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Cramped Quarters Gardening

By Guest Author | February 3, 2013

No matter how small your apartment or how limited your desk space at work, there’s always room for a little plant life. In fact, having plants around you at work can help with your psychological health as well your physical well being. According to a recent study conducted by the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture at Washington State University, placing potted plants in a windowless workplace was shown to help increase employee productivity and attentiveness while at the same time reducing stress. And having a home garden can not only provide you with a stress-reducing activity, it’s also an inexpensive way to keep healthy greens on hand year round.

home garden

Your home garden could be an ideal place to relax (Photo © Patrizia Tilly -

Greening up the office

Plants’ ability to fight indoor air pollution has been recognized by organizations such as the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA), which conducted a two year study on the effect of potted plants on "sick building syndrome." The study found that plants such as bamboo palm, ficus, peace lily, and Chinese evergreen were effective at purifying the air, and spider plants helped to reduce the amount of airborne formaldehyde. Chrysanthemums and gerbera daisy were also beneficial in scrubbing the air of benzene, a carcinogen mainly found in tobacco smoke, exhaust and industrial emissions.

Other plants that do well in low light and don’t mind a little neglect include philodendrons, spider plants and snake plants. Rubber plants are also good at removing air pollutants and English ivy has been known to help eliminate mold.

Planning your home garden

All a plant requires is a little soil, water, sunlight, and a little food now and then. If all your apartment has is a window that catches a handful of sun every day, you can still create a garden.

The first step is to determine how much sunlight your selected garden space gets every day. This could be a balcony or fire escape, a window sill, a window, a sun-lit handrail, or even an empty outdoor wall if your landlord grants you permission to use it.

Finding out the amount of sun exposure your garden space gets can be a tedious process. Some people choose to take hourly pictures of the space during the planting season (late spring to early fall) and others mark the sunny spots hourly with chalk. If you don’t have the time to hang out and take pictures on the hour, however, you could check out the sun’s movement around your neighborhood using the SunCalc app or leave your smartphone at home for the day and use a time lapse app to take pictures of your garden area during daylight hours.

If your garden space gets six or more hours of sunlight, you can plant it with full sun foliage. Four to five hours is considered partial sun and two to four hours is partial shade. Less than one hour of sunlight works best for shade plants.

Planting: get creative

Now the fun part—planting! Once you know how much sunlight your plants are going to receive, finding a place to grow them can lead to some creative innovating and repurposing. I’ve seen gardens grown in just about everything, from fragments of old tires to wine boxes and even old rubber boots. Following are a few ideas for planting in cramped spaces:

Windows: Take a plastic bottle and make sure the cap is screwed tightly on the top. Then turn the bottle upside down, cut off the bottom (now the top) and punch four holes equidistant from each other around the top of the perimeter. Run some strong wire, rope or twine through the holes to hang the bottle from and fill the bottle with gravel at the bottom and a mix of half potting soil, half mushroom compost. Plant your greenery, hang and you’re done! Water your plants as required and unscrew the cap on the bottom every once in a while to filter off the used water. You can also take it a step further and decorate the outside of the bottle by painting it, covering it in decorative cloth or even doing a creative decoupage.

Walls: If you have a little wall space, or can borrow some, you can create a quick vertical garden with several plastic plant pots and an old wooden palette. To make the garden, knock out every other slat in the palette and lean it against the wall where you want it to stay. Then wedge the plant pots in the space between the slats. Fill each pot with a small layer of gravel and then a mix of potting soil and mushroom compost, plant and you’re done.

Balconies and fire escapes: With the floor space provided by an outdoor balcony or fire escape, consider planting some vertical and/or sprawling plants on lengths of chicken wire or even butcher's twine spaced about one to one and a half inches apart and up to three feet high. Above the vine plants you can place hanging baskets and around them you can do layers of potted plants with plants that require more shade placed half under a small shelf and half sun plants above that. Consider doing some companion gardening as well in order to maximize your garden space. The three sisters—corn, beans and squash—grow well together, and flowers such as marigolds and mint help to keep insects away. Be careful with the mint, however, as it is invasive and can quickly overtake a potted plant. It might be wise to plant these separately and place them among your other pots.

No matter what kind of space you have to work with, keeping greens around is a healthy idea and if anything, plants can help to brighten your mood and bring a little of Mother Nature into your home.

What are some ways you’ve found to plant in limited spaces? What are some vegetables that you’ve found work well together? Do you have a favorite office plant?

Our guest author, Mike Tuma, is a Home Depot store associate in the Chicago area, where he has been helping customers since 2005. Mike focuses on outdoor products ranging from a standard chipper to chainsaws and lawn mowers.

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