Tag Archives: fire escape gardening

5 Tips for Successful Fire Escape and Container Gardening

5 Tips for Successful Fire Escape and Container Gardening | The Zen of Making
It’s planting season for fire escape gardens here in Brooklyn, and I spent a good portion of yesterday afternoon elbow-deep in dirt. Here’s a little tour of this year’s crop, plus my five must-do tips for growing a successful container garden, no matter where you live!

5 Tips for Successful Fire Escape and Container Gardening | The Zen of Making

Tip 1
Select container-friendly plants that are right for your climate and light level. I get strong light from the north at the beginning of the day, and I’ve had especially good luck with hot peppers, strawberries, nasturtiums, and mint. If you’re new to gardening, the plant tag or seed packet will tell you when to plant and how much sunlight is needed.

Ready to get started? TLC has a great list of fruits and vegetables that thrive in pots here.

5 Tips for Successful Fire Escape and Container Gardening | The Zen of Making
5 Tips for Successful Fire Escape and Container Gardening | The Zen of Making

Tip 2
To avoid having to re-pot plants mid-season, make sure you buy containers that are large enough and deep enough to accommodate the root system of your full-grown plant. If you’re planning to put more than one plant in the same container, make sure there’s room enough for both to grow. If you don’t, there’s a good chance that neither plant will thrive. (I’ve definitely been guilty of over-crowding in the past—just ask me how much I hate to thin seedlings—so I’ve learned the hard way that squished plants mean sad, small plants.)

Make sure you check the plant tag or the back of the seed packet to see how deep the dirt should be and how far apart each plant should be spaced.

5 Tips for Successful Fire Escape and Container Gardening | The Zen of Making

Tip 3
No matter how big that hole in the bottom of your pot is, add a drainage layer to the bottom of your pot before adding soil and plants. Plants without good drainage can’t thrive, and the roots might even rot.

Think of this tip as a really good excuse to take a hammer to some of your old cracked and chipped pots. It’s fun, it relieves stress, and it makes your plants happy!

5 Tips for Successful Fire Escape and Container Gardening | The Zen of Making
5 Tips for Successful Fire Escape and Container Gardening | The Zen of Making

Tip 4
Water your plants regularly—especially when the temperature rises—and use a fertilizer that promotes growth and supports flower and fruit health.

If you’re planting an edible garden, don’t skip this step! Since you’re already going to all this trouble, you want to give your plants every opportunity to thrive and produce a healthy, tasty crop, right? I generally use a seaweed-based fertilizer, but you can find a good list of other options over at Life on the Balcony. (See my strawberry flower up there? It loves seaweed!)

Please note that the seaweed fertilizer link provided above is an affiliate link, and I will be compensated if you choose to make a purchase after clicking through.

5 Tips for Successful Fire Escape and Container Gardening | The Zen of Making

Tip 5
I don’t use pesticides, so I rely heavily on the benefits of companion planting. Companion planting can help your garden in several ways, including improving soil nutrition, boosting the immune systems of other plants, providing natural pest control, and enhancing flavor.

On my fire escape, I’ve combined the following: basil and tomatoes (flavor), strawberry and thyme (pest control), dill and cilantro (pest control), and oregano and hot peppers (pest control, flavor)

Golden Harvest Organics has one of the most thorough companion planting lists that I’ve found yet. There’s also a helpful chart on Wikipedia.

That’s it for my garden! What’re your go-to gardening tips?

Sunday Snapshot: Companion Planting


Yesterday, I learned about companion planting in container gardens. And, as it turns out, we couldn’t have picked a better combination of seeds to start for our fire escape garden!

In the pot above, the tomato is cozying up to some basil. We also planted thyme with our strawberries, and the rosemary seedlings are about to find a new home with a rowdy group of hot peppers.

In case you don’t know, companion planting is a method of combining complementary plants in your garden in a way that is mutually beneficial, either by warding off pests, enhancing flavor, or helping to keep the sunlight/soil/water at ideal levels for both to thrive. You can combine companion plants in raised beds, regular gardens, and containers. (If you’re using containers, make sure you’re not overcrowding!) I found this companion planting list from Golden Harvest Organics to be very helpful.

Starting the Fire Escape Garden

Starting the Fire Escape Garden | The Zen of Making
Today was a perfect sunny day, and I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather do than start setting up this year’s fire escape garden. (Read: PLAY IN THE DIRT AND MAKE A MESS!!)

Using the brilliant baseball card page seed starter idea that I mentioned in last week’s Friday Internet Crushes, I started some basil, oregano, cherry tomatoes, hot peppers, rosemary, and thyme. (The rest of the herbs don’t need to be started inside, so they’ll go right in the outside planter.) Since I was working by myself, I used a desktop file organizer to keep my pages full of seeds upright until I was ready to hang them.

I can’t adequately express how excited I am about having vertically hanging seed starters. This year, I was determined to do things by the book—starting seeds, thinning the seedlings, then planting the healthy baby plants—and I had no idea how I was going to keep the cats out of seed trays. If the baseball card pages work out, it will absolutely be my go-to method from now on. My teeny city apartment doesn’t have too many horizontal spaces to spare, so anything vertical makes me very, very happy.

While I was in the mess, I also planted my strawberry plants, a couple of pots of catnip, and some nasturtiums. Then, I freshened up the window garden, topping off soil, trimming back overgrown plants, and re-potting as needed. As I was finishing up, I decided to test some recycled glass bottle “water globes” on a few of the thirstier plants to see how well they worked. After several hours, the water level on all three are holding steady, so I have high hopes that a late-night mess isn’t in the cards. If the glass bottles work on the indoor plants, I’ll be using them on the fire escape this summer to keep the plants from wilting on especially hot summer days.