A complete guide to Urban Gardening for beginners (and how not to kill your plants)

Urban gardening

If the idea of gardening has captured your heart, but your lack of space (and knowledge) has thwarted attempts to create a flourishing garden in more conventional settings like a city apartment, then urban gardening is for you. The best part? Urban gardening can be done even if you don’t have access to a garden or a big open space. To help you navigate this, we speak to Priyanka Amar Shah, the founder of Mumbai-based Ikheti, that helps people practice farmville in real life by facilitating farming among city dwellers

Photo: Vadim Kaipov on Unsplash

Getting started with Urban Gardening

The motivations to start gardening in your apartment can be multifold. Many are turning towards growing plants in their own space due to rising prices of fresh produce, while some have the desire to become more self-sufficient. But for most, growing a garden is a hobby, and with the interest in environmentally friendly living on the rise, more and more people are thinking about growing their own vegetables. Moreover, interest in urban gardening has increased sharply during the coronavirus lockdowns – from Singapore to Australia. 

Urban gardening is all about growing plants in your living space

Priyanka says, “Urban gardening has a lot of benefits. It provides families in crowded metropolitan cities with a private green area as their lung space. It also makes available chemical-free, fresh food right at their doorsteps thereby reducing the dependence on the vegetable market.” She adds, “Most of the people don’t know that their food actually travels about 80-100 kilometers before it reaches their food plate. Urban agriculture helps to reduce the distance between the area of production and area of consumption thereby encouraging people to live sustainable lifestyles and offsetting their carbon emissions.” 

First-time gardeners, choose herbs!

For those just venturing into gardening, Priyanka suggests starting with herbs as the chance of failure is low compared to starting with vegetables. She also encourages first-time gardeners to start with herb saplings. “When you start with a sapling, the harvest is much faster. When people are usually starting off, they have very little patience and want something that’s quicker and faster, something they can easily see and consume immediately.” Italian basil, mint, peppermint – they grow in all climates. Those in colder regions can also try thyme and rosemary.  

Moreover, herbs can be easily grown in grills, windows and even in small containers – ideal for those with space constraints. Once you get into the rhythm of gardening, switch to growing vegetables and fruits. 

Photo: Markus Spiske via Unsplash
Photo: Markus Spiske via Unsplash

Choose which plants would work best in a space based on the sun exposure

A plant that requires the least maintenance and is also my personal favorite is the snake plant. It is actually one of the best air purifying plants identified by NASA because it can remove about 107 air pollutants including carbon monoxide and nitrogen monoxide. It’s extremely resistant and it can go without water for days, so for most of the people who do not have the time, this is an excellent plant to have indoors. The other plant that I would suggest is aloe vera because along with its medicinal properties it also has air purifying properties. But it requires a lot of sunlight and very little water so i wouldn’t suggest it for people living in the colder areas,” says Priyanka.

For those living in cooler temperatures, she suggests the Chinese Evergreen (or agloe nema). It is a colorful plant and is a very low maintenance plant – a perfect addition to your indoor forest. She also advises people living in snowy regions to grow their outdoor herbs in containers. It becomes easier to shift them indoors later, when it is snowing season.

Honey, I killed the plants!

Learning to love and care for your plants is a journey. Many of us are serial plant-killers with tonnes of questions. Am I watering it enough? Why is the plant suddenly shedding its leaves? Why is it dying?

Interestingly, the biggest and most common mistake that people usually make is overwatering their plants. But, overwatering is way more harmful than under-watering as the roots rot, and it becomes very difficult to revive the plant back. So understanding how much water your plant needs is important. “If it is indoors, you actually have to water your plant only once or twice a week. But if the plant is in a very sunny spot, you will have to water it every day,” notes Priyanka. Not choosing the right spot is another common mistake – place your plants indoors or outdoors depending on the amount of sunlight they need. Lastly, drainage is another overlooked factor. People come to her with plants planted in ornamental ceramic pots that are on the verge of dying. The mistake is that the pot does not have drainage holes for their plant. A hack she shares is that if you have an ornamental or a ceramic pot and it’s difficult to make a hole, take a pot that is one size smaller than your ceramic pot and place it inside the ceramic pot. That way the plant has a proper drainage system.

One thing that helps is establishing a routine. Sangeeta Bothra, an avid gardener says, Watering and overseeing my plants is something I do right after after breakfast everyday. Stacking something I do everyday (breakfast) with an activity I must do (watering the plants) helps me maintain the routine. And, I am happy to report that they are thriving!”

Photo: Ikheti
Photo: Jarritos via Unsplash

 

Pro tips from Priyanka

  • Priyanka’s first pro-tip for urban gardening is understanding the difference between an indoor and outdoor plant. Before you get a plant, check how much sunlight and water it needs and place it accordingly in the house. Even if you’re going for an indoor plant and it does not require a lot of sunlight, keep them under artificial light for better growth.

  • She reiterates – don’t water your indoor plants very frequently! Since there’s no sunlight, the absorption of water is less and hence you don’t have to water them more than once or twice a week.

  • She also shares her favorite secret to counter overwatering. Place a pebble or a stone on top of the soil of your plant. In the evenings, all you have to do is lift the pebble and check if it is dry or is still moist. If it has dried up, add a little more water the next day, but if it’s muddy just reduce the amount of water the next day. The trick is that stone should be moist but it shouldn’t have soil sticking onto it.

  • A simple way to compost is to use the water from cooking your vegetables or boiling dried fruit as a soluble compost for your plants. Other things that you can use are leftover tea bags and coffee grounds as they are especially great nutrients for your flowering plants.

  • Lastly, fertilise any plant you get every two-three months depending on the chosen variety. When you water your plants, all the essential nutrients get drained out of the pot over time. So, it becomes important to top it up with the essential nutrients after a couple of months.

Start small, learn as you go, and you’ll be on your way to a fun hobby and some healthy food!

When you grow things organically in your own home, you are helping the bees, butterflies, and birds that facilitate cross pollination. Tending to plants is a gentle adventure and surprises await you every few weeks whether you are growing fruits, flowers or vegetables. You can even upcycle your pots to make your garden even more sustainable – from old paint buckets to wine bottles, everything is a potential pot waiting to flourish.

 

Feature’s section is a long-form read that explores the different aspects of a topical environmental issue. These detailed yet intimate guides aim to give you insights in an easy-to-understand format. This interview was originally recorded for 2 Minutes 2 Midnight podcast and has been reproduced with Priyanka’s permission. 

Eco-Spotlight is a digital publication that focuses on different aspects of climate change solutions: projects and ideas focused on sustainable development, social entrepreneurship, environmental businesses, eco-friendly practices, and similar green initiatives. Through our solution-focused interviews and articles, we want to bring good news to the forefront and remind the world – without hope, there is no future. We also syndicate our content with White Print, India’s first English lifestyle magazine in Braille.

 

I'm Ayushi Shah and I co-founded Eco-Spotlight to tell stories of green innovation and remind the world (and myself) that there is hope for humanity and the planet. Reach out to me at ayushi (at) eco-spotlight (dot) com

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