Few people will dispute the health benefits of eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Much talk over the past few years has been around the economic, nutritional and physical benefits of growing your own produce at home. But what can you do if you live somewhere that simply doesn't have room for a garden or where gardening is impractical or not allowed, such as apartment complexes, condos or urban neighborhoods? Many plants and produce can thrive on decks, balconies and stairs, in sunrooms and even on rooftops. It just requires coming at it from a different direction.
These alternatives provide some important benefits over a traditional garden:
- They use less space.
- They often can be moved and re-arranged easily.
- They are excellent for people with limited mobility or who have difficulty kneeling or bending.
- They can prevent infestation by some insects and destruction by animals.
- They are less susceptible to weather extremes.
Vertical gardening uses upright structures, such as fences, arbors, tripods and trellises, to take advantage of vertical space. Vertical elements can provide privacy and shade, and can disguise unattractive views. Some vegetables that can be grown vertically are pole beans, peas, cucumbers, melons, tomatoes, pumpkins and squash. Make sure you select the vining varieties of these plants, and look for small-fruited varieties of squash, melons and pumpkins for the most success. A very popular form of vertical gardening today is to use commercially available upside-down, hanging planters for plants like tomatoes and strawberries. Another vertical technique to save space is to place vining plants near upright, narrow plants or trees. For instance, you can plant vining beans with corn.
Another solution for small-space gardening is a container garden. Many varieties of fruits, vegetables and herbs will do well in containers such as buckets, tubs, flower pots, window boxes or hanging baskets. Basically, any household object that will hold soil, is sturdy enough to resist falling over and has adequate water drainage can serve as a vessel for gardening. You can grow just about any produce in a container that you could plant in a traditional garden, from herbs to small fruit trees.
Here are some factors to consider when deciding if a vertical or container garden is for you:
- If your plants will be grown indoors part or all of the time, make sure that they have pleasant scents and forms and that no one is allergic to them. Also, recognize that you may be bringing pests indoors with them.
- Plants grown vertically have different water needs than plants grown in the ground. They are exposed to more sun and wind and may dry out more quickly.
- Plants grown in containers may need to be moved regularly to ensure adequate sunlight, so make sure the containers aren't too heavy to move.
- Vertical plants can fall or tip and could lead to injury.
- Vertical plants will cast shadows, so they may need extra space. You can place shorter, shade-tolerant plants in containers near vertical plants.
- Know how much produce your plants will yield. Container or vertical gardens can easily get out of control.
Staff at your local garden center can help you select the structures, containers and plants that will work well for where you want to garden. Your county extension office is another excellent resource for gardening information and there also are many resources online that offer alternative gardening tips and advice.
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