2018 study highlighted the Australian Sword Fern's ability to remove formaldehyde, a common indoor pollutant. Further research by the University of Technology Sydney and Ambius revealed that indoor plants effectively reduce petrochemical compounds like benzene, often found in household products. Plants' capacity to absorb CO2 and emit oxygen further purifies your indoor air, a natural complement to your existing HVAC system.
  • Aesthetics: The aesthetic appeal of a garden transcends the boundaries of indoor and outdoor spaces. From leafy house plants to blooming balcony arrangements, the presence of plants adds depth, warmth, and character to your living environment. You can theme your garden to create anything from a mini jungle to a cozy cottage atmosphere.
  • Fresh Produce: Apartment gardening can extend beyond ornamentals and be highly functional. From windowsill herbs to balcony vegetable patches, your apartment garden can yield delicious, home-grown produce. If your setting allows, herbs like basil, vegetables like zucchini, and peppers can become fresh, convenient additions to your meals.
  • Composting: Regardless of where your garden is situated in your apartment setting, composting can be a practical way to recycle organic waste. Specialized indoor compost bins or vermicomposting systems can turn your kitchen scraps into nutrient-rich soil, perfect for your balcony or indoor plants.
  • Biodiversity: Although your apartment garden may be small in scale, including flowering plants for pollinators can make a modest but meaningful contribution to supporting the local ecosystem. Should your plants thrive, consider transplanting them to community gardens, contributing to local biodiversity.
  • Participate in Urban Farming: The "grow your own" philosophy aligns perfectly with the burgeoning Urban Farming Movement. By cultivating edible plants in your apartment space—whether on a rooftop, balcony, or windowsill—you're minimizing waste and transportation emissions, thus taking a step toward sustainable living right from home.

Start Your Apartment Garden

To start your apartment gardening adventure, focus on three key considerations: light, location, and budget. Begin by observing the light conditions in your chosen space—be it a balcony, windowsill, or rooftop. Categorize it as either:

  • Full sun: 6 or more hours of direct sun a day
  • Partial sun or shade: 4 to 6 hours of direct sun a day
  • Full shade: less than 4 hours of direct sun a day

Once you've nailed down the lighting, tailor your plant selection accordingly. Some plants thrive in full sun, while others prefer shade. Be mindful of the unique challenges urban environments pose: excessive heat from surrounding asphalt and strong winds on balconies or rooftops can quickly dry out your plants, so consider self-watering containers or a simple drip irrigation system.

Budget-wise, there's no need to splurge. Upcycle items around your home for planters or start your plants from seeds to save money. Creating your own compost can also provide free, organic plant food. With a bit of planning, your apartment garden can be both rewarding and budget-friendly.

Picking A Gardening Space

Deciding where to plant your apartment garden is as crucial as deciding what to plant. Several options are available to you, each with its own set of considerations.

  • Balcony & Terrace Gardens: Your balcony or terrace is an obvious choice, but keep in mind the weight restrictions, especially after watering. Always secure your containers to prevent accidents.
  • Indoor Gardens: Low on outdoor space? No worries. Windowsills and sustainable furniture near windows make excellent spots. You can also maximize space with wall planters or hanging options. The advantage of indoor gardening is its flexibility; you can easily move things around if they're not working out.
  • Community Spaces: If you're short on personal outdoor space, but your building has communal areas like rooftops or courtyards, it's worth talking to your property manager. Not only could you secure a spot for your own plants—you might also spark the idea of a community garden. Rooftop gardens, in particular, offer a larger space for communal gardening but come with their own challenges, such as more extreme weather conditions. Drip irrigation is often necessary in such settings to ensure your plants thrive.

Apartment Plants To Consider 

Once you figure out where you can have your garden, the next step is to decide on some plants. Here are some ideas tailored to different apartment gardening spaces you may have available.

Balcony & Terrace Gardens

  • Compact Varieties: If you're tight on space but still dream of harvesting your own fruits, consider compact varieties like dwarf apple trees, dwarf cherry trees, and "Patio Princess" tomatoes. These are bred to have a smaller footprint while producing a reasonable yield. This means you can enjoy fresh fruits from your balcony without overwhelming the limited space.
  • Climbing Plants: Green beans, peas, and cucumbers are excellent choices for limited outdoor spaces. These plants grow vertically, taking advantage of height rather than width. They are suitable for trellising, allowing you to maximize every inch of your outdoor area.

Indoor Gardens

  • Windowsill Herbs: Basil, mint, chives, and parsley are fantastic for indoor gardening. Place them on your windowsill and enjoy their aromatic presence and the convenience of having fresh herbs on hand for cooking.
  • Low-Light Houseplants: If your apartment lacks abundant natural light, go for low-light tolerant plants like snake plants, ZZ plants, or pothos. Low-maintenance plants can thrive in less-than-ideal light conditions, perfect for indoor settings.
  • Air-Purifying Plants: Consider adding air-purifying plants like spider plants, peace lilies, or golden pothos to your indoor garden. These plants are not just decorative; they can help clean the air in your home by filtering out various indoor pollutants.

Community Spaces

  • Communal Edible Garden: If your building offers communal garden spaces, why not plant fast-growing greens like lettuce, spinach, or arugula? These are excellent for sharing and can even be the start of a community garden project.
  • Rooftop Drought-Tolerant Plants: In a rooftop setting, plants have to withstand more extreme weather conditions. Drought-tolerant varieties like sedums, succulents, and lavender are your best bet, as they require minimal water and can thrive in full sun.

Getting Started

So, if you've decided to let gardening into your heart, know that you don't need a sprawling yard; an apartment will do just fine. Your first step is to assess your available space, whether a windowsill, balcony, or communal area, and note how much sunlight it receives. On a budget? No worries. You can start small with upcycled containers and a few seeds, laying the foundation for your green sanctuary. So don't hesitate; your future garden and its myriad benefits await you to take the first step today.

Happy gardening.