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Creating an Urban Garden in a Container: Give Life to Small Spaces

By Kyle Martin

Give more life to small indoor or backyard urban spacesApartment balconies and tiny backyards seem to be unlikely spots for a lush garden, but more and more people are using their windows, fire escapes and rooftops to grow herbs and vegetables. That’s right, vegetables, herbs or flowers can grow in any small space, if you plant strategically. In three simple steps, you too can successfully grow container gardens.


Wooden wine or ammunition boxes are the perfect size for an urban garden. Hanging baskets, terra-cotta pots and other containers also work well as planters. Fern from Apartment Therapy advocates container gardening in her DIY urban garden. In wooden wine boxes from her grandfather, she plants lettuce and parsley. The greenery colors her outdoor living space, and the produce flavors her meals. Any ceramic, metal or plastic container that is at least six inches deep provides adequate room for the vegetables, herbs or flowers you wish to plant. In addition, you’d be saving your local garbage collection service a little space by recycling these items into garden containers.

Before you start putting potting soil into your container, though, it needs a bit of preparation. Start by drilling drain holes in the bottom. If the water cannot drain out of the container, the plants’ roots will rot. With a drill and round bit, a screwdriver or a nail, place several half-inch holes evenly along the container’s base. Up to eight holes provide sufficient drainage.

Next, seal the container. Wooden boxes easily deteriorate from the wet soil and terra-cotta planters dry out under the sun. Even metal in galvanized tubs can negatively interact with the plants. To prolong the container’s life and protect the plants, use an eco-friendly sealer on the outside and inside of garden containers.

After a three-day curing period, line metal container with bubble wrap and other containers with newspaper. This technique prevents the soil from draining out with the excess water. Additionally, elevate the containers on a mesh table or on a square of bricks in order for the containers to drain properly. Now your garden planters are ready to be filled with soil.


A quality soil makes the plant grow so do not skimp on this stage. Choose a potting mix designed for vegetables or try a soilless potting mix that drains quickly. Fill the containers up to 2-inches from the top before planting the seeds. You can add more soil later or top the soil with a layer of decorative, weed-suppressing mulch.


Certain plants thrive better in cooler or warmer weather, so consider your climate before planting seeds. Vegetables that mature quickly are the best choices for a container garden. Oak leaf lettuce, mustard cress or silver beet provide several harvests during one growing season.

In some cases, the container size dictates the seeds you will plant. For example, root vegetables like carrots, onions or radishes require deep containers.

Planting small herbs and short lettuces in the same container with larger fruiting vegetables maximizes space in the containers. With this method, plant a salad garden or salsa ingredients together in the same container.

For easy care, The Gardenist on apartmenttherapy.com recommends self-seeders. Oriental Poppies, Foxglove and Showy Milkweed will flower and then leave behind seed heads. Shake the dried heads into a container, and enjoy colorful flowers with minimal fuss.

Three simple steps provide you with a container garden that enhances your small space. Are you ready to try it for yourself? Simply choose a container, drill drain holes and insulate it, select quality soil and plant seeds. In a few weeks, enjoy fresh vegetables, herbs or flowers on your balcony or other compact space, and enjoy the greenery and the flavors of your DIY urban garden.


Kyle Martin – Kyle is a vegan who is passionate about recycling. He is a freelance journalist who writes advice articles about incorporating sustainable living into our closets, cabinets and communities.

Image credit: mermaid99, courtesy flickr

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One comment

  1. I use the holes in the cinderblocks to plant a small garden in the blocks. As of this moment I have tiny tim tomatoes and big boy tomatoes ,leeks, green peppers and green pole beans growing. Is there any site for free seeds you can recommend for I am on a limited income, and purchasing seeds is becoming more difficult with my recent lay off.

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