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Love Gardening But You Don’t Have a Yard? Ten DIY Projects for People Who Don’t Own a Yard

If you love gardening but don’t have a yard, you may feel like your green thumb is being stifled. You’re sure to be in good company, as the economy has required some people to downsize their living quarters, urban centers are growing and baby boomers are retiring to yardless condos and apartments. Fear not–here are ten DIY ideas for gardening without a yard.

Container Garden

Container Garden

Container Garden. Photo by Brian Johnson & Dane Kantner

Container gardening is a great alternative if you don’t have a yard, because it can be done virtually anywhere. If you have a window ledge, a place to hang a window box, a deck, a balcony or a rooftop, you can create a container garden to your liking.

Don’t worry if your tiny outdoor space doesn’t get a lot of sun. There are plenty of plants you can grow in containers that do just fine with mostly shade, such as raspberries, elephant ears, hosta plants greens and beets.

There are whole books devoted to container gardening, so head to your nearest bookstore or library for inspiration. Meanwhile, make sure if you rent that your landlord is okay with you doing any major planting in outdoor spaces and that the structure can support it.

Mini Fruit Trees

Mini Fruit Trees

Mini Fruit Trees. Photo by Valerie Everett

Mini fruit trees are a sub-category of container gardening that many people forget about, because they become so focused on flowers and vegetables that they forget about trees. Mini fruit trees are available in all kinds of species now, both at garden centers and online, so you can easily grow your own limes and lemons.

You may even be able to have fruit all year if you have the right amount of light inside your home. All you have to do is provide a pretty pot, water and occasionally feed your tree, and voila! Instant orchard!

Doorstep Topiaries

Doorstep Topiaries

Doorstep Topiaries. Photo by Dave Catchpole

Want to add curb appeal and garden at the same time? Try sprucing up your front entrance with doorstep topiaries. A topiary is a tree that’s trimmed and shaped, rather than allowed to grow naturally. Topiaries are often grown in pots and can be miniature versions of larger trees, such as evergreens.

Topiary trees look great flanking your front door, and may give you just the motivation you need to paint your entrance, polish your door knocker or replace your old house numbers and mailbox. Trimming them regularly is almost a meditative activity, like bonsai (see below), and you can add seasonal decorations like lights, flags and Easter eggs for the holidays.



Bonsai. Photo by bob|P-&-S

Growing bonsai trees is an ancient Asian art that is as much meditation and contemplation as it is gardening. The trees are trimmed both above and at the roots to fit into small containers, but the results can be astounding replicas of larger trees.

While most people think of bonsai trees as simply small evergreens, there are a wealth of beautiful flowering species that can be grown in this manner as well, both for indoor and outdoor placement.

There are many bonsai clubs and societies that offer classes in this way of growing and maintaining trees. They can help you purchase all the necessary supplies to get set up. There are also numerous online resources with instructional videos and blogs to help you.

Kitchen Herb Garden

You can have a kitchen herb garden even without a window; all you need are grow lights, easily purchased at a home supply or garden store. Go through your recipes and make a list of all the herbs you use regularly in cooking or think of ones you’d like to sprinkle around the house for their wonderful aroma.

You can find small pots of ready-to-use herbs at nurseries and health food stores, or you can grow them from scratch. While you could assemble all the elements on your own, you may find it easier to buy an herb growing kit that comes with everything you need–a fun weekend project and one kids will love too.

Even if you grow herbs outdoors on your balcony container garden, keep a few in tiny pots. When the weather grows cool, you can bring them indoors and have fresh herbs all year round.



Hydroponics. Photo by Bob Owen

Hydroponics takes container gardening to another level. You may have seen lettuce and tomatoes at the supermarket that have been grown this way, but hydroponics is not just for the commercial grower.

Hydroponic plants are grown in a water-based nutrient solution without any soil. Once you learn the basics, hydroponics can be very easy to do at home, and the lack of mess lends itself well to people who garden in small spaces.

While it used to be that you had to create your own hydroponics systems from scratch, there are now a variety of ready-to-use setups available on the market, from tubes to racks. Whatever your space limitations and configurations, you should be able to find a hydroponics system that works for you.

Vertical Gardening

Vertical Gardening

Vertical Gardening. Photo by various brennemans

If your only outdoor space can’t handle lots of horizontal gardening, think growing up, not out. There are lots of plants that fare better when grown vertically, like tomatoes, beans and peas.

A trough to hold the plants with a trellis against the wall is a simple way to create a vertical vegetable garden. Both vegetables and flowers can also be grown in a pallet garden, a cool way to recycle shipping pallets and create a wall of plants in a very small space.

Algerian ivy lends itself well to indoor vertical gardens. Dying for more green inside your house? Set a beautiful trough and attractive trellis along a wall or in the middle of a room as a divider. Grow the ivy up the trellis for an instant vertical garden inside. (Don’t forget to add gravel to the bottom of the trough for drainage.) You can place a small fountain in one corner of the trough for an even more authentic garden experience.



Terrarium. Photo by Gergely Hideg

Have an old fish tank or goldfish bowl going to waste? Why not create a terrarium? A terrarium is a miniature garden in a glass container. Like a fish tank, a terrarium makes a perfect desktop accent or can become the focal point for an entire room.

You can add rocks, seashells, driftwood and other natural elements for interest–some people even add tiny figurines. Be sure to select plants for the amount of light they’ll receive. As there is no drainage hole in a terrarium, you only need to add just enough water to keep your plants hydrated; be very careful that you don’t overwater them.

Zen Garden

If you live in a warm, dry climate or have a dwelling that stays hot most of the time, you might enjoy creating your own Zen garden with succulents, like cactuses and other desert plants.

Rather than scattering your succulents around in little pots, create a miniature landscape with them in one space. Try using the top of a dry sink or a large, flat planter. Make sure the bottom is waterproof, then fill the base with a layer of gravel for drainage. Add sand-based potting soil especially for succulents and small plants, taking care to leave room for growth. You can buy tiny rakes to tidy your garden and create pathways as part of a Zen meditation.

Community Garden

Community Garden

Community Garden. Photo by aimee rivers

If your need to garden can’t be held to just a few small outdoor spaces or your kitchen counter, you can always see if there’s a community garden near you. For free or a small fee, you may be able to use a plot of land as you like to grow vegetables, herbs and flowers. Community gardens are a good idea if you like growing plants that are harder and more space-consuming to plant in containers, such as potatoes, corn and pumpkins.

Community garden plots require a fair amount of time commitment, as you’ll have to prepare the soil, plant your crops, weed, water and harvest. If you build time there into your daily schedule, it will be manageable, and your plants will thrive. If you’re not sure you can make it to the garden every day, consider splitting a plot with neighbors, or get your teenage kids in on the routine–community gardening makes an ideal family activity!

While you may feel limited by the amount of outdoor space you have for gardening, the only real limitation you face is your imagination, as evidenced by the ideas above. If you’re not sure where to start, begin with a small indoor project, like a bonsai tree or kitchen window tray of herbs. You may like it so much you’ll cover every inch of your available space with plants and find ways to create more garden area in your home.

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