Edible Gardening

How To Grow Fruits & Vegetables In a Compact Garden

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When it comes to gardening, space is no object. A few pot plants on the balcony to brighten up the space is enough for some people, but what if you want to grow your own produce in a small space? It may seem impossible to create an edible compact garden, but with the right supplies, and a healthy dose of optimism, you will quickly find success.

So get your gloves ready and let’s dig into three of the most important considerations when setting up your compact garden.

Planters

Whether you have a balcony, a courtyard or a small nook, choosing the right containers to grow your garden in makes a world of difference. For instance, pots and planters are most frequently made from terracotta, a naturally porous material that’s great for keeping potted soil moist with minimal risks of waterlogging (if your plants are watered correctly).

But you can buy plant pots that are made of other materials too. Scanning the walls of your local gardening supply store, you’re likely to find pots made from cement composite materials, or even metals or plastic. Whilst each material has its pros and cons, PVC planter boxes are particularly well-suited to small spaces as they’re easy to clean, UV-resistant, and anti-absorbent, making them a great alternative to porous terracotta pots.

Here are just two of the major benefits of PVC pots for those looking to grow in compact garden spaces or balconies – the gardens of urban jungles.

1. Water saving

As we mentioned, terracotta and cement both sap moisture from the soil, making them unsuitable for hot climates or areas of the garden that get long periods of full sun. Metal planters become radiators and turn your healthy plants into shriveled tumbleweeds. The reflected heat fries plants and beneficial insects, and causes the soil to dry out quickly, requiring you to water more frequently than planters made from other materials.

PVC planter boxes have the upper hand as they do not absorb water from the soil, nor do they cook your precious seedlings. Look for white or pale-coloured options as they will reflect more light and heat, than dark colours, whilst also maintaining an even temperature through the colder months.

2. Durability

Compared to terracotta, cement, and metal, PVC is the most durable material by far. Both terracotta and cement are easily chipped, cracked, or broken, and in small spaces, they are at greater risk of being bumped and damaged.

If your heart is set on using metal planters, be prepared to pay more. Both metal and PVC planters require treatment to ensure UV protection and to slow deterioration. Steel planters are usually more expensive than plastic, and cheaper varieties are prone to rust.

Suitable soil 

It’s easy to assume that all soils are made equal but to get the most out of your potted plants you need a nutrient-rich potting mix. If your planters are deeper than 30cm (12 inches), you can use regular garden soil at the bottom, just make sure to have 25-30cm of quality potting mix at the top. Garden soil is generally cheaper than potting mix so it’s a great option to bulk out the lower layers.

Potting mixes typically consist of organic and inorganic matter, but the quality between brands and nurseries varies wildly. For small gardens limited to pots and planters, avoid bulky mixes with large pieces of bark or sticks. Instead, select a fine mix that is aerated to allow for drainage but also provides a suitable level of moisture retention.

To have your garden thriving from the get-go, your soil should contain a slow-release fertiliser and a soil wetting agent. The more pricey brands of potting mix often include these but if yours does not, you can buy them separately and mix them through your soil before planting.

The fertiliser is gradually released into the soil and should last at least one month. Wetting agents help retain moisture as the nutrients in the soil are slowly depleted.

Plant choice

Light and shade

Growing tomatoes in a constantly shaded position is not going to lead to a bountiful crop, just as spinach thrust under a harsh summer sun will fail to thrive. The benefit of lightweight planters is that they are easier to move than their heavier equivalents, allowing you to shift them around to follow or avoid the sun.

Crops suited to growing in shaded or part-shaded positions include blueberries, kale, and most herbs. Sunny crops include tomatoes, carrots, zucchini, and broccoli. Growing sun-loving plants in shady positions does not necessarily mean they will fail, often they will grow and produce fruit but with a smaller harvest.

To tree or not to tree

Regardless of the size of your space, growing fruit trees is still possible – even on a balcony with a ceiling! Most trees need at least six hours of direct sunlight to fruit en masse, but some, including pears and cherries will be quite happy in part- to full-sun.

You’ll definitely need a deep planter to maximise the potting mix around the tree. As the trees are unable to spread their roots long distances to access water and nutrition, the soil needs to be fertilised and watered regularly.

Dwarf varieties are available although they are more expensive than their full-size relatives. If you opt for a dwarf fruit tree, lemons, cumquats, and kafir are some of the easiest to grow. You can certainly grow full-size trees, they will just require pruning to remain compact and may need more fertiliser.

garden plantsPlants are beneficial not just for the food they produce, but also for our physical and mental health. So whether you have a green thumb, or you are starting out on your gardening journey, with these basics covered you will be on the way to success!

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