ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Growing Vegetables in a City Apartment

Updated on April 6, 2016
Jeanne Grunert profile image

Jeanne Grunert is a Virginia Master Gardener, gardening magazine columnist, and book author. She is also a full-time freelance writer.

Strawberries grow well in pots.
Strawberries grow well in pots. | Source

Urban Gardening Tips

If you live in an urban environment but crave fresh, organic vegetables or the beauty of colorful flowers, these urban gardening tips can help you grow great plants in pots, containers and other small spaces. Just because you live in a city or in an apartment doesn't mean your green thumb has to go to waste. Urban gardeners have discovered the fun of windowsill gardening, balcony or patio gardens, roof top gardens and reclaimed spaces in the neighborhood. Container gardening is the secret.

You can grow a wide variety of vegetables and even some small fruits, such as strawberries, in an urban garden. And while massive plantings of crops such as potatoes, sweet potatoes and corn are probably impossible, fresh vegetables such as lettuce, herbs, tomatoes and peppers are easy to grow in small spaces. The secret to growing great urban gardens is to work with the space, light and time you have available to grow a satisfying garden.

Gardening Basics for Urban Gardeners

Before discussing specific ideas for urban gardens, it's important to understand the basics of good gardening in general. Great gardeners don't possess any magical qualities that are special or different from you. What they've learned is to work with the environment at hand and to select plants that will thrive in that environment. Like people and animals, plants flourish when they're given what they need to survive and be happy.

What do plants need to be happy?

  • Food (Light): Plants make food through a process called photosynthesis. Depending on where they evolved, each plants has its own light requirements. Light is divided into three categories by gardeners. Full sun is six or more hours of direct, bright and unfiltered light each day. Partial sun or partial shade is about three to six hours of sunlight. Shade refers to an area that receives dappled light or deep shade from another building or a big shade tree. Vegetables almost always require full sun, although a few can grow in partial sun. Flowers can thrive under any of the three conditions as long as you choose flowers suited to the light conditions that you have.
  • Water: All living things need water, and plants are no exception. Some plants evolved to thrive with little water, like a cactus or a succulent. Others need abundant water to produce flowers and edible fruits. Most vegetable plants need to be watered daily in container gardens. Make sure that if you want to proceed with an urban garden you have a convenient water source nearby.
  • Shelter (Habitat): Plants grow in soil, which provides both support for their roots as well as nourishment. Pots provide the place where soil is contained to grow plants. Any container will do for your urban garden, but it must have drainage holes cut into the bottom. Without drainage holes, water can collect inside the pot and actually rot or suffocate your plant.

Container Sizes for Urban Vegetable Gardens

If you want to grow vegetables for your urban garden, you'll need full sunlight on your patio, balcony or rooftop. Make sure you get permission from your building's owner or superintendent before placing containers on a rooftop. There may be zoning laws or restrictions that limit rooftop access.

Size requirements for container-grown vegetables are as follows:

  • Tomatoes, eggplant, cantaloupe (midget varieties only): One gallon or larger containers. For tomatoes, a tomato cage helps support the plant.
  • Peppers, carrots, lettuces, herbs: Quarter size or larger. Choose deep pots for carrots and root vegetables.
  • Strawberries, herbs: These can be grown in window boxes or smaller containers. However, the smaller the container, the more frequently you'll need to water it, so take that into consideration before choosing your plants.

Recycled Containers

You can use a variety of recycled and repurposed materials for your container gardening projects. Make sure you clean each one thoroughly before using them. A solution of 10% bleach to water used to wash the container, followed by a rinse with cool water to remove the bleach, helps clean and disinfect all potential containers.

  • Recycled gutters make great strawberry, lettuce and herb planters. Junkyards often have old gutters you can buy or take with permission. These can be used like window boxes or planted with strawberries, herbs and lettuce for a quick planter.
  • Milk containers: Plastic gallon milk containers can be cleaned and cut in half, then planted with your favorite small vegetables.
  • Old garbage cans: Cracks near the top can be cut off and the bottom of the can used to plant tomatoes, eggplant and larger vegetables.

Vegetables for Urban Gardens

Nantes "half long"
"Bush" varieties
Dwarf and miniature varieties
Any types
Basil, chives, parsley, rosemary
"Minnesota Midget" cantaloupe
Cherry types; "Early Girl" large slicing
Vegetable varieties for urban gardens and container gardens.

