Limited living space doesn’t necessarily mean living without a garden when you bring plants into your apartment. You may be bound by space, but you’re not limited to just houseplants.
Consider bringing annuals, perennials, herbs, vegetables, succulents and cacti, all in cheery colors, to your balcony or patio while the weather is warm. In winter, many of these plants can be moved indoors.
Combining herbs and vegetables with houseplants, like the sun-loving combination of Purple Ruffles basil next to the croton (pictured above), shows a savvy sense of color and texture, with a taste for whimsy.
Know Your Space
First things first, learn the light in your small space. Observe the light on the patio or balcony and determine how it fits in these categories:
- Full sun: six or more hours of direct sun a day.
- Partial sun or partial shade: four to six hours of direct sun a day.
- Full shade: less than four hours of direct sun a day.
Once you know the light in your space, you can shop for plants. Look for signs in the Garden Center for sun-loving plants, and those that prefer partial or full shade. Houseplants are usually tropicals and can take some heat, although not always direct sun. Vegetables like tomatoes and eggplants need full sun to fruit – and herbs, too – although relief from late afternoon sun in the form of shade is usually welcome.
Tip: Urban environments with lots of asphalt and brick absorb heat. Patios, balconies and rooftops can also get a lot of wind. Plants exposed to these elements will dry out quickly; be prepared to water them frequently. Self-watering containers and drip irrigation may be life savers.
You’ll need a few gardening essentials in your small-space garden, but there’s no need to strain your back walking up to the third floor, or more. Choose lightweight containers (look for self-watering planters if you travel or forget to water), potting mix in small bags and plant caddies to conveniently move heavy planters from outdoors to indoors. Other necessities: gardening gloves, a soil scoop and a watering can.
Plants for Your Apartment Garden
Tropicals and Houseplants. Once you have supplies and know your light requirements, you can select plants. Fiery colored crotons, such as the bold golden plants above, are widely available and can grow outdoors in summer. When the weather cools, they become houseplants until next spring. More tropicals to consider: bromeliads, pothos, sansevieria (snake plant) and rubber plant.
Succulents and Cacti. While the days and nights are warm, succulents will thrive outdoors. When the days get shorter and the nights close to freezing, bring them inside to a sunny room with indirect light. In the Garden Center, look for decorative ceramic containers like the Trendspot Mediterranean Bell Trio planter (pictured above) sized just right for small succulents and cacti. Learn more about succulents that will grow outside in all kinds of weather.
Shrubs. Small shrubs like Proven Winners’ “Jazz Hands” loropetalum make fine centerpieces or focal points, especially when placed in a decorative container. Look for plants with a bold foliage and read the plant tag to find the mature size. Likely candidates for balcony gardens are hydrangeas like “Endless Summer,” Proven Winners’ “Lo and Behold” butterfly bush (buddleia) and dwarf varieties of ninebark, barberry (look for Southern Living Collection’s “Orange Rocket”) and roses like “Knockout.”
Perennials. Make a statement with glorious perennials like rudbeckia (Black Eyed Susan), perennial sunflower, coreopsis, gaillardia (blanket flower), purple coneflower (echinacea) and more sturdy selections known for drought tolerance and abundant blooms. You can overwinter containers, just look for frost-proof planters and add a layer of mulch to the top. You can also place the container with plants in an unheated garage and check throughout the cold season for adequate moisture.
Vegetables. Of course you can grow vegetables in your apartment garden. Just look for patio-ready vegetable varieties of tomato, pepper and eggplant (like Bonnie Plants’ “Patio Baby” pictured above). The seedlings are easy to transplant into your own containers, but the easiest option is the patio-ready fruiting plant already in a caged container. Selection will vary by location.
Annuals. Whether from seed or seedling, annuals will pump out the color while the weather is warm. Look for favorites like zinnias, coleus (pictured above), impatien, petunia and calibrochoa. Pansies are more cold-tolerant than most annuals, able to handle temps as low as 26 degrees Fahrenheit.