Early summer is a great time to get outside and get your hands dirty. For many, gardening is a way to connect with the earth, to create natural beauty, and to experience the satisfaction of watching something bloom and grow when tended to with care. It has been a favorite hobby of people for centuries, from Thomas Jefferson to Oprah. Gardening is known to have numerous health benefits, including stress-relief, improved hand strength and dexterity, and extra vitamin D from spending time in the sunshine. Plus, a vegetable garden adds heaps of healthy, homegrown produce to your diet.
If you’ve wanted to try your hand at gardening, now is as good a time as ever to dig in and get started! You do not need an abundance of time or space in order to plant your own garden; you can choose an approach to gardening that fits your schedule, your yard, and even your lanai or kitchen windowsill, if you’d prefer to stay in the shade or air conditioning during the heat of the summer. Here are some creative ways to exercise your green thumb in small spaces and start harvesting healthy rewards this summer.
1. Think inside the box.
Container gardening is one of the most popular ways to start a garden without a big plot of land. If placed around your lanai, beneath an overhang or awning, or under the umbrella of a tree, they can be tended to in the shade – which is essential in the Trilogy communities that regularly reach the triple digits during the summer. With a wealth of resources online, you can find a way to make just about any container into a garden. From traditional terra cotta pots, to refurbished bathtubs and dresser drawers, there are containers to fit any size space and match every aesthetic. More ideas for quirky containers can be found at About Home and Pinterest. Before planting your container garden, there are 3 important things to keep in mind.
- Make sure your container has plenty of drainage holes to promote oxygen flow and help avoid a condition called root rot.
- Start with quality soil. Don’t be tempted to transplant the soil from your backyard, as there may be weed seeds and bugs that will crowd out or kill your plants. Start with store-bought potting soil that is soft and loamy, and experiment with amendments like peat moss and compost to increase the nutrient level and help your plants thrive.
- Match the size or your plants’ roots to the depth of the container. For example, a long, shallow container like a garden box, will best fit plants with shallow roots, like radishes, leafy greens, and strawberries.
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2. Grow Up.
If you have a blank wall or fence but not much ground space, vertical gardens provide a unique way to grow a variety of plants. Some vertical designs, like trellises and tipis, lend themselves to climbing plants, like tomatoes, peas and beans. Many varieties of cucumber, melon, and squash can be trellised to prevent these plants from sprawling across the ground. Other vertical planters require some construction, like re-purposing a hanging shoe holder or a wooden pallet, but provide a great way to increase your planting area for shallow plants, like flowers and leafy greens. When choosing the location for your vertical garden, keep in mind that if your vertical garden has proper drainage, it may soak the area below it.
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3. Put one square-foot in front of the other.
If you’re looking to grow edible plants or flowers in a small space, try a square foot garden. This method suggests dividing your growing space into one-foot by one-foot squares dedicated to a single crop. Seeds are carefully planted one at a time, instead of spreading a whole packet in a row, so plants never get crowded and there’s no need to thin out crops as they start to sprout. By spacing plants strategically in each square, you can maximize your yield in a small plot. For example, a four square foot garden (2’x2’) can be planted with one tomato plant, 4 basil plants, 16 green onions and one cucumber vine.
4. Bring the outdoors in.
One of the best ways to experience the joys of gardening year-round in your own living space is by making a terrarium. These decorative glass planters are easy to assemble and can grow for years with very little water. Start by picking the plants you’re going to use. Next, find a glass container big enough to hold these plants without many leaves pressing on the inside. If your plants like humidity, find a container with a lid. Succulents and drought friendly plants don’t need a lid. Put one to two inches of gravel at the bottom for drainage, then nestle your plants in a layer of potting soil. Spritz occasionally with water to enjoy this beautiful, portable garden on tabletops, bookshelves, or anywhere in your home.
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5. Make your bed.
A great way to make a compact and attractive garden is by creating a raised bed. Like container gardens, raised beds offer better drainage and a neat design that keeps gardens from spreading past their desired boundaries. Unlike container gardens, raised beds don’t have bottoms, so your plants will have the benefit of growing roots into the ground below, without any digging necessary. You can buy a raised bed at most home improvement stores, or build our own and adjust the size to fit your space perfectly. Most gardeners will agree, pulling weeds is the most back-breaking and time consuming part of gardening. Because you’ll start your bed with layers of quality soil and compost, your garden will be free of most weed seeds that compete with your plants for nutrients, and save you the hassle of pulling weeds later. By raising the level of the soil, there is also less strain on your back while you work in the garden.
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6. Explore new territory.
It is surprising to find out how much space you have for a garden in areas that often get overlooked. There may be space to plant hardy perennials like lavender, blue flax, and orange poppies next to a driveway or in the parking strip (the space between the sidewalk and street.) The soil may be dry and compact in these areas, so incorporate wet compost in the top two inches before covering with mulch. The good news is that tough perennial plants will grow in less-nutrient rich soil and require less watering than edibles, so you can makeover a neglected spot with very little maintenance.
Gardening can be a delightful and rewarding activity, anywhere you decide to plant. Mix and match these techniques to find your own unique and blissful garden this year and tell us below what you’re planning on planting!