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Useful Tips for Starting an Urban Garden

Starting an urban garden is like learning to ride a bike:  you’ll probably fall a few times, before finally getting it right.  In gardening, failure is just part of the learning process. However, a lot of these rookie mistakes can actually be avoided if the new gardener is properly guided on what he ought to do (or not to do).  Here are a few useful things to remember before starting an urban garden.


Plan your garden space.

In the urban setting,  a limited garden space is  a common challenge for everyone.  In a lot of cases, the only spaces available are the paved pocket garden, the patio and/or a wall in the apartment. Despite these limitations, it is still possible for gardeners to plant a variety of flowers, herbs and vegetables even in small spaces. Growing plants in containers is a good option for starters.  Container gardening gives a lot of flexibility to a gardener, especially in choosing the location of the plants within the garden.

First, determine your objective for starting your garden. Is it for ornamental purposes? Do you intend to grow organic herbs and spices? How about some salad greens or vegetables?  Check out the local garden shops in your community and see what types of plants are readily available.  Try to research a bit about the particular plants that you intend to grow.  What type of environment will these plants grow best?

sun pattern on plantsNext is to check out the amount of  sunlight your intended garden space will get everyday.   Will the garden receive full sun or partial sun?   “Full sun”  means that your garden gets approximately 6- 8 hours of direct sunlight per day.  “Partial sun”  means approximately 4-6 hours of direct sunlight per day.  The amount of sunlight exposure will help you choose which type of plants to grow in your garden.   If sunlight is limited, consider choosing plants that can thrive even with partial or limited sunlight.  (Check my post “All about Sunlight: Basic Principles a Gardener Needs to Know”).

Start small.  Go for quick wins.


For beginners, start with a few plants that are easy to maintain and propagate.  Build your confidence by buying a few seedlings or fully grown plants,  rather than starting them from seeds. Herbs like basil, mint, oregano and thyme are a great starter plants. Then try propagating these plants later through cuttings (Check my blog post on how to propagate herbs from cuttings or seeds).  As you gain more knowledge from your own experience,  add a few more plant varieties by experimenting on a few seeds. Make sure to buy from trusted seed brands to ensure quality seeds with high germination rate. (Check my blog post on seed  germination.)

Stay with the basics.

Your starter kit should include the following basic items:    seed starter tray ,  a bag of potting soil,  a bag of compost or organic fertilizer,   some small to medium- sized pots (4-6 inches in diameter),  and  2 to 3 packets of seeds.  Feel free to use recycled materials for your seed starter. Just make sure to punch a few holes at the bottom to allow drainage. Optionally, you may invest in a watering can (start with a 2-gallon/ 5-liter can),  a good pair of garden shears and  a pair of garden gloves.  You will also need a garden tool for working on the soil,  but you don’t have to buy because a few discarded plastic forks and knives will do the trick for starters.

Resist the temptation of buying everything that you see online or in the garden shop.  I ended up buying or collecting all kinds of seeds, fertilizers and tools,  realizing later that I only need half of them.   Take note of the expiration date on the seed packets.

I also tried all the gardening ideas that I read in the web. Later I found out that these ideas don’t always work, especially in our local warm climate.  Some of these suggestions look great on video but are in fact not easy to do and are just a waste of time and effort.   However, don’t be scared to experiment on what method works best.

Before buying, know what kind of fertilizers your plants need and when should you fertilize them.  Each type of fertilizer serves a specific purpose- root growth,  healthy leaves, pest resistance,  flower inducement, etc.  Be careful not to overfertilize.  In fact, some plants produce better when they are a little stressed.  You can actually make your own fertilizer from kitchen scraps  (Check out my blog on home-made organic fertilizers)

Lastly,  try to manage your expectations. Don’t be discouraged if your harvest does not turn out as expected. It takes a little time and more patience before you  get to realize your goal of a dream garden.

Happy gardening everyone!

Tags: General Tips

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