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Urban Gardening

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years ago






Organic gardeners don't use synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides, which is healthier for the environment and for you (the American Cancer Society has reported a link between the herbicide glyphosate, commonly sold as Round-Up, with a 27% increased likelihood of contracting Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, and Johns Hopkins University has also reported that home gardeners use almost 10 times more pesticides per acre than the average farmer). Organic gardeners also:

  • Use plants as part of a whole system including the soil, water supply, people, wildlife, and insects.

  • Minimize and continually replenish any resources the garden consumes.

  • Regularly add organic matter (compost from the garden, kitchen, and lawn) to the soil.

  • Choose plants suited to the climate and conditions of the site.



  1. You can start a garden at any time, so long as the ground isn't frozen or soaking wet.

  2. Place your plot in an area that gets six hours or more of sun each day. Typically, this will be in a spot facing due south or southwest.

  3. Place your plot near a water source and your compost pile, if you have one.

  4. Place your plot away from mature trees and underground utility lines.

  5. Place your plot away from solid fences or walls in order to facilitate air circulation and avoid fungal diseases that can attack plants.

  6. It's easiest to start small with a plot that is approximately 5'x5'.

  7. Use a string attached to stakes or a garden hose to mark the perimeter of your plot.

  8. Use a trench or a metal, plastic, stone, or wood border to keep grass from growing into your garden.

  9. Most likely, your garden will be covered with grass. Do not till this grass into the soil as it will only produce thousands of tiny sprigs that will sprout again. Remove the sod with a shovel to a depth of about 4 inches, and cart from the garden. The sod can be used to cover bare spots in the yard or stacked upside down and in layers to turn to compost later. Replace the sod with a mixture of compost and leaves to a depth of 3 - 4 inches. Water this area well for 1 - 2 weeks.

  10. Remove all weeds before you do anything in your plot.

  11. Turn the soil over with a shovel or spading fork. If you have hard soil, water the ground the day before you turn the soil to soften it.

  12. Place some organic compost on the surface of the soil and mix it in well.

  13. Water the soil prior to planting. Plant roots should never come in contact with dry soil.

  14. Using small plants from a nursery is easier for novice gardeners than planting from seed.

  15. Water as soon as you are finished planting  to settle the soil around the roots.

  16. Do not add fertilizer until you begin to see new growth.



  • Situate trelllises on the north side of your garden to avoid shading other plants.

  • Place trellis poles 24 inches deep in the earth to anchor them.

  • You can trellis acorn and butternut squash; miniature pumpkins; nonbush varieties of cucumbers, peas, and tomatoes; and varieties of melons, gourds, and pole beans that produce fruit smaller than a volleyball.



  • Choose a location that will receive 5 hours or more of full sun.
  • Concrete, metal, and wood planters, not clay or terracotta, are best for cold winter regions like Michigan. Some glazed ceramic planters are not appropriate for climates that experience a wide range of day to nighttime temperatures (again, like Michigan).
  • Choose containers with an adequate number of holes in the bottom for proper drainage. Additional holes should be drilled or punched in containers that do not drain quickly after each watering.
  • Sterilize all containers before you use them, and treat metal and wooden planters with non-toxic stain, paint or waterproofing agent.
  • Line insides of wooden planters that are susceptible to rot with black plastic (with holes in bottom for drainage), and reinforce joints of wooden planters with extra rust-proof nails.
  • Raise containers on solid surfaces (like cement or patio floors) 1 - 2 inches (on blocks of wood, for example) to encourage air flow.
  • Choose containers with ample space for root development. Shallow rooted crops like herbs, lettuce, peppers, and radishes need containers at least 6 inches in diameter and 8 inches in depth. Cucumbers, pole beans, squash, and tomatoes require larger containers like bushel baskets, half barrels, large pressed paper containers, or wooden tubs.
  • Use a good potting mix that is light and fluffy, absorb water well, and drain fairly quickly. Garden soil compacts quickly in containers, and doesn't allow water to reach the root zone. Potting mix recipes are available here.
  • To begin planting, fill your container halfway with potting mix, add your plant and cover with more potting mix and 1 inch of mulch, and leave about 2 inches of space for watering.
  • Place saucers underneath your containers to prevent plants from drying out, but check them frequently to avoid root rot.
  • Add compost or compost tea.
  • Wait until the top inch of the soil in the container is slightly dry (lighter in color and texture), then water deeply, until water runs out of the drainage holes.

