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Suburban Guide to Gardening and Landscaping

With the population moving closer and closer to big cities and suburban areas, we are finding ourselves with less room to start a personal garden. However, the trend of urban and suburban gardens is growing, and it has never been easier to start your own garden on your balcony, stoop, or front porch.

All kinds of advice can be found on the internet, from the right containers to planting the proper plants for your environment zone. In many cases, you can harvest all year long, regardless of your location. Suburban gardening has never been easier or more fun.

Resources for Different Types of Gardening

Gardening doesn’t have to be limited to just flowers or just vegetables. Explore a variety of options.

Fruit and Vegetable Gardens

The most popular edible garden would be fruits and vegetables. With urban and suburban grocery produce prices steadily rising, it is a wonderful money saver to grow your own. One great idea is to include a vegetable garden into your trellis. All you need are seeds and bamboo sticks for vegetables that have growing vines.

NPR has a transcript to an interview on how to garden in small spaces. You can use an old PC case, used yogurt cartons, and 5-gallon buckets with holes drilled in the bottom. You can also use old bottles to grow vegetables. Make sure you research the vegetables you want to plant, so you can use the correct soil, check that they are set in a proper location with the right amount of sun, and know how big a container you might need to use.

The American Heart Association suggests starting small with fruits and vegetables that you like. This will keep the first-time gardener from feeling overwhelmed. Be sure to water the plants every day and that they get at least 6 hours or so of daylight per day. A balcony or large window that receives a lot of sun can be great for container gardens.

Herb Garden

Using your herbs from your own garden gives reassurance that your plants are well taken care of and are as fresh as they could possibly be. Herbs are also one of the easiest types of gardens to grow. Herbs are perennials so they come back every year with minimal effort on your part. They are also great for container gardens if you lack a backyard. You can also take stems from established plants, place them in a cup of water, and watch them start to grow.

To learn more, visit Herb Society of America: Official site or University of Illinois Extension: Herb Gardening.

Flower Garden

If you want to decorate your balcony or small lawn with flowers, then this kind of garden is for you. Flowers are also fairly easy to care for. Flower gardens are visually pleasing and attract honey bees, which help your flowers to grow. Be sure to research which native flowers will do best in your location at National Wildlife Foundation.

 Cornell University has some amazing ideas on types and styles of flower gardens that will fit a variety of property types, both big and small.

Butterfly Gardens

Gardens can also be created to attract butterflies and other wildlife such as bees. Toxipedia gives a great how-to guide for starting a butterfly garden. Your site needs several things: open sunny areas, water and mud, shelter from wind, and food sources for both larvae and adult butterflies.

Miami Blue also has some advice for small space butterfly gardens. Growing parsley, dill, or fennel will attract butterflies. These herbs can be grown in a container on a balcony or porch. Passion vines trained to a fence or wall attract Zebra Heliconians. Make sure not to use chemicals. Native flowers and plants are best for the local butterfly species in your area.

To learn more, visit Wild Ones: Butterfly gardening.

Wildlife Gardens

Gardens can also be created to attract and help local wildlife. The Humane Society suggest a few things to consider when planning a garden for wildlife:

  • Is the wildlife I want to attract safe?
  • How will neighbors respond to local deer, raccoons, and other wildlife attracted to my garden?
  • A rule to remember is to never feed the wildlife by hand or use any food that is not naturally found in the wild.

Make sure to plant a variety of plants that work in all seasons, according to your location. For winter, evergreen plants work best, while in summer, grasses, trees, and shrubs work well. The  Mediterranean Garden Society shows some ways to maintain a balcony garden geared towards wildlife. They state that while food is important, water is the most important when planning a wildlife garden. Water will always attract local wildlife. You can also build nesting boxes for birds or provide a pile of stones for lizards to hide in.

Greenhouse Gardens

Greenhouse gardens are for plants you may want to tend to during the winter or in early preparation of small seedlings and plants. Global Village Institute for Appropriate Technology advises that greenhouses are great for winter or locations that are not suitable for certain varieties. A low-traffic area with the greatest amount of sun exposure is best for greenhouse gardens. They suggest a south facing wall or area. Make sure there is enough space for you to work on plants inside the greenhouse. Construct the greenhouse so that there is proper ventilation and the temperature can be controlled easily.

