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Gardening As a Renter

By Mary Murphy - Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Master Gardener, Denver County

 Gardening for many is "chicken soup for the soul" and not to garden is, well . . . unthinkable.

As renters, however, the unthinkable is always just one step away from reality.

Finding space is the first concern. Apartment dwellers may need to be content with a small balcony or sunny window. A patio or small courtyard may be options for those who live in condominiums, but this space could be limited by covenants, shade from trees and a variety of other restrictions.

That little rental house or duplex may offer more possibilities unless the utilitarian yard is planted in bluegrass and junipers for easy maintenance.

Renters must deal with a landlord whose role is to provide livable housing in exchange for rent. Providing space for a garden is not a necessity. Landlords, who have experienced a tenant's poor yard maintenance, likely will be less than receptive to a gardening enthusiast.

Container gardening often is the easiest solution. Pots and planter boxes come in a myriad of shapes and sizes, take up little space, and are movable and easily maintained. Don't be limited to the "usual" standard annuals. Try long-blooming perennials, which, with a little extra care, can overwinter.

Plant the perennials in large wooden planters. The larger the soil volume, the more success you will have at overwintering your plants. Avoid small containers as well as plastic or terra cotta that may crack when the water you apply in the winter freezes. After the first fall frost, cut the perennials back, mulch well and move the container to a shaded area. Water two or three times a month, especially if the containers collect no snow in their winter location.

In spring, move containers to their permanent location, remove the mulch and water regularly. Vegetables, herbs, roses and even dwarf fruit trees can be grown this way. Check the gardening section of your local library or bookstore for books about container gardening.

Convincing a reluctant landlord to allow you to dig up part of the yard to put in a garden may be a little more difficult. To prove your gardening skills, tell your landlord about training and classes you have taken, and show photos of your past gardens.

Offer to put everything in writing. Include a list of what you will plant, how you will maintain it and who will bear the financial responsibility. (You) Promise to plant an easily maintained garden and to restore it to its original condition if you move Avoid water gardens, vines, invasive groundcovers and exotic, hard-to-maintain plants.

If your landlord "just says no" or if space is limited, don't despair. Consider other options.

  • Ask if your neighborhood has a community entrance planting area that you might help maintain.
  • Inquire about community garden space you can rent. Numerous municipalities along Colorado's Front Range offer this option. The Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in your county can refer you.
  • Call your local botanic garden. Sometimes these garden organizations rely on mostly volunteers and you could join.
  • Offer your skills to an elderly homeowner who needs help with what may be a garden filled with interesting plants. What about a senior care facility or hospital using gardens for therapy?

Through any of these options, you not only will fulfill your need to garden, you also will meet others who share your gardening interest and concerns for the community. All because you refused to give up gardening simply because you're a renter!

Photograph courtesy of Judy Sedbrook.

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010