Balcony jungles and pesky pests: How to grow a garden

By: Callum Denault

Published on: April 8th, 2024

Photo Courtesy: Neslihan Gunaydin (Unsplash)

Growing a garden can provide various benefits, from the simple pleasure of living near greenery to the practical convenience of a steady food supply.

Gardens do not have to be limited to parks or open farms; when done properly, plants can thrive in someone’s front yard or even inside an apartment building.

Read along for a comprehensive guide to growing a garden — wherever you are!

Making an apartment garden

Like all gardens, any indoor collection of plants will need water, sunlight, and soil to nourish it.  Balconies and rooftops provide the best access to sunlight, but window light can also work. This is especially true when choosing plants that do not require a lot of sun, such as certain salad greens and herbs. Buying a grow light is another option for totally indoor gardens.

A potting mix is an ideal soil since the typical kind of soil used for more open gardens will get compacted when it is put into a pot. This compaction might mean the plant housed in this soil cannot access the oxygen and water necessary for survival.

Watering plants and the soil they grow out of can triple their weight. This is why it is important to check one’s apartment before assuming it can handle a heavy garden. This should also be checked with the building owners or landlord, especially if you plan to grow a jungle of plants off your balcony.

There are several types of plants that are ideal for apartment building gardens. These plants usually share a few common characteristics. Some of these include being low-maintenance, not creating a big mess due to shedding leaves, being small enough to fit indoors, and living for a long time. Some indoor plants are notable for their striking appearance, such as spider plants and prayer plants.

Other indoor plants can provide health benefits, like aloe vera, which can filter out harmful household chemicals, such as fumes from varnish. The gel inside its leaves can also be used to improve digestive health and treat burns. Onions are also extremely convenient to grow inside as they can reliably sprout from the scraps of store-bought onions. 

Succulents, a hardy type of plant that includes cactuses, are particularly noteworthy for how well they grow with little water or care. Many species of these beautiful plants are suitable for indoor gardens. Succulents also tend to go through a dormant period in winter when their water and sunlight levels should be reduced.

Common pests in Canada

As covered in The Newcomer’s guide to Canadian wildlife, some animals, like skunks and raccoons, can tear up outdoor property in their search for food. However, some of the most damaging pests to crops are a lot smaller and less cuddly-looking than these furry bandits.

Gardens can host a huge variety of insects and other invertebrates.

The key to maintaining healthy plans is knowing which arthropods are beneficial to them and which pests should be eliminated. For instance, soil shredders, animals that eat along the surface layer of a garden’s soil, can hurt the roots of crops. Alternatively, they can prevent the spread of diseases by eating the dead plant matter that decays on the top layer of the ground.

Millipedes, sowbugs, and certain types of mites can all help keep a garden clear of rotting, dead plant tissue. Predator species can also be an excellent addition to any outdoor garden since they hunt animals that eat plants. Creatures such as spiders, centipedes, and ladybugs should be left alone so they can keep gardens clear of plant-destroying herbivores.

Outside of letting nature take its course, there are other ways to get rid of garden pests, which often work in combination with each other.

Larger pests can be blasted away with hose water, plucked off by hand, or taken care of by cutting away the affected part of a plant they are nesting in. Cycling through different varieties of crops throughout the year is a good way to keep pests from getting complacent. You can also completely starve out persistent bugs by refusing to grow the crops they are feeding off.

Finally, chemicals can be used to kill pests, and they come in various forms. It is important to check the label of any chemical pesticide. This way, you can ensure it does not have too many serious and harmful side effects and targets the correct type of pest.

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