Dancing Deer also says that greenhouses can be created as inexpensively as you like. A simple structure with a plastic cover over it will be more than enough to do the trick. They also provide a large amount of DIY instructions in their comprehensive guide

Water Garden

Water gardens also have a large variety of flowers and animals to incorporate into your small space. Use small buckets, a horse trough, or even an old tub for water gardens. However, be sure to keep in mind that water weighs 8 pounds per gallon, so you need to make sure the location of a water garden can support this. While regular flowers can get by on at least 6 hours of sun a day, aquatic plants need more. Including submerged plants with those that break the surface will help oxygenate the water. You will need to bring in these gardens in the winter as the water will freeze and cause damage to the plants.

 To learn more visit:

Xeriscape Gardens

Most people will wonder what a xeriscape garden is. This type of garden can be seen in areas with very little water, such as California or Nevada. These gardens are designed to be resilient to droughts yet still look pleasing to the eye. Mississippi State University tells us the benefits of these types of gardens are a low need for fertilizer, less cost, easier maintenance, and they are great for steep slopes.

Plants for xeriscape gardens include tree poppies, scarlet bugler, and deer grass. You can find a comprehensive list of plants for arid climates or for xeriscapes at the Grand Terrace, California website.

For more information, visit Brooklyn Botanical Garden: Drought resistant plants for pots

Community Gardens

If you would prefer to garden with others, then starting a community garden is a great way to share a love of gardening and get to know your neighbors. Community gardens will be in a central location with space to cultivate small personal gardens. Sometimes, you will need to pay a fee for use of the plot.

Some tips for starting community gardens, as found on Community Garden, are to hold a meeting of interested people, approach a sponsor, choose a site, organize the garden, and plan for children to have their own garden to tend.

More tips can be found at Community Gardens for All and through the American Community Gardening Association.

Specialty Gardens

Specialty gardens can be a variety of things, such as medicinal, tropical, or winter gardens.

Medicinal gardens contain plants and herbs that have a range of health benefits. These can easily be grown in small spaces in containers or small plots of land. Some medicinal plants can be thyme, wormwood, feverfew, and aloe. More information can be found at the Luther Burbank Gardens website.

Tropical gardens are also a specialty garden. The University of Georgia has some advice and tips when starting a container tropical garden for small spaces. Most tropical plants are adapted to low-light conditions and can tolerate high heat, moisture, and humidity. Avoid windy areas as plants will need more water to survive. Selecting the plants is determined by the location they will be in. The more light they need, the sunnier the location will need to be.

Winter gardens are also possible in suburban areas. One Green Planet suggests using vegetables that specifically have a growing season in winter, such as sweet potatoes or kale. Winter flowering plants include Christmas rose and winter jasmine. Advantages to keeping a winter garden are less maintenance, more rain during the winter, and less insects around to attack plants.

Your First Garden

Anytime is a great time to begin your first garden. Again, make sure to keep it small until you are ready to expand. KCET California gives some tips on what to plan before you garden, such as choosing the location, knowing the local climate and soil composition, planting what you like to eat or see, and being aware of the maintenance level.

Think about what kind of containers you will use and research if they are proper for the plants you will put in your garden. Make sure your neighbors are also not bothered by any watering or overgrowth. Start out with herbs and plant vegetables or fruits if space allows. Don’t become overwhelmed. Start out with what you can handle.

To learn more, visit The Ecologist: A beginner’s guide to permaculture gardening.

Importance of Soil and Hardiness Zone

The kind of soil you have in your yard or even the soil you purchase much be appropriate for the garden you are starting. All plants will have needs for certain nutrients, and any lack of those will cause the garden to fail. The US Department of Agriculture states that you must check for healthy soil before planting any garden. You can contact your local Cooperative Extension office to find out where you can send a soil sample.

To find out what type of hardiness zone you are in, please check the map provided at the Arbor Day website.

Gardening Guide for Kids

Gardens are a great way to spend time with your children and foster a love for growing their own vegetables, fruits, and herbs. Penn State University shows us that while gardening, children learn the science and nature of plants, math skills when adding dirt to pots, and social skills when working with others.

Allow your child to choose the containers and seeds that their plants will grow in. Teach them how daily care is important for a successful garden. Praise them when they have a full harvest and cook special recipes using what their garden produces.

Rasmussen College also shows that maintaining gardens encourages kids to eat healthy, provides exercise, and relieves stress.

Lawn Care and Landscaping Resources

It is easy to care for your own lawn and landscaping with some simple DIY.

The University of Tennessee gives advice on what not to do when designing or caring for your lawn and landscaping. Much of the maintenance can be done on your own.

Mott Community College has care advice for not only lawns and landscaping, but for flowers too.

For more information, you can also visit the University of Florida: Fertilizer report.

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