Urban Gardening

Readers' Best All-Around Gardening Tips

Antacids, pantyhose, and other handy items and techniques.


Keeping tools at hand:

I keep a pair of miniature pruners in a small case hidden away on my balcony. Most of my garden tools are downstairs either with my potter's bench or in a container in the garden. I cannot count how many times I have needed to clip a faded rose or geranium and had to run down and grab a tool. I solved the problem by buying one that stays where it's needed. You can also purchase other small tools to keep handy. L.G., Bremerton, WA

Repurposing tools:

I use broken tools as decorative and useful dividers and markers in my garden. Of course, I take care of any sharp edges first! A.B., Wilkes-Barre, PA

Fruits and Vegetables

High yield from dwarf fruits:

In the cool months, we focus on plants that produce lots of smaller fruits and vegetables, such as super sweet cherry tomatoes, patty pan squash, small Irish potatoes, and seasonal vegetables such as lettuce and carrots. The smaller fruit matured earlier than larger-fruited varieties and often produced over a longer period of time. As a result we increased our actual yield and had fresh vegetables over a longer period of time. M.S., Charlotte, NC

Supplying nutrients:

When blossoms begin to appear on my tomato plants, I like to supply them with potassium and calcium to develop healthy tomatoes. For calcium, I crush eggshells or antacid tablets (e.g., Tums), and add crushed potassium vitamin tablets. I place this powder in a small hole in the soil, about 6 inches from the base stem. This contributes necessary nutrients during a crucial growth period. M.F., Denver, CO

Melon supports:

My great-grandfather taught me to use my old pantyhose to support my tomatoes and other vines. The hose stretch and don't harm the plants in any way. I also use them to support melons by putting the melons in the hose and tying them to the trellis. The hose expands with the fruit and usually lasts until harvest. H.P., Murphysboro, IL

Espaliered fruit trees:

I wanted to grow fruit trees on my city lot, as well as get privacy from my neighbors. I discovered espaliered fruit trees. Now my property is lined with peaches, plums, cherries, apples, and pears. For a balcony, a person needs only 4 feet by about 2 feet for each tree. The tree can be supported by two posts and four airline cables, with old knee-high stockings for tying to branches. They produce in less than the normal five to eight years, and require pruning about three times during the season. I use apple maggot lures (made from old croquet balls, baggies, a screw hook, and Tanglefoot). I use organic sprays and fertilize heavily. I get tons of compliments, and people are amazed at the quantity of fruit I get if I can keep the critters (two- and four-legged) out of the harvest. V.C., Saint Paul, MN

Favorite Plants


I keep snake plants in all my rooms, including the bathroom. Not only are they space-saving with their upright growth, they help eliminate some toxins from the air. K.G., Austin, TX


I live smack in the middle of the city of Washington, Pennsylvania, where I have found several varieties of coreopsis to be fantastic in my urban garden. Long-blooming and tolerant of heat, they have a beautiful, delicate, and airy quality that makes them perfect perennials. They serve me well in the middle of my borders and around my pond garden. P.K., Washington, PA

Tender bulbs:

I store dahlia tubers and gladiolus bulbs in a small Styrofoam cooler in my basement over the winter. It keeps them dry and away from light. J.H., Eastham, MA

Tropical water plants:

When fall begins to arrive and my tropical pond plants need to come in, I simply rinse off the plants and place them in 5-gallon buckets. I put them in the basement where natural light comes in and just keep checking the water level to keep the roots covered. J.G., Louisville, OH

Neighborhood Beautification

Streetside plantings:

Welcome friends to your urban home by beautifying your landscape starting at the curb. Plant perennials and annuals and spring and summer bulbs in the rectangular area between the road and the sidewalk in front of your home (check municipal ordinances first). If possible, plant a flowering tree in the center of this area. Mulch heavily and water well, especially during the first year. Maybe your neighbors will follow your lead. C.O., Camillus, NY

Renters beware:

Make sure your landlord knows which plants are part of your garden and which plants are weeds! J.W., Chicago, IL

Mulching and Composting

Free mulch:

We have found organic matter in the middle of the city by using the free mulch provided by the City of Chicago. C.T., Chicago, IL

Sources for compost:

Look to colleges and their agriculture programs for a source of compost. Our school in River Falls has developed a project where they turn cow barn waste into garden gold. They use machinery to constantly turn the piles, and twice a year they sell it at a very moderate price. They even load it into your truck. Good for them, good for the environment, and good for gardeners. D.E., River Falls, WI

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