Urban Gardening: Getting Started in NYC

It can be intimidating to get started with urban gardening. But the truth is, there are more green spaces in cities than you might think.

In New York City alone, there are around 550 community gardens. Depending on where you live, you can possibly get access to a community garden plot of your very own or come up with your own in-house option. You just have to get creative! Urban farming is blowing up, and from rooftop gardens to community gardens to opportunities to grow fresh produce inside your apartment, there are plenty of options for aspiring green thumbs.

Paul’s rooftop garden in Battery Park, Manhattan.

What is urban gardening?

Urban gardening (also referred to as urban agriculture) is the practice of growing plants and produce in an urban area. Urban gardening can vary from potted plants in your living room to raised beds in a designated community garden. Overall, it’s a great way to decrease your carbon footprint and be friendlier to the planet.

What are some benefits related to urban gardening?

With urban gardening, communities can access fresh, local food just by growing their own plants. For some communities, urban gardening can make a huge impact on food security and nutrition. Even as an individual, having your own herbs and vegetables can make a huge difference in your day-to-day (not to mention your grocery bill!)

An image from Paul’s rooftop garden.

Urban Gardening: Getting Started

  1. Find a community garden.

There’s no guarantee for space, but you can use GrowNYC or NYC Parks to find a community garden near you. Even if there isn’t a plot available right now, a lot of gardens have a waiting list, making it possible to at least be considered in the future.

  1. Study up on what types of greens you can grow.

Choosing the types of produce, herbs, and greens you grow (are you a flower person or a veggie person?) depends on the space you have available, your personal goals for gardening, as well as your experience level. If you’re going to be growing plants outside, you’ll also need to make sure your plants can weather (pun intended) growing in New York City. Despite your best efforts, you’re probably not going to get a grapefruit tree going.

For newbies or even experienced gardeners looking to pick up new skills, the New York Botanical Garden and NYC Parks both offer workshops and classes. You can get plenty of knowledge on what grows in New York successfully, and learn from people who have successfully planted and harvested produce before.

  1. Find the right containers to grow.

Community gardens will likely have restrictions on how much you can have, which will help inform you what size beds or containers you need. For apartments, it’ll depend on whether you can have a window garden, or decide to invest in something like a hydroponics system to have indoors. There are also mini herb and spice gardens if you’re working with a really small space!

You’ll also consider what you’re growing and how much soil and sunlight it’ll need to properly grow.

  1. Learn the seasonality of your plants.

What you decide to plant will have a recommended season for planting – which you should absolutely follow. This will help give you a forecast of how long you will have before your containers need to be set up and ready to go in your garden space.

  1. Go on a foraging tour.

While optional, a foraging tour can be a great way to get to know what’s growing around the city. Foragers are extremely knowledgeable about what’s native to the area, what you can find in your local parks, and as a gardener, what you should look out for.

  1. See what other urban gardeners are doing.

There’s a community of urban gardeners on TikTok and Instagram constantly showing off their stuff – join them! You can follow a variety of accounts that post about growing in the city, including:

Even if you’re a beginner, there’s a lot to be learned from these types of accounts.

Learn more about sustainability

When it comes to sustainability, there are a lot of ways to get started. Growing your own produce, spices, and herbs is just a piece of the puzzle. Ready to learn more about sustainability trends, best practices, and innovations? Subscribe to my free Surf and Turf newsletter on Ghost!