      • Water with tepid, not cold, water to avoid shocking roots.
      • If your water is chlorinated, let it stand in a pan overnight before using it. This will allow the chlorine to evaporate.
      • Avoid using "softened" water on plants. The sodium that softeners use will eventually kill a plant.
      • Water only in the morning to avoid fungal problems (from night watering) or evaporation (mid-day watering).
      • Water deeply - until the entire soil mass is wet - to encourage healthy root formation.
  • If you see root growth out the drainage holes it's time to re-pot into a larger planter. Fall is an excellent time to repot plants that have outgrown their containers.

  • Bring garden planters inside or insulate them in winter to prevent freezing.

  • Clean out garden planters with bleach and soapy water after you use them.



If you are planting in window boxes, follow these additional guidelines:

  • Fill your window box with a thin layer of shells, charcoal or styrofoam peanuts so it will drain properly even with the heaviest of rains. Loose stones or clay shards often used in patio planters will be too heavy for window boxes.

  • Fill the box with your favorite soil mixture and wet the soil thoroughly.

  • Add your seeds or plants—remember to do extra checks for dryness through the hot season, as elevated window planters tend to dry out faster than other planters. Fertilize regularly throughout the growing season and dead-head (remove dead flowers) to keep the window boxes looking their best.



  • Fruits well-suited for container gardening include blueberries, strawberries, and dwarf varieties of apples, apricots, cherries, peaches, pears, and plums. Nature and Nurture in Ann Arbor (telephone 734-929-0802) sells several varieties of fruit shrubs and trees.

  • Choose a thick-walled plastic, resin, or wooden planter or half-barrel to plant fruit trees.
  • Check the pH of the soil at least once annually. Except for blueberries, keep the soil above pH 6.0. Kits are available at Downtown Home and Garden (210 S. Ashley St. in Ann Arbor, telephone 734-662-8122).
  • During winter, bring your fruit plants and trees indoors, or wrap the planter in cardboard or garbage bags filled with leaves.



  • Herbs are typically sun-loving and prefer dry (rather than continually moist) soil that is slightly alkaline.

  • Some perennial herbs, such as lavender, rosemary and sage, can grow to shrub size.

  • Herbs can grow outside in the summer and come inside during the winter.

Annual Biennial Perennial
Anise Caraway Chives
Basil Parsley Fennel
Chervil   Lavender
Coriander   Lemon Balm
Dill   Lovage
Summer Savory   Marjoram
    Winter Savory




Recommended Container

Recommended Varieties

Beans, lima

5 gallon window box

Bush Romano, Bush Blue Lake, Tender Crop

Beans, snap

5 gallon window box

Henderson Bush, Jackson, Wonder Bush


5 gallon window box

Little Egypt, Early Red Ball


1 plant/5 gallon pot

3 plants/15 gallon tub

Green Comet, DeCicco

Brussels Sprouts

1 plant/5 gallon pot

2 plants/15 gallon tub

Jade Cross


1 plant/5 gallon pot

3 plants/15 gallon tub

Dwarf Morden, Red Ace, Early Jersey Wakefield

Cabbage, Chinese

1 plant/5 gallon pot

3 plants/15 gallon tub

Michihili, Burpee Hybrid


5 gallon window box at least 12 inches deep

Short & Sweet, Danvers Half Long, Tiny Sweet


1 plant/gallon pot

Patio Pik, Spacemaster, Pot Luck


5 gallon pot

Slim Jim, Ichiban, Black Beauty


5 gallon window box

Salad Bowl, Ruby


5 gallon window box

White Sweet Spanish, Yellow Sweet Spanish


1 plant/2 gallon pot

5 plants/15 gallon tub

Sweet Banana, Yolo Wonder, Long Red Cayenne


5 gallon window box

Cherry Belle, Icicle


5 gallon window box

Dark Green Bloomsdale


2 gallon pot



Bushel baskets or 5 gallon pots

Tiny Tim, Small Fry, Sweet 100 Patio, Burpee's Pixie, Toy Boy, Early Girl, Better Boy VFN




  • Growing Hope in Ypsilanti conducts the Community Garden Development Institute program, a series of hands-on classes for groups interested in starting and maintaining organic gardens in community settings. Groups must have at least 5 members, at least 3 of whom must attend all four CGDI sessions. The next CGDI will begin in fall 2007. E-mail for more details.

  • Plant a Row for the Hungry collects surplus garden produce for local food banks, social service agencies, and soup kitchens. For more information, e-mail Carol Ledbetter or call 877-GWAA-PAR.


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