Container Gardening for the Budget-Conscious Apartment Dweller

Gardening requires a decidedly different demeanor when you don’t have a big yard (or budget) to work with. But that’s no reason to give up your green thumb. Grab a pot and work with what you’ve got.

As a college student, I find I’m often alone among my peers when it comes to my passion for growing plants. Those who do share my passion have houses and I live in an apartment. And that changes everything.

The rules for container gardening are very different when you don’t have a yard to work with or a big budget. Of course, Pinterest would have you believe otherwise with all the indoor plant DIYs floating around there. It certainly soiled the realities of gardening for me, suggesting I really can grow a cactus in my windowless bedroom.

So this is for you, my fellow apartment-dwellers: a mini-guide of all the things I didn’t understand (but now do) when I began my container gardening journey.

Annuals you have to re-purchase every year, but perennials regrow every year.

This is important to remember for two reasons. One, if you’re on a college student budget (like me) you don’t want to fork out $100 every year for new plants. Two, if you purchase perennials they’ll survive year after year! I like this because I don’t have to buy more plants. (See third bullet point for more information on this.)

No, your plants will not survive the freeze.

This was a hard lesson learned. Last winter I was convinced I had super plants that could survive a 14 degree freeze. Spoiler alert: everything died. So if you care about your plants, bring them inside! Go ahead and cut back your perennials to the roots before the first freeze, then bring the pots inside so the roots don’t freeze.

Throw those summer vegetables out in the winter.

This lesson was difficult for me to accept. Summer vegetables like tomatoes are annuals, so they’re meant to die every year. In nature, tomatoes would re-seed and re-grow. But in containers, plants that would normally re-seed end up being sterile. There are certainly some exceptions, but don’t get sucked into Pinterest’s magic forever tomatoes DIY. You can keep costs of re-growing vegetables low by purchasing seeds and starting them in early March.

Containers require work, a lot of work.

You may have to water daily in the summer and fertilize once every four to five weeks with a granular product, or every two weeks with a solution. With such a small soil volume, your plants will quickly use up the available water and nutrients in the soil. I found my plants are happiest being watered daily in the morning.

Woman watering your plants

Hopefully this information will help you get started — and keep your plants alive. Don’t allow Pinterest to convince you that you can grow an eight-foot tomato plant in your closet with a normal LED bulb. Take it from me, you can’t.

You can follow growing directions for a given plant as much as possible and work with the space you’ve got. And, if you have specific questions about container gardening or gardening in general, reach out to our resident Garden Geek. He’s a font of fun foliage facts!

Sarah Gorton
Sarah Gorton
Sarah Gorton is a Planner with the SAWS Conservation department. She is passionate about bats and native plants, with a particular fondness for horseherb! Sarah has completed certifications through Texas Master Naturalist and Native Plant Society. When she isn't working on her research on the use of native grasses for uptaking pollutants at UTSA, she can be found making stained glass or hanging out with her two Chihuahuas.
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