Hey guys! Katie here. To give a little insight to my gardening journey: I live in a small apartment with a really small patio that gets essentially no sunlight at all. So that has made it pretty difficult to successfully grow anything out there! While I’ve had a couple plants straight up die due to the lack of sunlight, I’ve spent the past couple months gathering a small wealth of knowledge about gardening in small spaces. Today I’m sharing what you need to know to get started gardening.
Know Your Zone & Growing Season
Both your plant hardiness zone and growing season are directly related to average regional temperatures. Your zone refers to the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map and can be found here: https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/. The zone you are in dictates what plants thrive in your area. Here in Georgia, zones range from 6a in the north to 9a in the south. Knowing your zone allows you to understand how and when to start your seeds and specific plants that can or cannot grow in your region. Once you figure out your zone, do some research on growing in your zone to familiarize yourself.
Likely, upon researching your specific plant hardiness zone, you will learn your region’s growing season as well. Your growing season starts at last frost in the spring and ends at first frost in the fall. The growing season in Georgia is long and usually allows for two harvests; seeds that are planted in March – May often can be harvested in June – July and seeds planted in late summer can be harvested in late fall. Full transparency – the growing season has to do with frost and when the ground becomes too cold to grow, so take it with a grain of salt when planting in containers. I started my seeds outside well before the growing season started this year.
Know Your Sunlight
All plants need different amounts of sunlight. The following are the categories of sunlight you will see often if you get into gardening:
- Full sun (6+ hours of direct sunlight)
- Part sun (3 to 6 hours of direct sunlight)
- Part shade (3 to 6 hours of direct sunlight, but should have morning sun or evening sun and should avoid harsh midday sun)
- Full shade (less than 3 hours of direct sunlight)
Often, when planting in a yard, different areas of your yard have different light conditions. If you are planting on a patio, you probably only fall into one of these categories. For instance, like I said before, I fall into the full shade category, with about 1 to 2 hours of indirect (or filtered) sunlight a day.
Pick Your Plants
Based on the two points above, you are now ready to pick your plants! Some of the plants I chose for my patio garden based on the above points are:
- Romaine lettuce (leafy greens are good plants to grow if you do not have full sun)
- Potatoes and onions (root veggies are another good choice for minimal sun)
- Herbs (herbs are resilient and are great for all growing spaces, even indoors)
- Foxglove, English daisies, and columbine (all are flowers that require part sun or less)
I also have other plants on my patio like peppers, carrots, and marigolds (all full sun plants) more as an experiment. Coincidentally, some of the full sun plants are growing better than the part sun/shade plants!
Know Your Plants
Once you have picked your plants, it’s important to know how to take care of them. Typically, information such as when to sow seeds, how far apart to plant, when to harvest, etc. should come when you purchase your plant or seeds. If you purchase a baby plant, there should be a tab stuck in the dirt with this information. Similarly, if you purchase seed packets, the back should have helpful information about your plant! Once you have planted all the seeds you plan to, store your packet in a dark, cool place. The picture below tells you what you could expect to find on a plant tab or seed packet.
Reminder: do not throw away your plant tabs or seed packets!
There are two more characteristics you should know before planting: your plant’s water and soil needs. Some plants, for instance succulents, need very little water. Other plants, like irises, thrive in wet soil. I’d bet most of your plants will like a happy medium, but be wary of overwatering! Your plants will start to look sick. A nice rule of thumb is to literally use your thumb to feel soil moisture. Stick your finger in the soil to your second knuckle. If your finger feels dry soil, it needs water. You may need to water your plants less than you think, especially if you have self-watering pots. I’ll write a blog specifically on watering your plants and self-watering pots soon!
Finally, onto soil. This could be a whole blog post in and of itself, but I’d bet if you are here, you’re not farming a plot of land. If you were, it would be a good idea to get your soil tested for nutrients and go from there (and then to get your information elsewhere, ha). Since most of us are gardening in containers, it really comes down to what soil to buy. Most importantly, you want to make sure you are buying soil fit for containers (aka: potting soil). Potting soil allows for proper drainage but still retains moisture. I’ve just used MiracleGro Potting Mix for all my plants, but there are plenty of options out there. There are specific potting mixes for specific kinds of plants, all kinds of organic potting mixes, seed starting potting mixes, and if you want to get really fancy, there’s compost. However, you really can’t go wrong with the simple stuff. Upon reading about your plants, you’ll probably come across what kind of nutrients and pH they need. Once you have chosen your soil, you can purchase fertilizers and soil amendments to help you reach your desired nutrient and pH levels. Again, for me, I’ve just used MiracleGro All Purpose Plant Food. Like soil, there are multitudes of fertilizers: veggie specific, flower specific, fish oil, slow release… It can get overwhelming. If you choose to go with the commercial MiracleGro Potting Mix and Plant Food like I do, you will likely do just fine.
This is a lot of information, but the good news is, plants are pretty resilient! If your plants start looking sick or skyrocketing towards the sky (like my potatoes did when they shouldn’t have), do a little reading about what the plant needs and tweak its nutrients/water/sun accordingly. The first sign of sickness is not a death sentence in a plant; you can usually nurse them back to health with a little TLC.