Let’s grow

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With Earth Day right behind us, summer on its way, and global warming all around, Brooklynites have gardening on the brain. But if you don’t live in Carroll Gardens or weren’t lucky enough to score a garden apartment, you’re left with limited options. So, GO Brooklyn’s Emily Farris sat down with Carmen DeVito of Outside NY, the recently opened urban gardening store in Williamsburg, to get some basic training on the Dos and Don’ts of gardening in a place where space and time — and sometimes light — are at a minimum.

Do your research.

“The most important thing when planning a garden is to consider your existing conditions and research what plants that will do well in them,” DeVito warned us. Think about how much wind or light your garden will get; don’t put a shade-loving plant on your roof. Also, consider how much space you have and how big the plants will get. “Sometimes people plant a bunch of little things and before they know it, the garden is overgrown.” Most important, be realistic about how much time you’ll have to care for your garden. If you won’t be around to water it, you will have planted in vain.

Do use organic fertilizers.

“They improve the soil structure — not just feed the plants. It’s more of a long-term benefit,” DeVito said. Her favorites are Big Bloom ($14.50 for 32 ounces), which is mixed with water and a granular fertilizer made from dehydrated chicken poop called, what else?, Cockadoodle DOO ($12 for six pounds).

Do make gardening a group activity.

Many plants require watering twice a day in the summer, so if you live in a building with a shared roof deck, get your neighbors involved. “If you make it a collective, then you can take turns watering,” DeVito said.

Do have fun.

And if you know that you don’t have time to care for a garden, or are just too lazy to walk the six flights of stairs to the roof twice a day, do what this reporter did and get some wheatgrass for your window sill.

Don’t choose heavy containers for rooftop gardens.

DeVito suggested using potters made of lightweight materials, like fiberglass, polypropylene and plastic, for rooftop gardens — especially in older buildings. Also, consider the weight of the soil and the plant. “Most people don’t know that 12 square feet of soil, when wet, weighs 100 pounds, so err on the side of caution,” she said.

Don’t block your fire escape.

While it’s technically illegal to put planters — or anything else — on a fire escape in New York City, everybody does it. And if you’re going to break the law, just be careful not to make your apartment inescapable in case of a fire. “You don’t want to wade through a forest and endanger yourself and your fellow tenants for a garden,” DeVito advised.

Outside NY (99 N. 10th St., between Wythe Avenue and Berry Street in Williamsburg) will host a “DIY Container Gardening Workshop” on May 5 at 3 pm. For information, call (718) 782-4800 or visit

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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