Winterizing Urban Gardens: Caring For Urban Gardens In Winter

By: Liz Baessler

Urban gardening is a great way to bring life and color to your city landscape. If you live in a city that experiences cold winters, however, there will come a time in autumn when that life and color will begin to fade. Urban gardening is often synonymous with small space gardening, and urban gardening in the winter is no exception. Keep reading for more information on how to overwinter an urban garden.

Winter Care for City Gardens

Winter plant treatment all depends upon the type of plants you’re growing. If it’s annuals you’ve got, they’re going to reach the end of their life cycle with the cold no matter what you do. Once they’ve died, chop them up and place them in a compost bin if you have one.

If your space is too small for compost, you can still benefit from their nutrients by chopping them up and laying them back on top of the soil: over winter they’ll decompose and enrich the soil for the spring.

Of course, if any plants are diseased, don’t do this! Dispose of them far away from your garden and definitely don’t compost them. Protect your soil from erosion by covering your containers or raised beds with hearty layers of mulch and compost. This will also provide more soil enrichment as the compost and mulch break down.

How to Overwinter an Urban Garden

If you’re growing perennials or warm weather plants, of course, urban gardening in the winter becomes a different story. If you live in the city, you may not have the space to bring a whole slew of plants indoors. And the good news is, you don’t really need to.

Plants can go into shock and die from the sudden change of environment, and all but the truly warm weather ones will actually fare better outside with the proper treatment. If your plants are reasonably hardy and well-established, mulch them heavily, wrap their containers (if they’re in containers) in bubble wrap, and cover the whole thing with burlap or blankets.

Move them, if you can, out of any areas that receive direct wind. Let the snow cover them – this will actually help a lot in insulation.

If your plants are less established or less cold hardy, consider building a plexiglass cold frame, if you have the space. It need only be big enough to fit your plants and provide air circulation, and can be built to fit your space. It can also be dismantled and stored in flat pieces in the summer to maximize on space.

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Read more about Urban Gardens

Keep Rats Out of Your Garden

Many gardeners have had at least one encounter with rats the typical urban gardener has probably had many. There is only one species of rat in New York City—the Norway rat (Rattus norvegicus). The Norway rat is a commensal rodent, meaning it lives in close association (literally, “shares the table”) with humans. Urban gardens are particularly hospitable to rats because they provide food, water, and safety.

Rats will burrow into any available earthen space within close proximity to food but prefer fresh, fertile soil to make their nests—a garden is prime real estate to them. A rat burrow can be anywhere from one to six feet deep and will have an entrance, an exit, and maybe even an escape hole. A typical burrow will house a family of approximately eight rats. By counting the burrow holes gardeners can estimate the number of rats living in their garden.

Gardeners are usually left up to their own devices when it comes to pest control. Some people want to maintain a pesticide-free environment others are desperate to get a bad situation under control and will try any remedy. Rats can usually be managed effectively without relying on toxic pesticides. In fact, a good rat management program focuses primarily on prevention.

Plants for city gardens

Discover 21 of the best plants to grow in a city garden, with limited space.

Published: Thursday, 30 May, 2019 at 7:34 am

City gardens tend to be smaller than the average plot. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of plants that will work well in a limited space.

The plants we’ve chosen won’t outgrow their plot. They might be used to provide screening for privacy, to filter pollution from a busy road or even to deter intruders.

Many city gardens benefit from the shelter of buildings and boundaries close by. These can create a mild microclimate, allowing you to grow beautiful exotic species that might not thrive on a more open site.

Discover 21 of the best plants to grow in city gardens, below.

Plants for shade

  • Wood spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae) – fabulous acid-yellow bracts in spring and glossy evergreen foliage, and makes great ground cover in dry shade. Perfect for underplanting trees and shrubs
  • Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ (pictured) – this deciduous perennial has heart-shaped leaves dusted with white. Dainty sprays of blue flowers rise above the foliage in spring
  • Sarcococca confusa – a great choice if you’re after an evergreen shrub. Small white flowers appear from December to March and throw out a powerful scent

Blocking out noise

  • Fargesia murielae ‘Simba’ – a well-behaved, clump-forming bamboo reaching 2m. It rustles gently in the wind and its new leaves are a fresh green
  • Yew – a yew hedge will muffle noise and can be sited anywhere, including tricky shade
  • Miscanthus sinensis (pictured) – reaches 3m tall and forms dense plants that catch the wind help block noise. Grow individually, in small groups or as an informal hedge

Creating privacy

  • Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) – its large, textured, evergreen leaves and spreading canopy make it ideal if you’re overlooked. In a warm summer it bears scented flowers and orange fruits
  • Pittosporum tenuifolium(pictured) one of many great pittosporums, this evergreen has a columnar growth habit so is ideal for blocking out an overlooking window
  • Cotoneaster lacteus – can be clipped into a formal hedge or left as an informal screen. It has strongly veined leaves, white summer flowers and lots of berries for birds in autumn and winter

