Urban Gardening: Grow Apartment Vegetable Gardens, City Planting Tips

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Gardening | October 10, 2023

Man looking at plants on a rooftop after reading an urban gardening guide that explained how to grow plants and vegetables indoors, as well as city planting ideas and growing tips for container gardens and indoor potted plants.

Fighting world hunger could be as simple as making urban gardening more popular. Did you know it has the potential to meet up to one-fifth of food demand worldwide?1

You might think growing plants is out of your wheelhouse, especially if you have a habit of hurting houseplants. The good news, though, is that creating a home garden with urban gardening techniques is easier than you might think.

Not sure where to begin?

This guide to urban gardening for beginners breaks down everything you need to know, from the definitions of critical terms to the essential tools every urban gardener must have.

What Is Urban Gardening?

As the name suggests, urban gardening simply describes planting a garden in an urban or suburban location.

Graphics of how to get started with urban gardening showing the 4 steps which include an urban farmer choosing the gardening method and space, gathering their supplies, and planting.

For example, you could start a garden on your apartment balcony or in your backyard.

You could also grow plants on the roof of your condo building or even on a surface as small as your kitchen windowsill if you don’t have access to any outdoor spaces.

How To Get Started With Urban Gardening

Getting started with urban gardening doesn’t have to be time-consuming or complicated. Here are some simple steps you can take to establish your garden:

Choose a Gardening Method

First, you must figure out how you’re going to grow a garden. Do you want to garden the old-fashioned way with soil, seeds, and water?

Are you curious about more modern methods like hydroponics or aeroponics?

When you decide on a gardening method, consider the amount of space you have access to, as well as your budget. Factor in the amount of time you have to dedicate to your garden and the number of plants you want to grow, too.

Choose Your Gardening Space

Next, decide where you’ll grow your garden.

Will you use your balcony to set up some garden planters or pots? Do you want to try your hand at indoor gardening and set up a planting system near a large window?

When picking a place for your garden, don’t forget to consider the amount of sunlight the area receives and how easy it is to access. For example, can you easily get to your apartment building’s roof each day (while lugging a watering can) to tend to your plants?

Decide What Plants You Want To Grow

Next, choose the plants you want to grow.

Popular plants in urban gardening graphics showing urban gardens' vegetable and plant choices such as Green onions, Salad greens, bell pepper, beans, turnips, radish, carrots, tomatoes, Summer squash, and herbs.

All kinds of plants can grow well in a rooftop, backyard, or balcony garden. However, the following crops are relatively easy to grow and also don’t take up a lot of space:

If you’re new to gardening, begin with just a few of these plants. Once you successfully grow those crops, you can make plans to expand your garden.

Don’t know which plants will grow best in your location?

You can use the USDA’s hardiness zone map (simply type your zip code in to learn your zone) to learn more about your local climate.14 Then, select fruits, vegetables, and herbs that can survive in that climate.

Gather Your Supplies

Luckily, you don’t need many gardening supplies to start your first urban vegetable garden (or any other type of garden).

Beyond seeds or seedlings (young plants grown from seeds) for the specific plants you want to grow, make sure you have the following gardening tools on hand:

  • Hand trowel or shovel: A hand trowel or shovel will help you dig holes for your plants.
  • Hoe: A hoe also helps with digging holes, as well as digging up weeds or hilling potatoes (Although potatoes don’t need to be hilled in container gardening)
  • Hand pruner: Use this tool to cut off dead parts of various plants to encourage healthy growth.
  • Watering can or hose: Use a watering can or hose (which is more convenient for larger gardens) to water your plants consistently and sufficiently.
  • Planting containers: You can choose from tons of different containers, including raised beds, planting boxes, or individual pots. Want to experiment with vertical gardening? Towers and trellises are also useful.
  • Soil: Nutrient-rich soil is vital to growing healthy, happy plants (unless you’re using aeroponics or hydroponics, of course).
  • Fertilizer: Add fertilizer to deliver extra nutrients to your soil and plants.
  • Gloves: Wearing gloves protects you from getting scratched or scraped while you care for your plants.

Start Planting

Now, you know how, where, and what you’re going to grow. It’s time to get to work and plant your seeds or seedlings!

5 Types of Urban Gardens

People can practice several different types of urban gardening, but these methods are some of the most common options:

  1. Backyard Gardening: You don’t need access to acres of land to grow food. As long as you have some space in your backyard, you can start your gardening journey and cultivate your own crops.
  2. Vertical Gardening: Vertical gardening involves growing plants upward (vertically) instead of in rows (horizontally).
    Some people use towers to grow their vertical gardens, but you can also grow them on a trellis, ladder, stakes, or any other vertical support system.
  3. Rooftop Gardening: Rooftop gardening typically involves using planter boxes or other containers to grow food on the roof of an apartment building or another structure.
  4. Hydroponic Gardening: Hydroponic gardening systems use water and special mineral-nutrient solutions to grow produce (rather than planting seeds in the soil).
  5. Aeroponic Gardening: Aeroponic gardening relies on a nutrient-filled mist to nourish and grow plants (rather than soil or water).

How Do I Decide Which Soil To Use in Urban Gardening?

Look for a peat moss-based soil mix.2 This variety works well for most plants because it contains organic material and retains moisture well.

You might need to add additional materials, though, such as sand to help with drainage or compost to provide more nutrients, if your plants don’t seem to be thriving.

How Do I Protect My Plants From Pests?

If you prefer urban organic gardening and don’t want to rely on a variety of pesticides, you can still protect your plants using more eco-friendly solutions.

Close up view of plants in the balcony of an apartment.

