5 Tips for Planting the Not So Impossible Urban Garden

By: Emma Gummerson

This week we were in St. Louis, Missouri, serving in community gardens that work to provide fresh produce to the community. Gateway Greening is a prime example of a garden flourishing, despite the harsh urban environment. Living in the mountains of North Carolina, I have been fortunate to experience the joy and hard work of gardening. However, not everyone lives in an area that makes it easy to garden. So it is my hope, through this blog post, to share the tips I picked up while working with Gateway Greening while in St. Louis.

You don’t need large space to garden.

In Saint Louis, people manage to plant wherever they can fit it. One of the more popular methods is planting on the curbs outside where one lives. Some places such as South Los Angeles even require citizens to maintain their curbs at an acceptable level. A man named Ron Finley was able to start community gardens just by using the curbs outside his house in Los Angeles. Maybe you don’t have a curbside area outside your house? Many people also just use multiple flower boxes or pots to plant.

Concrete: not a problem.

Actually, if you dig a few feet down in the gardens at Gateway Greening, you’ll end up hitting concrete. It used to be an apartment building and parking lot. Gateway Greening was able to plants all sorts of grass, flowers, and vegetables, despite the concrete. The plants only need a few feet of dirt. One of the more popular styles of planting is in raised rows (see picture below). This helps with making sure that plants aren’t contaminated with urban pollutants from the concrete. Raised rows also will fit on thin or small strips of land.

                        Raised Rows at Gateway Greening


 Go organic with the soil, it’s not just a hoax.

High impacted urban areas often have traces of lead and other contaminates in the soil. This can lead to many crops not being safe to consume if planted in that soil. So why not just buy any old soil type? Organic soil goes beyond meeting the basic needs of the plant. Organic soils have carbon based compounds that increase the quality and productivity of plants. It’s also a more economical option long term. They increase the nutrient-holding capacity of the soil and better maintain soil structure. This means that overtime, less and less fertilizer will be required for the plants

Pruning and “dead heading” plants can make a huge difference.

“Dead heading” is just a term for picking and cutting off the dead parts of the plant. When left on for an extended time it can actually negatively affect growth. Dead leaves and plant parts still can still leech off nutrients. As a result, other “live” parts of the plant will not flourish as well. Also not crowding beds with too many plants can cause the same problem. Most seeds or plants will come with specifications on how far to be spaced.

Plant according to sunlight access.

Plants can vary in the amount of sunlight that they require each day. There are full-sun plants that need six to eight hours and part-shade plants that only need four to six hours. Living in an urban area where there are tall buildings can impede a great deal of sunlight. Some people tend to use rooftops for community gardens. Another simple solution is to just keep in mind how many hours of sunlight are actually reaching the area where the plants are growing. Some plants such as hydrangeas and begonias are great for growing in areas with little access to sunlight.

The two most important pieces of advice I can give about gardening is to be patient and to have fun. Gardening is more about the experience you have and who you share it with. Best of luck!


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