Deterring intruders

  • Pyracantha‘Orange Glow’ – forms a thorny, impenetrable hedge with white flowers in June, followed by bright orange-red berries, and it will do well on a north- or east-facing boundary
  • Holly (pictured) – use holly to protect a vulnerable corner. It will grow anywhere and can be clipped into neat shapes, and many varieties produce berries. Slow-growing, so consider buying a large plant
  • Rosa rugosa – has bright pinky-purple, scented flowers with prominent yellow stamens and large hips. Very thorny, so let it grow to full size against a wall or fence to deter intruders

Combat pollution

  • Elaeagnus x ebbingei this tough evergreen shrub can be left to grow loose, clipped or made into a very pollution-tolerant hedge. Has the bonus of creamy-white, scented autumn blooms
  • Osmanthus delavayi– an evergreen shrub with small, serrated leaves and highly fragrant spring flowers. Can be clipped into a neater shape after flowering
  • Mahonia‘Winter Sun’ (pictured) – will grow in almost any setting and soil. Has large, architectural leaves and spikes of scented, cheery yellow flowers in late winter, great for masking pollution smells

Year-round interest

  • Paperbark maple (Acer griseum, pictured) – this lovely maple has cinnamon-coloured, peeling bark that adds interest throughout winter and foliage that turns brilliant shades of orange and scarlet in autumn
  • Blueberries – tasty blueberries are ideal edible crops for city gardens. They produce pretty, bell-shaped flowers and fruit and have fabulous autumn colour. Grow in acidic soil in the ground or containers
  • Phlomis russeliana – the spent flowerheads look fabulous punctuating planting and look magical when covered in frost. Pale-yellow, hooded flowers above heart-shaped leaves from late spring to early autumn

Roofs and balconies

  • Escallonia ‘Apple Blossom’ – has dark green, glossy foliage with pinky-white flowers in summer and copes well with strong winds. Can be trimmed back, shaped or used as a windbreak
  • Hebe rakaiensis – clusters of large white flowers in early and midsummer and glossy green leaves. It’s a tough, rounded, evergreen shrub that forms a neat hummock and grows well in containers
  • Fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus, pictured) – hard to beat for non-stop flowers. This low-growing versatile perennial will grow away in a container and cope with just about anything

Watch what you plant

Some very vigorous plants can quickly smother a small garden. So before you buy a plant, spend a few minutes researching its habit, height, spread, soil and light conditions to be sure it will suit your plot.

Small Space Gardening Tips for Apartment Dwellers + Urbanites

Don't let limited outdoor space prevent you from trying out your green thumb. From tasty fruits and veggies to flowering plants, trees and shrubs, container gardening is the trick to growing it all in less space than you may think.

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Get Your Daily Dose of Vitamin C

Dwarf variety citrus trees are not only beautiful, given the right conditions, they can also be bountiful. Fill terracotta pots with these flowering fruit trees to give your outdoor space a sunny, So-Cal vibe.

Green Up a Privacy Wall

Urban living often means cramped quarters both indoors and out so make the most of the space you have by thinking vertically. Designer Dan Faires repurposed wood beams from a New York City building that was slated for demolition to create this privacy wall with shelves he filled with potted plants.

Make a Scene

When planning an outdoor room, work your container garden into the design plan by coordinating the blooms' colors with your decor. Height is also important, so choose planters of varying heights or boost shorter pots with garden stools or sturdy outdoor plant stands.

Pick the Right Shrub for Shade

If your patio or terrace is shady, consider planting a hydrangea, like this lacecap hydrangea 'Bluebird' whose showy blue, pink or purple flowers (dependent on your soil's acidity) will add a splash of color from late spring through summer.

'Bee' Kind to Pollinators

No matter where you live, pollinators — bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, moths and bats — play an essential role in ensuring that you have fresh, bountiful food to eat. In short: no pollinators, no food. Make your patio a haven for our hardworking friends with a pollinator-friendly container garden that'll create a space-saving flower garden while providing them with everything they need to keep saving the world.

Pot Patio Roses

For urban-dwellers lucky enough to have access to a patio or rooftop that receives at least 5-6 hours a day of sunlight, planters filled with patio, mini or dwarf roses will provide colorful blooms all summer long.

Grow Strawberries in a Windowbox

No outdoor space? No worries. All you need is a sunny windowsill to produce a season's worth of sweet strawberries for topping salads or yogurt, or for filling pies, cobblers or crisps.

Garden Vertically

Perfect for the smallest of outdoor spaces, this multi-pocket fabric wall planter offers a kitchen garden's-worth of planting space for an assortment of fresh herbs like rosemary, thyme, chives and basil. Irrigation holes in each pocket allow excess water to drain away, ensuring plants stay moist but not overly wet.

