Springtime has arrived bringing the blossoming of vibrant flowers and the budding of trees but also freak snowstorms, hard freezes and hailstorms. For most of the country, between these tumultuous spirits of harsh weather there are weeks of beautiful days ripe for gardening.
Even for the urban gardener whose challenges range from gardening space to available sunlight, springtime growing is totally doable. With the right tools and a little bit of urban gardening knowledge, you can be growing your own vegetable patch!
Types of Growing in Urban Spaces
Before choosing what you want to grow, it’s important to assess the available space. Not only do you need adequate room for your plants, as they will consume more and more space, but sunlight is also an important consideration. Here are few helpful small space gardening ideas to get you on your way!
Container gardening, planting in confined containers such as pots, tubs, and half barrels, is not only aesthetically appealing, but it is an incredibly successful way to grow vegetables in small, urban spaces. Many varieties of vegetables and herbs are happy and healthy in confined areas as long as they have ample sun, watering, and nutrient-rich soil. Keep in mind with container gardening that the larger the container the easier the caretaking. This is due to the fact that larger containers contain more soil, which stays moist longer. Single pots, wall fixtures, and hanging plants dry out quickly and require more diligent attention.
This creative type of gardening is one of the most effective uses of space and is especially useful for urban gardeners. Along with maximizing growing potential, vertical gardens help to reduce the “air pollution, noise and lack of privacy.” Vertical gardening uses structures, such as trellises, to utilize both vertical and horizontal spaces. There are generally three different types of vertical gardening: grow up or bottom up, cascade down, and stacking or layering.
Vertical gardening structures include trellises, a-frames, arches and arbors, teepees or pyramids, herbal spirals, pergolas, or even birdfeeders, picture frames, and aerial planters. Growing vertically can also be accomplished with permanent structures such as fences, walls, and buildings.
Pop-Up Greenhouse Gardening
The pop-up greenhouse — also referred to as a mini greenhouse — is one of the best small space tools for urban gardeners in cold climates. While both attached and freestanding greenhouses are permanent and require large swathes of land, pop-up greenhouses can be as small as a mini refrigerator. Pop-up greenhouses can be moved, collapsed, and re-used annually when temperatures drop. While permanent gardening structures such as vertical gardens and some container gardening will die off during the cold months, pop up greenhouses will keep certain varieties of flowers and vegetables alive all winter long.
Where to Grow in Urban Spaces
A challenge for urban gardeners is finding space for your garden. Whether you’re planning on wall hangings, large tubs, or a pop-up greenhouse, you’ll have to find a patch of flat land or suitable structure that receives the appropriate amount of sun. Here are a few unusual, yet excellent areas to start your spring urban garden!
Driveways and Parking Strips
If you’re one of the lucky urban dwellers who has a driveway, then you may have the perfect area for a miniature garden. Depending on the type of space — a driveway split into two strips of pavement or a parking strip with dirt on one side — you can maximize these unused earthy swatches by planting a few of your favorite veggies or herbs!
Access to a rooftop patio is somewhat rare, but it can offer a great space to create a serene garden. With that said, it’s important to choose the right types of plants for this environment. Rooftops receive the most direct sunlight, as well as the harshest beating from storms. Therefore, stick to native plants and vegetables and consider container or pop up greenhouse gardening, which will allow for the option of bringing plants into safety if the weather is too harsh.
Patios are obvious places for gardening. Depending on the size of the patio, you can experiment with closed bottom planters, vertical garden structures such as lattices and trellises, or even utilize some refurbished pieces of wood such as bird feeders, old shutters, or a table! Become familiar with the temperament of your weather patterns and base your patio garden on whether you’ll need to bring plants inside for cold storms.
How to Protect Growing Plants
While there are a few states that receive a majority of warm weather year-round — think sunny California and the deserts of Texas — every state experiences at least one light to a deep freeze. Therefore, no matter where you live, it’s important to prepare for cold weather gardening. While this may deter you from creating a wonderful urban garden, preparing for cold weather is truly simple!
One of the most tried and true ways of protecting outdoor plants is simply covering them. For deep freezes below 20 degrees, it’s recommended to use a frost blanket. Frost blankets can be purchased online for relatively cheap, between 15 and 50 dollars, and are made out of commercially woven fabrics. With that said, for light frosts, sheets, wool blankets, and burlap sacks will work just fine! Make sure to remove the garden covers once the sun rises, otherwise you risk suffocating your plants.
It’s a myth that wet soil is dangerous during cold weather. In fact, wet soil retains heat better than dry soil. Therefore, by lightly watering plants before a freeze you increase the humidity and further protect from cold weather damage.
If you don’t have the flexibility of frost protectant watering, try mulching. Spread at least two to three layers of mulch — pine needles, bark, leaves, or straw — around your plants. The mulch retains heat within the ground, which protects the tender roots of your vegetable plants from the cold. With that said, some vegetables need more protection, so make sure to do your homework!
What to Plant
Vegetable tolerance ranges from hardy to tender. For early to late spring, it’s important to only plant hardy to semi-hardy plants. These vegetables can withstand frosts and colder weather, which make them ideal for higher climates. Tender vegetables generally shouldn’t be planted in temperatures that drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Spiced Beet and Carrot Burger/One Green Planet
Plant-based diets rely on hearty vegetables for both their nutritious design and heavy textures. Veggies such as beets and broccoli are excellent fillers for a meatless plate! Some frost tolerant, hardy veggies include artichokes, leeks, carrots, beets, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, green onions, and parsnips. Not only are these vegetable plants great for springtime gardening, they are also incredibly versatile in the kitchen!
Try a few of these frost hardy vegetable recipes: ‘Honey’ Mustard BBQ Brussels, Wholesome Pizza With Broccoli and Artichoke, Roasted Cauliflower With Leeks and Tarragon, or this Spiced Beet and Carrot Burger.
Lentil-Kale Risotto/One Green Planet
Along with hearty vegetables, greens are another vital part of a plant-based diet. While many believe these feathery morsels are simply delegated to salads, greens are great for stir-fry’s and soups and can even be used in breakfast recipes. A few easy to grow, hardy greens include chard, kale, spinach, arugula, dandelion and mustard greens, leafy lettuces, and cabbage.
Get creative and experiment with a few non-salad, leafy green-based recipes: Chickpea Flour Omelette With Spinach, Onion, and Bell Peppers, Spanakopita, Lentil-Kale Vegan Risotto, Arugula Pesto, or this Dandelion Greens Smoothie.
Raw Grapefruit Doughnuts/One Green Planet
Surprisingly, a host of fruits can be grown in cold climates. While their tender fruit may seem fragile fruit plants have vigorous and tolerant roots. Fruit is also an incredibly important part of a plant-based diet and can be a sweet addition to breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Hardy fruit varieties include rhubarb, strawberries, apricots, cherries, grapefruit, kiwis
Wash and serve some of these frost tolerant fruits from your own urban garden: Easy Strawberry Champagne, Classic Rhubarb Crisp, Chickpea Peanut Stew With Apricot and Raisins, Raw Grapefruit Doughnuts, or this Raw Kiwi and Strawberry Tart.
For more delicious recipes to help you get creative with your urban garden vegetables and fruits, we highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 15,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
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