If you'd like to try gardening, but don't have room for a traditional garden or don't want all the work, give deck gardening a try.
Growing plants in containers on the deck is my favorite way to garden.
Location, Location, Location
A deck can be part of both the house and the garden. It invites you outside and provides a convenient place to enjoy nature. Once it's furnished, you're likely to spend much more time outdoors, especially if you're cultivating a garden there.
(Amaranth is a group of more than 60 different species of grains that have been cultivated for 8,000 years. Besides being extremely versatile, this nutritious grain is gluten-free and rich in protein, fiber, micronutrients and antioxidants; photo mine)
You Don't Need a Yard To Grow Vegetables
High-rise apartment balconies can be windy and subject to heavy rains and heat. Utilize roof overhangs, patio umbrellas, and glass railings to protect your plants. Consider rolling planters that can be relocated when necessary. To protect young plants from storms, use the clear plastic clamshell containers from commercial products like salad mixes. You can also make mini hoop covers from sturdy wire and clear plastic wrap.
If you want to make your own fertilizer, consider setting up a worm compost bin under the kitchen sink. This is a simple, odorless way to recycle kitchen scraps and create great fertilizer at the same time. Both the worm compost and worm tea (the liquid produced by the worm-composting process) will help keep your plants healthy.
What to Grow
While just about any vegetable or fruit can grow on a deck or patio, these crops are especially well-suited for containers:
Tomatoes are a popular choice that will thrive in the heat of a balcony or deck. Just be sure to use a container that’s at least 18 inches deep, and also provide a trellis for support, if necessary.
Potatoes grow well in containers. Unlike those grown in the ground, they don’t require a lot of digging that can possibly result in slicing the spuds in half with your shovel. Simply tip the container onto a tarp when you’re ready to harvest. Plant potatoes in a large container or grow bag, and continue adding more potting mix on top of the plants as they grow.
Herbs are an ideal choice for patio or deck gardens. By placing them near your kitchen, you’ll be able to step outside and quickly harvest a few to add to a dish or use as a garnish. Herbs do well in containers and like the added sun and heat of a deck. Additionally, invasive plants like mint can be kept under control.
Because of their small root systems, salad greens do very well in containers. For a continuous supply, thinly sow a small scattering of seeds every week, and be sure to harvest as soon as they're ready. By clipping them, you can often get a second or even third harvest from one sowing.
(Black Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars feasting on a container of parsley; photo mine)
Things to Consider
Overcrowding is a common reason for failed container gardens. Compared to raised beds or in-ground, plants in containers don’t have as much space to spread their roots. Give large crops, like tomatoes, kale and cucumbers, lots of space with just one plant per pot at least 18 inches deep. Sow the seeds of salad greens sparsely, and thin seedlings often.
Container crops need more frequent watering than those grown in other ways. Make sure your potting mix stays moist but never soggy. It’s okay if the top dries out by the afternoon, but everything underneath should stay moist. This sometimes means daily sprinkling or even twice daily. Early morning is the best time to water. If you have a busy lifestyle, consider installing an automated drip irrigation system designed for containers.
Vegetables are heavy feeders. Add a sprinkle of granulated slow-release organic fertilizer at planting time, and follow up with monthly additions of an organic liquid fertilizer designed for vegetables.
The West Coast was my home for 40 years. I now live in Middle Tennessee. I've been a gardener most of my life and have written for several gardening websites. I have a B.A. in European History and an M.A. in Behavioral Science with an emphasis in conflict resolution. I spent a number of years working with victims of domestic violence. I'm passionate about gardening, environmental issues and I love to travel.