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A beautiful garden is possible even if you don't have a yard

Plants on apartment balconies are a great way to soften the exterior of the building by adding lush greenery. Thinkstock / Special to The Forum1 / 2
Don Kinzler, Growing Together gardening columnist for The Forum Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor2 / 2

Do you enjoy watching what's happening around town? I don't mean peering out from behind the drapes to see what quality of furniture is being delivered to the neighbors. No, I'm referring to the beautiful plantings that grace people's homes, which are a visual gift to all who drive by.

I'm especially impressed with apartment buildings and condos whose tenants create gardens on their balconies and patios, softening an otherwise large expanse of building materials. Imagine a large, multi-storied apartment complex with most of the balconies sporting greenery, flowers or vegetables. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon should look as nice to passersby.

Here is a method for developing gardens on balconies, patios and decks. Although they're especially meant to encourage the green thumbs of apartment and condo dwellers, the same tips apply to decks and patios of all homes.

1. Develop a design.

Arrange plants into an outdoor retreat that creates a small-space landscape. Round out corners with plantings. Gain privacy with trellises in pots or secured to railings for growing annual vines. Design the outdoor garden so it's also pleasant when viewed from indoors looking out.

2. Evaluate light levels.

Plant selection depends on the amount of sunlight the area receives. Six hours or more of direct sunshine is considered 'full sun.' Three to six hours is 'part sun,' while less than three hours is 'shade' or 'part shade.' South exposures are usually full sun, north exposures are shade or part shade, east side is part sun with cooler, morning sunshine, west side is part sun, often with hot afternoon temperatures. Plant tags note the light levels required by plant types.

When designing a patio or balcony garden, make sure to match the amount of sun the area gets with the plants selected.

3. Select containers.

Unless you're buying pre-planted containers, you can select your own plastic, ceramic or clay pots. Window boxes, hanging planters and boxes that attach to railings are useful. Combine tall and short pots to fill corners. For reduced watering frequency, use pots 12 inches or greater in diameter.

4. Choose potting mix.

Start with top-quality Miracle Gro Potting Mix (not Miracle Gro Garden Soil) or one recommended by your locally owned garden center. Prime potting mix can be re-used in future years by removing and replacing about one-fourth.

5. Decide what to plant.

Garden centers are well-stocked with starter plants specially designed for assembling flowering containers. Use combinations in large pots, or plant one type per smaller containers. Check tags for plant types suited to your sun or shade level. Vegetables grow best in full sun. Search for vegetable varieties labeled as container-friendly. Look for tomatoes described as determinant, compact or bush and use a pot that's at least equivalent in size to a five-gallon bucket. Herbs are tailor-made for container-growing. Annual vines can be trained on railings or trellis. Houseplants enjoy a summer vacation on the patio if the site is protected and partially shaded.

Look for tomatoes described as determinant, compact or bush. Thinkstock / Special to The Forum

6. Care.

Some potting mixes contain beads of slow-release fertilizer. If not, Osmocote brand slow-release fertilizer can be added, following directions. Supplement with water-soluble fertilizer every 10 days. Both flowers and vegetables bloom and produce bountifully with added nutrition. Monitor containers closely and water as needed, with soil drying somewhat between waterings. Avoid letting plants wilt, which diminishes flowering and fruiting.

7. At season's end.

After killing frost, harvest any remaining root vegetables and gently pull and discard all plants. Soil can be left in containers, which can be grouped in an out-of-the-way corner.

Four-part gardening series starts May 1

Gardeners itching to get out and plant can whet their appetite by attending the Fargo Public Library kicks off its annual four-week gardening series.

Local gardening experts will offer tips and ideas on a variety of topics, and a plant exchange will be offered during the final session.

All four sessions will be held at 7 p.m. in the community room of the Main Library. Topics and dates include:

  • Flowering Shrubs withTodd West of NDSU, Tuesday, May 1
  • Growing Roses for the Home Garden with Randy Nelson, Clay County Extension Educator, Tuesday, May 8
  • Gardening with Eric Baker of Baker Nursery and Gifts, Tuesday, May 15
  • Blossom Barter – Come with plants to trade, Tuesday, May 22

These events are free and open to the public. No registration is required.

For more information, call (701) 241-1492.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler's Greenhouse in Fargo. Readers can reach him at forumgrowingtogether@hotmail.com.

He also blogs at growingtogether.areavoices.com.

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