Tips for the novice gardener

FERGUS – Not everyone has a green thumb or has had opportunities to gain experience in gardening. 

For those who have small spaces – like an apartment or condo balcony – there can be additional challenges, such as lack of sunlight  or too much sun. But you can still enjoy the pleasures of growing annual flowers, herbs and vegetables. 

Purchasing plants called ‘transplants’ or ‘starts’ rather than seeds can make the process easier for people with time restraints and limited experience. Each start should come with a marker indicating the species, and planting and care instructions.

Megan Crosland, manager of Little Tree Garden Market in Fergus holds a plant science degree.

 Crosland’s recommendations for growing flowers, vegetables and herbs in small spaces that get either a lot of sun or receive little sunlight, come from decades of experience. In both cases, Crosland recommends organic potting soil because it has more available nutrients for plant roots than other soils, helping to reduce stresses caused by lack of sunlight and over or under watering. 

Adding an all-purpose organic fertilizer gives plants food and also aids in relieving environmental stresses. In summer heat, when there has been a dry spell, check daily for watering. Larger containers may need twice daily watering.

Mid-way through the season, Crosland suggests adding a slow-release fertilizer to replace the food that has been washed out by rain and watering. Or you can use a liquid all-purpose fertilizer every time you water.

Deadheading (pruning old flowers) flowering plants should promote new flowering and can keep many plants blooming all summer. Trailing geraniums do not need deadheading, but they are one of the exceptions to the rule. Plants that grow vertically can provide colour and variety without taking up too much space. Shady areas can be brightened with tropical plants like palms, fiddle leaf fig and fiscus trees. In sunny areas, trellised vines such as thunbergia, morning glories, sweet peas, mandevilla, and tropicals like bananas and bird of paradise can thrive.

Drought tolerant flowers, vegetables and herbs for sunny areas include:

– dragon wing begonias, geraniums, lantana and portulaca;

– staked tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, kale, Swiss chard, bush cucumbers and trellised cucumbers; and

  basil, sage, parsley and thyme.

Flowers, vegetables and herbs for shaded areas:

– begonias, impatiens, browelia, torenia;

– spinach and some lettuces; and

  oregano and mint.

Both spinach and lettuce should be seeded every few weeks because they have a tendency to bolt; they grow flowers and go to seed and the leaves become bitter.  Seeding is the process of cutting back and then planting more seeds. By cutting back the spinach and lettuce to about one inch above the base of the plant, new leaves should grow. 

In shaded areas, diseases like powdery mildew can be worse than in sunny areas but can be treated with a fungicide. You can map out your balcony or small space to determine what might work best for you.  This can also help with over-buying of plants, containers and soil. Used planters and pots can be found at second hand stores, garage sales and even some nurseries, making your foray into gardening a little easier on your wallet.

Whatever you choose, whether for a sunny or shady area, your small space can become a summer oasis.