(Image: KientrucVietAS_Com17)

Physical barriers like row covers help to shield your plants without blocking the sun’s rays. You can also use a homemade solution made from dish soap and water or white vinegar and water to treat your plants without unnecessary chemicals.

What Should I Do if My Plants Aren’t Getting Enough Sun?

Your plants might need more sun if you’re not seeing much new growth or if the leaves are starting to turn brown. If you notice these warning signs, move your plants to an area that gets lots of natural sunlight.

Don’t have easy access to much natural light? Invest in some grow lights.15 They will deliver additional warmth and support for your plants.

Are Urban Gardens Legal?

Most types of urban gardens, especially if you’re just growing food for yourself and your family and aren’t bringing livestock into the mix, are perfectly legal and don’t require you to take many extra steps before getting started.

Plants in a pot in the balcony of an apartment.

(Image: echang16)

Nevertheless, you should keep a few legal/regulatory factors in mind, including the following:

  • HOA rules: If you’re part of a Homeowners’ Association, you should check with your HOA board to ensure they allow the specific type of garden you want to create. This is especially important if you want to start a rooftop garden or another garden in a community space.
  • Yard-maintenance laws: Many local governments have laws requiring residents to perform a minimal amount of yard and lawn care (for example, grass and weeds can’t grow beyond a certain point). Otherwise, you may face a fine.
  • Watering laws: Your local governments may also have rules regarding water usage and may prevent you from watering your yard or garden using a sprinkler system (or require you to only use it during certain times). For example, drought-prone states like Texas,8 California,6 Arizona,7 Utah,9 Nevada,10 New Mexico,11 Colorado,12 and Wyoming all have unique watering laws residents must abide by.13

Why Should You Become an Urban Gardener?

You benefit yourself, your family, your community,3 and the planet when you become an urban gardener. If you need an extra push, here are some of the top reasons to give it a try:

  • Gardens provide increased access to fresh, high-quality food, which combats food insecurity and allows you to consume a more nutrient-dense diet.
  • Gardening reduces spending on fruits, vegetables, herbs, and other foods, which also combats food insecurity and lowers your grocery bill.
  • Gardening increases time spent outdoors, which is beneficial to your physical and mental well-being.4
  • Gardens provide habitats for pollinators, such as butterflies, moths, and bees.
  • Gardens can reduce the effects of extreme heat by creating more shade,5 especially in high-sun locations.
  • Gardening and growing plants help to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which slows the effects of climate change.

When you have decided and chosen all the plants that you want to add to your garden, always refer to the instructions on your seed packets to determine how to plant and care for each crop.

Also, keep in mind that in urban gardening, you need to start growing some plants, such as tomatoes and bell peppers, indoors before the weather warms up.


1USDA. (2023). Urban Agriculture. USDA Climate Hubs. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://www.climatehubs.usda.gov/hubs/international/topic/urban-agriculture>

2ASK UNH EXTENSION. (2020, January 24). What is the best soil for potted plants? UNH Extension. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://extension.unh.edu/blog/2020/01/what-best-soil-potted-plants>

3Papanek, A., Campbell, C. G., & Wooten, H. (2023, January 19). FCS3378/FY1517: Social and Community Benefits and Limitations of Urban Agriculture. Ask IFAS. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/FY1517>

4U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (2023, April 18). Are There Benefits to Spending Time Outdoors? | Skin Cancer. CDC. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/outdoors.htm>

5Arizona State University. (2014, July 21). City of Phoenix Cool Urban Spaces Project | Decision Center for a Desert City. Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://sustainability-innovation.asu.edu/dcdc/2014/07/city-phoenix-cool-urban-spaces-project/>

6The California Water Boards. (2023, June 19). Water Conservation Portal – Emergency Conservation Regulation | California State Water Resources Control Board. State Water Resources Control Board. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/water_issues/programs/conservation_portal/regs/emergency_regulation.html>

7Arizona Department of Water Resources. (2023). Arizona Department of Water Resources. Arizona Department of Water Resources. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://new.azwater.gov/sites/default/files/media/Waste_Ordinance_2018_1.pdf>

8State of Texas. (2023). Water Conservation Programs. Texas Groundwater Protection Committee. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://tgpc.texas.gov/water-conservation/water-conservation-programs/>

9State of Utah. (2023). Water Restrictions – Utah Drought. Utah Drought. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://drought.utah.gov/water-restrictions/>

10State of Nevada Division of Water Resources. (2023). Water Law Overview. Nevada Water Law Overview. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <http://water.nv.gov/waterlaw.aspx>

11City of Santa Fe. (2022, May 2). Time of Day Watering Restrictions In Effect. City of Santa Fe. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://santafenm.gov/news/time-of-day-watering-restrictions-in-effect>

12Denver Water. (2023). Rules for Outdoor Water Use. Denver Water. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://www.denverwater.org/residential/rebates-and-conservation-tips/summer-watering-rules>

13Tyrrell, P. (2023). Wyoming Water Law Summary. Wyoming State Water Plan. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://waterplan.state.wy.us/plan/bear/2001/techmemos/waterlaw.pdf>

14USDA Agricultural Research Service. (2023). USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. USDA Agricultural Research Service. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/>

15Mills, T., & Dunn, B. (2017, April). LED Grow Lights for Plant Production | Oklahoma State University. Oklahoma State University Extension. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://extension.okstate.edu/fact-sheets/led-grow-lights-for-plant-production.html>

16Photo by echang. Pixabay. Retrieved from <https://pixabay.com/photos/potted-plant-apartments-veranda-99359/>

17Photo by KientrucVietAS_Com. Pixabay. Retrieved from <https://pixabay.com/photos/plants-plant-pots-balcony-6749574/>