The Apartment Gardener
Sarah Bodeau, photos by Andrea Paulseth |
Spring makes us all gardeners at heart. Unfortunately for many renters and apartment-dwellers, having an outdoor garden just
isn’t possible. Brent Stelzer, of Brent Douglas Flowers For Everyday, and Ben Polzin, of Down to Earth Garden Center, have some great ideas for gardeners of all spaces and abilities about bringing the
green world indoors.
BEGINNER: The Deadbeat Horticulturalist
You don’t exactly have a green thumb. Every attempt you make to class-up your apartment with a plant ends in yellowed leaves and tears. Gardening outside? Forget it. Before you resign yourself to a life of artificial décor, consider these two options:
Air Plants • According to Ben, air plants are the perfect low-stress, low-cost plant. “Air plants don’t require any soil; they actually use their moisture from the air,” he says. “They need to be misted a couple of times a month and that’s about it.” Ben suggests getting artistic and putting one in a cool shell or mounting it to a board. The best part? It doesn’t cost much to replace ’em.
Water Garden • For notorious plant killers, Brent thinks water gardens are a great choice. “If you’re afraid of killing it, do water gardens with bamboo and peace lilies and even just clippings of ivy. You can just keep them in water and never put them in dirt,” he says. Take a sturdy plant, place it in a container of water up to the root-line, and then maintain that water level. Just make sure to keep water gardens out of direct sunlight, or you may be growing algae instead of a houseplant.
INTERMEDIATE: L’Artiste du Jardin
You can take care of plants – you probably even have a plant, if not many plants. You want more – you want some living artwork to give your apartment an aesthetic je ne sais quoi. Try one of these indoor gardens on for size:
Terrariums & Fairy Gardens • “Terrariums are great because they’re pretty easy to care for and you can kind of leave them in their own little world,” Brent says. “You put the moisture in there, water it, and then it never evaporates from there, it just stays sealed up.” Although you can get as fancy as you want with a terrarium, which is just a plant or many plants in an enclosed space, vessels from a tennis ball container to a pickle jar will do. Terrariums should also be kept out of direct sunlight so they don’t turn into little plant-baking ovens. Fairy Gardens, like terrariums, are groupings of plants with interesting shapes, textures, and colors, just not in an enclosed space. Many people use small plants and add decorative miniatures for the tiny-garden effect.
Wallscapes • If you’re an apartment gardener, remember these two words: vertical planting. Plants cascading down your wall are not only visually dramatic, they also save space. “We have (planters) we make a picture frame for, so it hangs on the wall, and the picture frame hangs around it, so it looks like living art,” Ben says. “And there’s another one that’s made out of recycled clothes, it’s called ‘Wooly Pocket’ where it mounts to the wall, kind of like a bag, and then you plant the top.” Both options are made to be used indoors and can be perfect for creating visual effects in small spaces.plant, place it in a container of water up to the root-line, and then maintain that water level. Just make sure to keep water gardens out of direct sunlight, or you may be growing algae instead of a houseplant.
EXPERT: The Urban Farmer
For you, dirt is about possibility. You want to make your forbears proud by watering the land with your own sweat! Too bad you live in that multiplex. Fortunately, creating functional (read: vegetable) gardens is getting easier every day thanks to the growing movement of urban farming. Peas, tomatoes, strawberries, even sweet corn –Ben says there are tons of new plants that, because of their stature and hardiness, are designed to be grown in pots on your balcony or stoop. You can get most of these plants at your local garden center, or if you’re feeling truly agricultural, you can start traditional veggie plants inside before moving them outside. Here’s a step-by-step-guide to indoor seed germination:
Create Your Growing Environment • Light is great but temperature is better. Put your seeds somewhere they can get 4-6 hours of sun, either naturally or with a grow light. Consider investing in a heating pad so that you can keep the soil at a consistent 70-75 degrees. “You don’t want it to be too cool, and you don’t want to put it right in a window, either, because at night that window is letting a lot of cool air in,” Ben says. “Until you get the germination it’s nice to have a really warm soil bed, and then even after that it’s not bad to give some supplemental heat to them from under the roots, and that’s actually going to keep the soil from getting too boggy.”
Prep Your Planters • Although you can buy actual seed-starting trays, an economical and eco-friendly option is to use egg cartons to start seeds. Fill your chosen containers with special seed-friendly soil. “You want a finer soil so it gets good contact with the seed, that’s the biggest thing,” Ben says. “A typical mix is going to be a very, very fine mix – a lot of vermiculite and peat moss.”
Dig In! • Each seed is different, so make sure you check the package for planting depth and other special instructions. Some seeds, like morning glories, need to be soaked overnight to encourage germination. And if you think that you’ve messed up and planted it “wrong,” don’t worry. This is a relatively forgiving process, and seeds will do their darnedest to grow. Don’t forget to keep your seed babies’ soil moist and warm, and once they are big enough, transfer them to a 3- or 4-inch pot before making the big move outdoors.
First, pay attention to watering. Both Ben and Brent agree that overwatering is a bigger problem than underwatering. Try giving the plant small amounts of water more frequently instead of just one big gulp once in a while. Second, know what kind of light situation you have in your apartment before buying a plant. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help with your plants, as many plant stores, including Down to Earth and Brent Douglas, will assist you with repotting and fixing ailing plants.