Urban Gardening Tips

  • Choose large containers whenever possible.
  • Make sure your containers have drainage holes.
  • Make sure you have an easily accessed water source nearby.
  • Look for vegetables marked "bush", "midget" or "dwarf" for containers.
  • Full sun is always best for growing vegetables.
  • Window sill gardens can be used to grow herbs and lettuce indoors.
  • Purchase sterile, bagged, all purpose potting soil for vegetables.
  • Fertilize every two weeks or according to package directions with a granular or liquid vegetable fertilizer.

Indoor Windowsill Gardens

What if you don't have a patio or balcony to grow vegetables? A sunny windowsill is a great alternative for growing a few vegetables indoors. Sure, you can't grow big stuff like tomatoes, but work with what you have at hand, and grow what you can.

  • Herbs: Some herbs stay small and do well on a sunny windowsill. Try growing basil, rosemary, chives, or parsley in a windowsill garden.
  • Lettuce: Small, gourmet varieties make a tasty treat. They can be grown in pots on a windowsill. Just snip off the leaves and leave the main plant to produce more leaves for your salads.
  • Radishes: You can grow radishes in pots on your windowsill, too!

Lettuce is also easy to grow.
Lettuce is also easy to grow. | Source

Urban Gardening Tips: Growing Flowers

Flowers brighten any urban environment. You can grow house plants, such as African violets or orchids, or plant containers with bright petunias, geraniums and other easy-to-grow flowers.

  • Indoor gardens only: Grow flowering house plants. Orchids are surprisingly easy to grow in urban environments and also clean the indoor air. African violets offer an easy-case, colorful plant that thrives in bright, indirect light, so if you only have an Eastern or Western window, you can grow violets. Other flowering house plants to brighten your home include holiday cacti and bulbs such as amaryllis, daffodils and jonquils, which can be grown in the fall and winter, and scented plants such as freesia and jasmine.
  • Outdoor patio and balcony gardens: Plant a butterfly garden in a pot with lantana and petunias. Geraniums can tolerate partial shade. Impatiens are an old standby for full shade, but they offer bright, colorful flowers outdoors until the first frost.

Community Food Gardens

Lastly, community food gardens are popping up throughout major cities such as New York City. These gardens use reclaimed space such as empty lots and alleyways to grow food for the community. People take turns planting and tending to the gardens in return for a portion of the harvest. GreenThumb is the organization in Manhattan that grants permits and offers information for those interested in starting community food gardens.

Other locations offer community garden plots in shared spaces. These may be in the quadrangle or lawn area of an apartment building, where raised beds are built and offered for a modest rental fee. If you really want to get your hands dirty gardening and enjoy urban gardening, renting a larger plot may satisfy your urge to grow wonderful fruits and vegetables.

© 2014 Jeanne Grunert


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Jeanne Grunert profile imageAUTHOR

      Jeanne Grunert 

      4 years ago from Virginia

      Thanks and good luck!

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 

      4 years ago from Philippines

      I have lots of pots that were coffins for dead plants. However, right now I'm working hard on building a compost so that my plants will grow on pots and be more healthy. I love the vegetable suggestions you gave and plan to give it a try. If at first, second, fifth, eight, you don't succeed, keep on trying. So, I'm back at it again. Great hub.

    • Jeanne Grunert profile imageAUTHOR

      Jeanne Grunert 

      4 years ago from Virginia

      Thank you for your kind words!

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 

      4 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Very interesting and useful hub. I was especially interested in growing indoor flowering plants. I had no idea it was so easy to grow orchids. Thank you!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is a lovely hub that's very encouraging and helpful for urban gardeners. I love the ideas for recycled containers!

    • Lady Guinevere profile image

      Debra Allen 

      4 years ago from West By God

      LOL I just wrote a hub about gardening anywhere. Good ideas you have here too.

    • Jeanne Grunert profile imageAUTHOR

      Jeanne Grunert 

      4 years ago from Virginia

      Thanks so much!

    • RTalloni profile image


      4 years ago from the short journey

      A neat look at creatively gardening in small spaces!

    • Jeanne Grunert profile imageAUTHOR

      Jeanne Grunert 

      4 years ago from Virginia

      Thanks! I appreciate it!

    • purl3agony profile image

      Donna Herron 

      4 years ago from USA

      Great hub with some wonderful ideas for small space or container gardening. Pinning to my Gardening board (I need all the help and gardening ideas I can get!). Voted up, interesting and useful! Thanks!!


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)