What Not to Grow in the City

Okay, so I was overly ambitious when I set about planting at least 14 different types of vegetables, plus assorted herbs, in my 15’ x 16’ back yard. But that’s the way you learn right?

And sure, I have learned a lot about what works and doesn’t in urban veggie gardening — particularly in a humid Washington, D.C., summer.

First the don’ts:

•Don’t plant cucumber, squash, or zucchini. My dad was right when he said they spread to 20 feet. Those things will just keep on growing until they crowd out all your other plants. Plus the rats like to gnaw on the fruits before they can fully ripen, and there’s the risk of cross-pollination in subsequent growing seasons.

•Don’t plant lettuce. It just gets too hot too soon for them, in this climate at least. The seedlings also get eaten by an unknown urban pest.

•Don’t plant spinach. The reasons are the same as with lettuce.

•Don’t plant corn. The plants are too big for a small area—not that I had to worry about this. My corn seeds didn’t even germinate.

Now the dos:

•Do plant tomatoes. I especially recommend the smaller varieties, like sweeties, for urban areas. My sweeties came up nicely and produced beautiful juicy red fruits. A word of advice from my experience: Use netting to ward off pests that like to steal tomatoes while still green. I suspect rats. Another bonus for urban gardening: Tomatoes grow fine in containers; mine are in wooden ones.

•Do plant green beans. The plants aren’t overly big and they love hot, humid summers, but they do like to spread. I recommend training them along a trellis to keep them under control and to allow for easier picking. Soy beans also grow well (mine got crowded out by zucchini—see above).

•Do plant green peppers and eggplant. They thrive in hot, humid weather, are small and contained, and like tomatoes, they easily adapt to container growing. I especially recommend the mini Japanese eggplant (Ichiban).

•Do plant herbs. They’re ideal for urban gardening: I’ve successfully grown a variety of herbs, including lemon thyme, parsley, basil, tarragon, marjoram, sage, oregano, rosemary, and dill.

The wild cards? Radishes and broccoli. My radishes came up woody and soon died out—I think it got too hot for them. And, of course, something chomped my broccoli. Netting may also be the answer there.

These recommendations are based entirely on my urban gardening experience; others may have different advice based on theirs.


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