Or, Stack Pots to Save Space

Heavy planters, like whiskey barrels, are perfect for stacking for a tiered effect. An inverted bucket in the bottom barrel helps to position the upper tier and prevent it from shifting. Filled with row after row of pollinator-friendly blooms, this stacked container garden provides maximum color in minimum space.

Green Up Your Little One's Thumb

Put that old sandbox to good use by repurposing it into a fun, kid-friendly garden chock full of healthy fruits, herbs and veggies they'll love planting, growing, then gobbling up.

Be Selective When Picking Shrubs

When selecting shrubs for container gardening, it's important to keep the plant's mature size and growth rate in mind. Slow growers that maintain a small, compact shape, like this Japanese pieris 'Flamingo' are an ideal choice. With glossy dark leaves year-round and clusters of pink urn-shaped flowers in early spring, this shade-loving shrub will add color and year-round interest to even the smallest of outdoor areas.

Add Columns of Color With Flowering Vines

Compact climbers, like jasmine and clematis, are great container plants. All they need to thrive is a pot with good drainage, a trellis or post for support and regular watering and feeding.

Grow Tomatoes From Seed

A little early planning and a few packets of seed are all you need to grow a bumper crop of the country's most popular homegrown veggie. Establish the seedlings indoors, then transfer them to a waiting pot in a sunny spot for a summer's worth of farm-fresh produce.

Plant a Palm

A beautiful accent to any shady outdoor space (direct sun will burn them), palms add tropical flair while the sculptural leaves are perfect for creating a lush, living screen for added privacy. But, as tropical natives, these heat-loving plants are prone to damage in areas with harsh winters. Container gardening makes it easier to overwinter them indoors for year-after-year of frilly fronds.

Sunny, Warm Spot? Plant Chiles

Break apart a spicy or mild dried chile to release dozens of plantable seeds. Sow the seeds in multipurpose soil, then place the pot in a sunny, warm location, like a windowsill. In just a few months, you'll be spicing up everything from soup to cocktails with fresh-from-the-garden chiles.

Or, Try a Tropical

Nothing says summer quite like a mandevilla vine. A native of the tropics, this stunner is hardy only in the warmest climes (Zones 9 to 11) so they perform best as a container plant that can be overwintered indoors.

Opt for Low-Care Succulents

If your green thumb is a little . um . brown, a low-maintenance plant like echeveria, shown here, is a safe bet. Thanks to their ability to store water in their fleshy leaves, stems and roots, succulents require very little watering — but they do require plenty of sun. Position the pots where they will receive at least 2-4 hours of direct sunlight each day and water sparingly only when the topsoil is completely dry, about every 10 days.

Or, Craft a Maintenance-Free Topiary

If your containers could use a little bit of kitsch, this DIY is for you. A plastic flamingo covered in faux boxwood will a dd a tropical twist to your front porch or back patio planters. Best of all, this crafty topiary needs no maintenance to keep its playful good looks.

Start Small

Combining several small plants together in one pot is a great way to mix colors and textures. Plus, since young, small plants are typically cheaper than mature ones, it's also a budget-friendly option. To make brightly colored flowers — like this pink kalanchoe and zinnia — really pop, plant them in a terracotta pot that has been painted a flat black.

Choose the Right Potting Soil

The difference between a healthy container plant and one that doesn't thrive could be as basic as choosing the right soil mix. Read through our tips, below, to learn the differences between potting soil and garden soil to help you select the right medium for your container plants' specific needs.

Don't Forget to Water

Container gardens require more water than in-ground gardens — partially because there's less soil to hold moisture but also because some types of containers, like terracotta and porous coco-fiber liners allow the moisture to evaporate quickly. While watering needs vary depending on sun exposure, season and the plant itself, a good rule-of-thumb is to water early in the cool of the morning so the moisture can be more readily absorbed by the soil, instead of evaporated in the heat of the day. To determine if your plant needs water, just insert your finger into the top inch of soil. If it's dry and crumbly, your potted plant could use a drink.

Fertilizer for the Win

For a bounty of blooms, veggies, fruit and foliage, fertilizer is key. Composed primarily of three main elements —nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium — fertilizer provides the nutrients that are missing in your container's soil or were there initially but have been diluted or used up over time. While you can use granular fertilizer in containers, many gardeners prefer liquid fertilizers that are more readily absorbed. Most potted plants can benefit from a regular schedule of monthly fertilizer applications but be sure to follow manufacturers' mixing instructions — over-fertilizing is worse than under-feeding.

Don't Skip Proper Prep

Plants need water — that's a given — but too much water is too much of a good thing. Pots without adequate drainage can cause plants to wilt, lose color and ultimately rot. So, it's important that you drill holes in any containers that lack proper drainage.

