Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary, How Does Your Garden Grow– especially in the city with very limited space? Do you think just because you live in downtown Chicago, you can’t grow your own garden in the city and have beautiful vegetables or flowers? Think again! You don’t need a large yard to plant a summer garden. You just need a little space, sun, soil, water, and a little creativity! With a little research and these five tips, you can let your inner farmer shine!

1. Find the Sunshine for your Garden

Whether it’s through a window, on your deck, front stoop, or patio, figure out where you get the most sun exposure. Most plants need about six to eight hours of sun light a day. However, if you have limited access to sunshine, don’t let that stop you. Look for plants that do well in the shade!

2. Where Does your Garden Grow?

Next, consider the size of your space. If your yard is small or non-existent, use containers and window boxes or grow your vegetables vertically. 


Containers come in all sizes and can go anywhere! Place them inside next to your window or outside on a patio, deck, porch step, rooftop, or windowsill. If you have an open space with sunlight, use it! Containers are perfect for herbs, as well as larger plants like tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. Smaller containers can also be moved around to follow the sun. For larger produce, look for containers that are at least five-gallons and 14 – 22” in diameter. Larger containers can hold more plants and moisture. You don’t need to break the bank purchasing your containers. Be creative and recycle old pots, wagons, colanders, laundry baskets, tires, old toys, etc. Just make sure the items have proper drainage. Search Pinterest for some more great ideas.

Vertical Gardening

Vertical Gardening allows you to make the most of your small space. Use stands to stack containers or plant produce in hanging baskets! You can also purchase or build a trellis or planter wall. You can even use an old ladder. These items work well for cucumbers and other vining vegetables, just make sure you have plenty of soil at the base for root systems. You can also use tomato cages to corral the vines. It’s important to stake or cage your vertical produce when you plant so they don’t get out of hand as they grow.

Window Boxes

Window boxes right outside your kitchen window are ideal for herbs like basil, oregano, and rosemary, as well as chives and lettuces, etc. Add in a box of brightly colored annuals and ivy and enjoy beauty and purpose all in one!

3. Size Does Matter!

grow your own garden in the city - size matters

Review information about plants before you buy them.  Consider how much light and water the plants will need and also how big the plant will grow. You don’t want to go to all the expense and time of planting your garden and then realize your vegetables will quickly outgrow their space! Search for tags that describe produce as compact, pixie, baby, tiny, dwarfin, or patio.

4. Sharing is Good for Plants too!

Grow your own garden in the city - Tools

Many plants grow well together sharing their need for sunlight and shade. Produce like shade tolerant basil and lettuce will do well next to taller sun-loving plants like tomatoes that can provide a respite from the direct sun. Also, consider planting early harvest vegetables with slower growing produce like broccoli or bell peppers. That way, you’ll get two for one in the space!

5. Special Tools and Tips to Grow your Own Garden in the City

Grow your own garden in the city - Tools

Once you’ve found the perfect spot for your vegetables, follow these tips to ensure your harvest is bountiful!

When using containers, look for soil balanced specifically for vegetable container gardening, as well as organic moisture retaining potting soil. These may include slow-release fertilizer already in it.

If you’re planting on your deck or balcony in your Chicago condo or townhome, remember Chicago is the Windy City! Make sure your containers are secure. Weigh down your containers with or rocks or weights.

You know yourself and whether or not you’ll remember to water your plants every day. Take advantage of self -watering spikes or globes to ensure your plants are watered and won’t wither when we do get higher temps!

Some vegetables and flowers work well together. Consider planting a few annuals to compliment your summer produce.

Ask Questions! Visit your local Garden Center or Farmer’s Market and don’t be afraid ask questions! Take your time to read the tags to determine the best fit for your garden and your space.

So, Can You Grow Your Own Garden in Chicago?

Grow your own garden in the city - Chicago

Certainly! Remember, space doesn’t need to hinder your green thumb. Whether you live in a highrise condo with a balcony, a townhome with a deck, or a single-family home with a front porch or small back yard, you can have a beautiful garden and enjoy fresh, homegrown produce. Remember, you already have access to sunshine and water. All you need now is good potting soil and your imagination!

Do you have a green thumb? We would love to see photos of your city garden! Help inspire others to start growing! Post them on our Facebook page or tag us on Instagram (@terribusemanrealtor).

Terri Buseman is Chicago’s expert realtor with resources and insights to help you make the best of your residence in Chicago. Reach out if we can help.


Terri has prepared this information into a handy checklist.  Just click to download.  Have questions?  Call Terri at 312-208-5166.

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