Get the List: Know What to Plant in Your Urban Garden


You can't plant just anything in an urban garden. Well, you can try, but then you'll be sad when that beautiful heirloom corn doesn't grow ears or the crazy cucumber plant overruns your patio. Avoid mistakes by knowing what to plant in the first place. We've made plenty of mistakes, and we got tired of failure. That's why we created our Urban Garden Plant List. Knowing what to plant in your urban garden is probably half of the battle for success (I think other half is watering).

Avoid the “what to plant” guessing game

We haven't always known what to plant in our urban garden, so a lot of what we've learned was through trial and error. The sweet potato vine that took over half the yard gave us only two potatoes. The beets all died. The squash rotted. Our tomatoes always expand and swallow up every inch of space, but they do give us lovely fruit. You win some, you lose some.

The problem with a tiny garden is we can't really afford to "lose some." If you only have space for, say, three plants, those three had better produce.

We got tired of guessing, and last year I decided to do some actual research on what to grow in an urban space. My gardening skills may still be on a learning curve, but as a writer and editor I do know how to do research.

Why the urban garden is different

For my "what to plant" research project I read through piles of books at our local botanical garden library. I talked with experts and searched websites for gardening data. I combed through seed catalogs for plant cultural notes. And I relied on our experiences.

The urban garden has some distinctive characteristics. I looked for plants that wouldn't just tolerate these conditions, but thrive in them:

  • Urban gardens are usually small. That's great for plants that grow well in tight spaces or containers, and grow into a tidy, compact shape or can be trained to go vertical.

  • City spaces are often warmer than suburban or rural land, so urban plants must like heat.

  • Gardeners with only a few plants don't want to wait forever for them to mature, so I looked for plants that grow quickly and bear fruit early.

  • Urban gardens can be noisy, dusty places with lots off traffic and vibrations. Better to grow plants that in general aren't fussy.

  • City gardeners who don't want the hassle of growing from seed usually have to shop at a big box garden store. That means growing common plants that are widely available.

Know your garden's personality

For the Urban Garden Plant List, I ended up rating plants by four key factors that matter in the urban garden: Low maintenance, fast growing, high fruit yield and fits well into a small space. Using those criteria, you can select plants according to your particular space.

For example, if you have some room for an in-ground garden, you can choose a plant that needs a little more space. We grow indeterminate tomatoes because the flavor is so good and they yield all summer long - but we have some extra room to plant those giant sprawlers in the yard, in a raised bed.

At the same time, I don't want to put a lot of work into my garden. They're plants, they shouldn't need me to grow! We like to travel in the summer, and I don't want to worry about our urban garden. So I always choose low-maintenance plants. And I mix fast-growing with slower growing plants because I have enough plants that I can patiently wait for the later fruit as I'm eating the early growers.

Get the right plants in your space

We built a list of 22 plants that fit the bill. While we are planning this year's garden, I'm confident for the first time that we are selecting plants that will be happy in our urban space. If we want to try something off list, at least I know it's a risky plant that may need special attention.

If you're one of our subscribers, then you've already seen the free download link in the weekly email. Non-subscribers can sign up here to get the free list. Try a few plants on our list this spring, and you will start to learn which ones grow best in your particular urban space. Know what to plant, and you'll be on your way to urban garden success.

WinterPhaedra Hise