— Feature —

Greening your space, inside and out

Our guide to gardening in the core

Whether you’ve got a tiny yard, a balcony, or you’re a condo-dweller with no green space to call your own, anyone can have beautiful blooms and a delicious source of food right in their own kitchen. There are many reasons to make plants a permanent part of your life, no matter the season. Plants provide oxygen, beautify your space and reduce indoor air pollution by acting as mini green air purifiers. All you need is the right tools and a little know-how to get started.

Taking your houseplants from surviving to thriving

We all know one. Maybe you are one. The houseplant killers who bring home an armful of plants, keen to bring some green to their space, but despite their best efforts see their money and time wasted when their new babies inevitably shrivel up and die.

One thing you may not have considered? Light. The more light, the better. If you have south-facing windows, those are the absolute best spot for more houseplants. Putting your new plant babies there just might bring your killing streak to an end. West-facing spots are second-best. You can pretty much choose any plant you want for these locations.

“If you have lots of light, the world is your oyster,” says Miranda Ringma, co-owner of Zocalo, a nursery and florist in Little Italy. If you’re a fan of tropical or flowering plants, south-facing exposure is mandatory. Ditto for fans of cacti and succulents—while some of these plants can adapt to lower light conditions, they won’t thrive unless they get a lot of sun.

Low light will limit what you can grow successfully. Rooms that face due north receive the least amount of light and are best avoided unless you have no other options. Eastern exposure is better, as these spots catch the morning sun.

“If you look at the plants that grow in the mall, those are low-light plants,” Ringma says. “They’re not usually as sexy.” Nonetheless, she says there are still options for dim rooms. Bromeliads offer a great colour pop in low light, while spiky sansevieria and vining pothos provide interesting interior design opportunities.

Aside from proper light, house plants need water and fertilizer to thrive. Many people kill plants with kindness—too much water is often worse than not enough, as this causes the roots to rot and is almost always fatal. If your plant starts yellowing and dropping leaves, often that’s a sign of root rot. Let your plants dry out between watering—the top of the soil should feel dry to the touch. Just don’t let them get bone dry: if they start to wilt, they need water. In the summer, house plants usually need watering about once a week or more, depending on how hot and sunny it is. In the winter, plants can often go two or three weeks (or over a month for cacti and succulents) between watering.

Sun-loving houseplants: monstera3, ficus, succulents2, cacti1, any flowering plants

Shade-friendly houseplants: sansevieria (snake plant)4, peace lily, bromeliad, pothos5

Outdoor oasis: Plants on the balcony

You aren’t the only one who likes to enjoy the summer sun on a patio—your plants want a sunny holiday, too. Balconies are inevitably brighter than any room inside, even if you’re facing north or east, and even house plants love the opportunity to grow outdoors.

“Many houseplants are actually happy to photosynthesize outside with sunlight,” Ringma says. “Most plants will do quite well outside, except for the ones with big, sensitive leaves that are going to catch the wind.”

To get your houseplants used to the cooler night temperature and more intense sunlight, start by putting them outside for a couple hours on one day, then a couple more the day after that— ideally starting in a shady spot and then moving to full sun—and continue for at least a week, preferably two.

Another thing that does great on the balcony or in a small yard during the summer months is annual bedding plants. These beautiful blooms can add a pop of colour and cheerfulness to your space, and you can go as big or small as you’d like with your arrangements. Make sure you choose plants that are best-suited to the area’s light availability.

No matter what you choose, Ringma offers some simple advice. “I always tell people to try things and experiment. For any gardening, whether it’s inside or outside on a balcony, just try it. Do you like the idea of that thing being there? Then try it—it’s fun!”

Shade-friendly bedding plants: hostas², ferns, impatiens, ivy

Sun-loving bedding plants: everything else! geranium, marigold¹, zinnia³, petunia, begonia

Eat your greens: Growing your own veggies

You can grow plenty of vegetables in a small apartment or balcony. The easiest place to start is a container of sprouts on your kitchen counter—there are many types of sprout- growing containers you can purchase to grow your own alfalfa, radishes, lentils and other sprouts from seed. A sunny kitchen windowsill is also a great place for herbs like basil, parsley, oregano, thyme and rosemary. Herbs can be started from seed though this is a bit tricky; it’s easier to buy seedlings—nurseries will have these, but you can even find them in many grocery stores.

Balconies are also perfect spots to try your hand at growing some more substantial veggies that will make a tasty addition to your summer dinners. For beginners, a tomato plant can be a good place to start, especially if you have full southern exposure, but avoid those labelled “indeterminate” or “vining” as these tend to get too big for a container.

When choosing vegetables for containers, select smaller plants. Lettuce, spinach and any other type of salad greens do very well in containers and they don’t need as big a space. Root vegetables aren’t a great choice for containers as they need a deep space to grow, though radishes are small enough for container growing.

Unless you get a jump on the season by starting them indoors in early spring, it’s best to buy veggie seedlings. Choose a large pot—as big as your space will allow—and water them very frequently, whenever the soil becomes dry to the touch. If they are in a very hot and sunny south-facing spot, you may have to water container veggies every day (keep this in mind if you have any vacation plans).

No matter which direction your balcony faces, there are veggies that should work for your light. Take a look at the tag that comes with your plants, or the seed packet, to get an idea of what might work for you.

Sun-loving veggies: tomatoes, peppers (bell and hot), strawberries, herbs

Shade-friendly veggies: lettuce, spinach, green onions, chives

Community gardens

For those who want to dig in the dirt free from the constraints of containers and grow a larger crop of veggies, central Edmonton has several community gardens. To get involved, email the garden coordinator.

  • Oliver Peace Garden Park (10259 120 St.)
  • Urban Eden Community Garden (9836 Bellamy Hill Road)
  • Alex Decoteau Park Community Garden (10230 105 St.)
  • Central Community Garden (in front of the Prince of Wales Armouries)

For a map and contact information for all of Edmonton’s community gardens, visit Sustainable Food Edmonton