Ready, Set, Grow!: How to Start an Urban Garden

urban gardenPhoto by Emily Curtis.

Gardeners, rejoice! Spring is right around the corner, and we have some tips and tricks perfect for growing an urban garden, whether you’re a planting novice or were born with a green thumb. If you’re looking for something to do during the time of the stay-at-home advisory, consider ordering the necessary supplies online and starting a garden from the comfort of your home!

Scout spoke with Sal Bonacci, owner of Bonny’s Garden Center; Mark Saidnawey, owner and Garden Center Manager of Pemberton Farms Marketplace; and Olivia Hamlin and Allie Delgado of Niche plant shop to find out the best way for someone to start their own urban garden, right here in Cambridge. 

  1. Determine if you have the right environment. Depending on what plants you want to grow, the environment is crucial. “Consider the kind of light you have, first and foremost,” says Hamlin. “You don’t want to be buying succulents and cacti when you don’t have any direct sun in your apartment.” Plants that need six hours of sun definitely can’t survive in a dark corner, Saidnawey adds. It’s important to be realistic about what will work for your space. 
  2. Buy the necessary tools. You can do pretty much anything with a regular shovel, Bonacci says. Other helpful tools include a good pair of gloves, a pair of pruners, a small trowel, and a rake if you plan on starting or transferring your garden outside. If you are going to be keeping your plants indoors, Delgado suggests looking into a grow light.
  3. Make sure you have good soil. You might find grey clay in the Cambridge area—which is a challenging soil to work with, as it prevents water drainage and makes it difficult for plants to establish roots—so make sure you have clean soil. Bonacci suggests testing your soil before using it. Removing some of the old soil and replacing it with fresh compost can’t hurt either, says Saidnawey. 
  4. Keep your skill level in mind. For those looking to start something outside, “any beginner can plant a small vegetable garden,” says Saidnawey. Other options that work well for balconies or window boxes are small herb gardens or annuals—easy-to-care-for plants that only survive for one year, he adds. Perennials are better for intermediate gardeners, as they require more time and more specific care. 
  5. Reference the US Hardiness Zones. When buying or researching a plant, check out the US Hardiness Zones chart to determine if it can survive the winter. Cambridge is in zone 6A, Saidnawey says; if the plant is listed at zone 6 or less, then it should withstand the winter. 
  6. The calendar is your best friend. While seeds could be prepared during the fall, Bonacci says that spring is the best time to bust out the gardening supplies. Many garden centers suggest starting in April when the ground is thawing, and many even provide helpful landscaping services during this time. 
  7. Ask your local experts for help. If you’re having trouble keeping your plants alive, call a gardening center like we did for a consultation. The owners and employees are most likely experts in their field and can help diagnose the problem. 
  8. Have fun and don’t stress if your plants die. Know that what you’re doing is great for both you and the environment, even if it takes a few tries to get the results you’re looking for. If your plants do end up dying, don’t fret. This happens often, especially with beginners. 

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