NEW YORK CITY — If you have a ledge, a balcony or even a bright spot near a window, you have what it takes to bring a little green to your corner of the city.
Brooks Jones, 28, started growing San Marzano tomatoes to feed his pizza-making obsession.
“I grabbed some cherry tomatoes and basil for a completely homegrown pie,” said Jones. “From there I continued planting herbs and vegetables, while my roommate planted flowers.”
He’s now expanded to garlic, arugula, basil, kale, cilantro, strawberries, a few flowers, “and some hops for my homebrew,” all on the roof next to his Park Slope apartment which he can get to through a window.
While a lucky few can enjoy palm-treed roof terraces and sunflower-filled backyards, New Yorkers with limited space and light are growing tomatoes on windowsills. The shade-afflicted have options as well, such as green plants that require minimal care.
DNAinfo consulted with Helena De Paola, who has owned Bay Ridge’s Indoor Outdoor Gardener since 1974, to establish a few basic rules about metropolitan gardening:
RULES OF A (GREEN) THUMB
1. Buy plants that are suited to the lighting you have.
De Paola says you can grow anything outdoors, but for indoor plants you need to figure out how much sun your room gets.
“If you want to feel satisfaction, buy what fits the needs of your lighting,” said De Paola. She says customers who come into her store get a light interrogation: Could you read a book without lights on in your living room? Could you put on makeup or shave? That means a room gets bright sun.
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2. Flowering plants love the sun, as do herbs.
“You cannot have anything flowering in shade,” aaid De Paola. “I tell people, don’t buy it, because you’re wasting your money.”
For a window box of herbs, she recommends starting with basil.
“The easiest ones are basil, parsley, oregano, thyme, and sage. Cilantro and dill are a little more difficult,” she said.
However, be prepared for the possibility of neighboring animals to sample the goods. Graham Morrison, a lawyer who lives in Harlem, started his herbs on his fire escape but moved them to an inside windowsill after a bird went after them. “The bird had very particular taste, went for all the cilantro first, then moved on to the purple basil and mint,” he said.
3. For medium-light apartments, buy hardier plants like peace lilies and ZZ plants.
De Paola suggests Chinese evergreens, rhododendrons, and ZZ plants for apartments that have this level of light. She says snake plants are hardy and calls peace lilies “one of the most indestructible plants on the market.”
4. If you have no light at all, you can still grow using a plant light.
De Paola said with a sunny enough spot or a plant light, it is possible to grow peppers, eggplants and even tomatoes inside, and adds that vegetables like bok choy and spinach can grow well floating in pots of water, or hydroponically. The Brooklyn-based company Windowsfarms sells “vertical indoor gardens,” towers that attach to windows and walls, and ships out edible plants in assortments such as Classic, Whole Body and Color Palate Mix.
Some say, however, that vegetables should never be grown inside an apartment. Michele Paladino of Gowanus Nursery said she is not a promoter of agriculture indoors.
“Annual plants (most vegetable crops) grow a tremendous amount in one year, they need space and light in a way that is usually not available inside,” Paladino wrote in an email.
5. Water when leaves are starting to dry out rather than based on the soil.
Over- or under-watering can be fatal to a plant. De Paola said plant foliage is a better indicator of when a plant should be watered rather than checking the soil's moisture.