I recently decided to start a garden. We live in the top unit of a duplex, which means we don’t have a yard to grow in. We do however have a decent sized patio that gets a lot of direct sunlight. Unfortunately, my track record with keeping plants alive is pretty poor (I have managed to kill two cacti, which I have been told is a very challenging feat).
This time I wanted to do it right! I launched into a ton of research and found most resources were geared towards people who had at least a basic understanding of gardening (not me). I was fortunate to stumble upon an amazing service where you can facetime with an expert, show them your space, and they will help you with any planning or questions you have. She spent over 45 minutes on the phone with me and followed up with directions and a drawing of how to plant everything. The service is free but you can donate to their organization, which helps bring gardens to schools and correctional facilities. I recommend using the service (and donating), but I also wanted to summarize how I went about creating my garden:
Step 1: Select a container. This can range from one small pot in your kitchen to a collection of huge raised garden beds in your yard. It depends on your goals and your space. I am using our patio, which means less space. Ultimately a single large, raised planter and a few large pots were what I went with.
Step 2: Decide where to put the plants. I read that plants need at minimum 6 hours of sunlight a day, so before placing my planter I observed our porch throughout the day to see which area got the most light, then set up shop there.
In the raised planter, I put the tallest plants in the back (north side) and the shortest in the front (south side) in order to get optimal sun to each plant.
Step 3: Choose what to plant! You can look up specific space and depths required for any plant you’re interested in with a simple google search. You can also easily look up what you can grow based on your region and the current season. Here’s what I planted, based on LA weather and summer.
+ cherry tomatoes
+ hot peppers (jalapeños, habanero, serrano, bell)
+ mixed lettuces
+ lemon tree
Cherry tomatoes and zucchini grow well in pots, so I did two cherry tomatoes and two zucchini, each in their own large pot I linked above. I was told mint will take over a garden, and it’s best to plant them in their own pots as well. I used these terracotta pots for the mint (these are another type I considered). I also planted a small lemon tree in a big barrel planter for our deck. Everything else (peppers, basil, rosemary, and eventually lettuce) went in the planter. When planting multiple plants in one planter, research how much space that specific variety needs so you can organize your plants appropriately.
Step 4: Decide if you will grow from seeds or purchase plants. Since I was so late to the game (summer seeds need to be planted in early spring), I decided to purchase plants at Lowes, and was able to plant them right away in the planter since they were already mature. Now, I just have to wait for the veggies to arrive! If you choose to go with seeds, you need to start them indoors, and then eventually you can plant them outdoors (follow the specific instructions that come with the seeds you purchase). Since it is still too hot for lettuce in LA, I decided to go with seeds that I am growing indoors all summer, then will plant them outdoors in the fall when it cools down.
Step 5: Choose soil and mix it with fertilizer. Use this calculator to decide how much soil and fertilizer you’ll need. (You’ll need a specific mix of topsoil, compost, potting mix, and fertilizer). Here are the brands we got:
Step 6: Water! The best way to ensure your plants always have a consistent supply of water is to use a self-watering planter. Filling the reservoir every few days is all that’s required. Otherwise, depending on the temperature you need to consistently check the soil and water when it feels dry. Since LA is so hot I find myself watering every single day. I put it on my calendar and do it each morning after our walk, while Noa plays on the patio. It’s actually something I have really come to love and feels like one of the first sweet traditions Noa and I share.
Step 7: Weekly fertilizer with a water-soluble fertilizer. In addition to the initial fertilizer you put in your soil, you then need to fertilize regularly. You can easily google how often to fertilize, I decided that weekly was best for my garden and this is the fertilizer I use.
Starting the garden has been really fun so far and forced me to spend more time outdoors. (And trust me if I can do it, anyone can)!