Grow Like a Pro: Tips for an Urban Garden

Updated March 06, 2015
Jessie Cowan/Demand Media

Think of gardens, and you think of spades, boots, soil, mud, and getting your hands dirty. Certainly not something you'd expect technology would mix well with, and yet your devices do have a place in your gardening, even though they can't do the digging for you.

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Get Inspired

What kind of garden do you want—flowers? Vegetables? Herbs? A mixture? The best way to figure that out is to look at other gardens for inspiration. Take a walk through your neighborhood, smartphone or camera in tow, snapping photos of gardens you love. Spend some quality time with your laptop, looking through gardening websites. Visit your local garden center and write down the name of every plant you like. Save all this information in a sort of virtual "inspiration notebook"—whether this is just a folder on your computer or you use an app like Evernote is up to you. Remember to be realistic—large, sprawling English gardens are undoubtedly beautiful, but if all you've got to build your urban garden is a tiny yard or a balcony, they're unlikely to provide much inspiration.

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Plan Ahead

Time to get your smartphone or camera out again. Snap several photos of the space you intend to use for your garden, covering all possible angles, whether it's a large yard or a small window sill. Copy the photos to your tablet or laptop, or print them out, and then sketch over them, detailing exactly how your garden will be laid out. The less space you have, the more creative you'll need to get. Be realistic not just about the space and conditions you have to work with, but also about the time and effort you can invest—a set of plants in hanging baskets could make your tiny bathroom look nicer, for example, but if the only way to water them would be to precariously balance on your sink, they may be more trouble than they'd be worth.

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Make a List

You've figured out how you want your garden to look, and you know what plants you want to get—now make a shopping list. This should include not just plants and seeds, but everything else you might need that you don't yet have, even if it's something you're planning to get for free rather than buying, such as repurposed containers for planting. The very last thing you want is to realize you've forgotten something when you're elbow deep in potting soil. Try to include an alternative for each plant on the list, just in case your local garden center doesn't have everything you want. It's perfectly alright if there are some on which you don't want to compromise—it's just easier to do that bit of research calmly, in the comfort of your home, rather than standing in the middle of an aisle tapping away at your smartphone.

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Do Your Research

Whoever said "knowledge is power" probably didn't have gardening in mind, but that doesn't mean the concept doesn't apply. The better prepared you are to tackle any issues that may arise, the more likely your garden is to succeed. Before you start planting, spend some time on your laptop familiarizing yourself with the various local laws and ordinances that may affect what you can do—including, if you live in an apartment, any building-specific rules and regulations. Ensure you know exactly what each plant needs to thrive—or, in some cases, how to keep it from taking over your entire garden. Keep your smartphone or tablet on hand as you plant, in case you need to double-check something. If something goes wrong with your garden, research the symptoms and possible solutions. And if all else fails and you can't figure out what's wrong, taking a photo or three will make it much easier for you to get help from fellow gardening enthusiasts.

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Set Yourself a Schedule

No matter how much you love your garden, let's face it, it's not the only thing in your life. It's only natural that you'll sometimes forget to water the plants, never mind all those monthly or yearly maintenance tasks that need to be done to keep the garden in its best shape. The solution? Set up alerts on your smartphone to remind you whenever something needs to be done, whether it's watering, fertilizing, pruning, replanting or simply picking the fruits (and vegetables) of your labor before they fall off the plant. Do your best to configure the reminders to go off at a time when you're actually home and able to perform the task immediately—and don't mark something off as completed unless that's actually the case.

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Keep a Journal

No, it doesn't have to be complex or eloquent, and no, you don't have to share it with anybody, although you can make it a blog if you feel so inclined—but do keep a journal of your gardening endeavors, using the same method you did to build your inspiration notebook. As long as you keep track of what went right, what went wrong and why, gardening is a constant learning experience, and no matter how green your thumbs were when you started, they can always get greener. Take lots of pictures, too—that way, many years down the line, you'll still be able to show off your gorgeous roses or laugh about that one time you got way too many tomatoes and barely anything else out of your vegetable patch.

Photo Credits: Jessie Cowan/Demand Media

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