zuchinni growing in old tires (13372 bytes)

Small Space Gardening

By Ruth Ann Hales, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Agent, horticulture

City dwellers, who live in apartments, townhomes or condominiums, can garden just as easily as those with backyards.

Strawberries are a good place to begin. Look for certified virus-free stock and use sterilized soil to eliminate soil-borne fungi. In Colorado, Ogallala and Fort Laramie varieties are recommended for home gardens.

You also can grow tomatoes in back yard tubs. Ask for Verticillium and Fusarium (VF) resistant varieties when purchasing. Plant in a mix of peat moss and vermiculite which is commercially available. You can also make your own soil mixture: one-third rooted leaf compost to one-third topsoil to one-third perlite. Sterilize your own homemade soil by heating to 180oF for 30 minutes.

Small varieties suited for this purpose are tiny Tim, small fry, patio hybrid, presto and toy boy. Other varieties such as better boy, red express and sweet 100 also can be grown in containers but will need staking and pruning. Peppers and eggplant also grow well in containers. Candle light is a cute ornamental pepper with small fruit well suited for this purpose.

Other vegetables, such as pole beans, cucumbers and peas, can be grown in containers if they are trellised. Leafy vegetables, such as cabbage, lettuce or spinach, are container possibilities. Colorado State University has tested several spinach varieties that will not "bolt." They would be good for a tub garden. Suitable varieties include Indian summer, medania and tyee.

Three problems are specific to container gardening in Colorado. Containers dry out, they freeze and salt residues build up. You'll need to check soil moisture daily by digging down two to three inches. Mulching plants and grouping them together helps reduce moisture loss. Tubs and containers with wheels come in handy when unexpected frosts occur; they easily can be rolled into warmer areas.

Heavy fertilizing of container plantings can lead to tip burn on fruits and vegetables; this can be a symptom of salt buildup. Remedy this by leaching with top watering and going easier on the fertilizer. Drip irrigation systems use water very efficiently, but they easily become clogged by salts and minerals found in Colorado water. On a small scale, however, these symptoms are easy to clean.

Homeowners with enough space can increase the quantity and quality of their vegetables by growing them in a raised-bed system. Most Colorado soils suffer from poor structure and should be amended. Once soil problems are corrected, garden planning is most important. Use techniques of succession planting to keep areas in production. For example, cool season crops started indoors and planted in raised beds will be harvested by the time hot season crops, such as tomatoes and peppers, are ready to transplant into the garden.

A technique called "espalier" also helps urban gardeners produce food using minimal space. Espalier means training young fruit trees to grow on wires. This technique is used extensively in Europe where gardening space is limited. Young fruit trees are trained to grow in shapes ranging from a single horizontal cordon to an ornate Belgian fence. Pruning encourages growth at various angles and enhances fruiting. Because the pruning technique restricts growth, dwarf varieties of fruit tree varieties are used in espaliers.

Espaliered fruit tree (127854 bytes)

Espaliered fruit tree

Homeowners in small apartments with two or three sunny windows can grow a wide assortment of herbs. These smaller aromatic plants are used frequently in cooking and country decorations. They can be grown quite easily in small window box containers. For patio areas, herbs can be grown in clay, wooden or ceramic pots. Various mints, oregano and prostrate rosemary do well in hanging baskets. For potted herbs try basil, chives, summer savory and thyme.

Photo of tire garden: Debbie Burns

Photo of Espalier: Judy Sedbrook

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010