Make a Mobile Garden

Add casters (available at your local hardware store) to the bottom of metal trash cans to create rolling planters you can easily move around your outdoor space or even bring indoors when temperatures dip.

Sean Lewis and Jesse Terzi, partners in Brooklyn’s New Eco Landscapes, designed a cantilevered wooden pergola to shade the dining table and define the space in a townhouse garden in Brooklyn’s Clinton Hill neighborhood.

If you’re designing a new garden or rehabbing an existing landscape, get started with tips and inspiration from our curated guides to Garden Design 101. From Shrubs: A Field Guide to our design guide to Decks & Patios, we’ve got growing and design tips tailored to your climate. Read more about landscape design for townhouses and city gardens:

Design tips: How to create a sanctuary out of an urban space

City gardens often present a challenge. With space at a premium, they are generally small, frequently have unwanted views and little privacy and — in the case of rooftops and balconies — may not have any natural soil for planting. That being said, overcoming these challenges is well worth the effort.

Ask your clients to imagine stepping off the city streets and coming home to their own private, leafy oasis. Perhaps they take a moment to listen to the rustle of leaves and trickle of an outdoor fountain or watch a wild bird hop through the foliage. Having just a small slice of outdoor space can offer a welcome respite from the noise and nonstop pace of urban life.

Here are eight design ideas from urban gardens to inspire your customer’s own tranquil outdoor retreat, whether it’s a narrow city backyard, a tiny balcony or an urban rooftop.

1. Layer your plantings. Stepping out on this London terrace feels like being whisked away to the tropics, thanks to the layered plantings of bold tropical foliage and hot-colored flowers. For a particularly lush look in a city garden, allow enough planting areas to accommodate small plants in the foreground, fillers for the middle ground and taller plants for screening. Here, an L-shaped planter behind two seat-height storage benches provides enough soil to create a layered planting bed.

Photo: Cultivart Landscape Design

2. Add a water feature. Your customer’s garden will not feel like a tranquil retreat if they can hear the sounds of busy streets or highway traffic. Mask the noise of the surrounding city with the soothing sound of running water. Even a small water feature that incorporates a fall, splash, gurgle or trickle can be very effective in distracting a listener from unwanted urban sounds. Additionally, water will attract wild birds and insects to your urban oasis, providing them with a much-needed resource.

3. Consider the design from above. Think about how the garden will be viewed from inside the home. For sunken patios, consider adding graphic elements to the design that are particularly pleasing when viewed from above. Here, an irregular paving pattern of mica schist stones surrounded with stabilized crushed aggregate add year-round interest for those looking down at the garden.

Photo by Todd Haiman Landscape Design

4. Take advantage of containers. Don’t let the lack of soil on the rooftop, balcony or elevated terrace keep plants out of your garden design. A handful of large containers planted to the brim with lush foliage and colorful perennials can transform an urban space. The could-be-barren rooftop seen here is a lush urban escape — perfect for relaxing in a hammock and watching the sun sink below the New York City skyline.

To get an urban-jungle look, choose containers large enough to grow a variety of small trees, shrubs, perennials and herbs.

Photo: Growsgreen Landscape Design

5. Add a soft area. Expanses of green grass look appealing but can be impractical in city gardens. Limiting the lawn to a small patch cuts down on the maintenance but still offers a soft spot for throwing down a blanket or playing a game of cards. In urban gardens without the soil for grass, get the same appealing soft look with a durable outdoor rug or artificial turf.

6. Design for privacy. When surrounded by neighboring buildings, hanging out in a city garden can feel less like a relaxing retreat and more like a public display. Create more privacy by screening the garden with fences, awnings and tall plants. Here, a midlevel terrace surrounded by skyscrapers feels secluded, thanks to a shade pergola planted with vines and slatted fencing covered in potted orchids.

7. Create more planting space. Urban gardens often create nontraditional planting spaces, and thinking beyond planting in the ground can open up your options. Here, a stacked shelf made of recycled wooden fruit crates and industrial pipes has become a treasure trove of botanical specimens. The shelves hold moss-wrapped kokedama, a small bonsai, tiny potted cactuses and a collection of curly air plants (Tillandsia spp.).

8. Blur the boundaries between indoor and outdoor spaces. Due to the density of city living, apartment square footage often comes at a premium. Expand the living space by creating an easy transition from indoor to outdoor space. Here, glass doors rotate to open the living room to the outdoor lounge. In cold climates, double-paned, insulated glass is well worth the investment to minimize heat loss in winter.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was written by Lauren Dunec Hoang, a Houzz contributor Hoang is a landscape designer and was previously a garden editor for Sunset Magazine and in-house designer for Sunset’s Editorial Test Garden.

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