Urban Edibles for Rooftop GardensEven city gardeners are hungry for the taste of homegrown fruits, veggies and herbs. Thankfully anyone can have pick-able produce at their fingertips, even if all they have is a rooftop space, a balcony, a small backyard plot or a patio.
Choose plants with compact forms and avoid anything that forms extensive vining stems or oversized fruits. For a skyline garden also look for smaller-leaved plants and ones that are slow to bolt, to preempt the windy, hot conditions found up-top. One easy solution for urban (and also suburban) spaces is to grow edibles in pots, and the selection of vegetables now offered in "patio" or dwarf versions designed for containers is growing every year.
Shallow-rooted edibles like lettuce, radishes, peppers, herbs and cabbage only need a container about 8 inches deep. Veggies that need a bit more room (beets, carrots, onions, bush beans, eggplants) can still be perfectly at home in a 5-gallon container. Fruit trees can be grown in pots at least 3 feet deep, but make sure the containers are substantial enough to stay upright in a stiff wind. Strawberries and some vegetables like small-fruited patio tomatoes can even be grown in hanging baskets. If you have a perfect place for a green wall, try a mix of lettuces or herbs.
Another option for rooftop and patio gardens is planting edibles in hanging baskets, and strawberries are ideally suited for this. Try the heirloom alpine strawberry 'Mignonette', which has smaller and fewer fruits, but with twice the flavor as standard varieties. Another alpine type of strawberry good for containers is the ever-bearing 'Temptation', which has almost no runners.
Most pepper plants are the ideal size for gardens with limited space, and they love heat. One of Burpee-owner George Ball's top picks is the cayenne pepper 'Pinata Mix' with its party colored, 3-inch fruits. Says George, "They're also stunning, so the plants can be integrated into a full-sun ornamental garden."
There are so many varieties, and some don't even look like basil, such as the tiny-leaved 'Aristotle' that could sub for boxwood. Other basil varieties to try include 'Purple Ruffles' and 'Summerlong'.
Foliage plants are stars in the container garden these days, so why not make them edible too? Like 'Catalogna Garnet Stem' endive or the red-leaved lettuce 'New Red Fire'.
Many types of squash now have small-garden versions. For zucchini try 'Bush Baby', for acorn squash try 'Honey Bear' (pictured) with its cute one-pound fruits, and for summer squash check out the pattypan 'Sunburst.'
Grape tomatoes are hard to beat when it comes to sweetness and bounty. While most are indeterminate and need some room, 'prite' is a shorter, determinate form. Other tomatoes categorized as "patio tomatoes" include 'Tumbling Tom', 'Tumbling Junior', 'Patio Princess' (pictured) and 'Window Box Roma'.
Even fruit trees can have a place on the roof, adding height and structure. Dwarf and semi-dwarf varieties are best, such as 'Honeycrisp' apple, which is quick to bear fruit, ripens early (September in Zone 6), and tops out at 8 to 10 feet.
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