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Plants have preferences. Just like people.

Some plants love the cold. They’re like bros who walk around in board shorts in the middle of winter.

Other plants love the heat, like an old man who wears a cardigan to the beach.

The point is, plants react differently to the different natural elements. If I want my plant party to be a success, I’ll need to think about the different elements  

Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water.

Earth

My terrace has several metric tons of concrete, steel, and glass. What it doesn’t have is earth – or in this case, soil. I’m going to have to import everything I need for planting. The differences between potting soil and topsoil alone is worthy of a blog post, but for now let’s just say that the goal is to create a living, breathing environment where your plants to take root. Luckily there’s a Home Depot across the street where I can stock up on everything I need.

I plan on using at least one planter’s box to grow several types of flowers or plants on the same bed of soil. The upside to using a traditional planter’s box is that it’s a great space/time saver – you can plant in bunches using the same layer of soil.

I also plan on using individual pots, which allows for more more diversity, flexibility, and creativity. I can move them around to change the look of the garden. This of course requires a little more work, but it’s worth it.

Wind

If you’ve ever walked up 3rd Avenue or Madison Avenue, you know how windy it gets at street level on the Upper East Side. Buildings are designed to protect against the worst of it, but terraces are always going to be exposed to some of the elements. (That’s the whole point of an outdoor terrace, isn’t it?)

So, how do I protect my plants from the wind?

For starters, I’ll place wind-averse plants in the lee of the building, or in pots with a low profile to keep them near the ground. I can even place delicate plants behind larger, more hearty plants that can act as a windbreak.

Wind tends to dry plants out, so I’ll have to keep an eye on which parts of the terrace get the most exposure, and keep those folks well hydrated. Self-watering pots would help to mitigate this problem, but I prefer the look of traditional clay pots. Again, it’s a little more work, but I don’t mind.

Fire

The sun.

A/K/A that giant ball of fire in the sky.

(yes I know it’s not a literal ball of fire, just work with me here)

The sun can be a gardener’s best friend…or worst enemy. I’ll need to know:

Which areas get direct/indirect sunlight?

For how long?

From which direction?

How does this change with the seasons?   

Then I’ll place my plants accordingly. My herbs might not do so well in the baking heat of direct sun, but my succulents and cacti will be in horticultural heaven.

I’ll need to make adjustments throughout the seasons, but I’ll tell you right now that I have no intention of digging around on the terrace during the bitter New York winters. I’m content to fill my garden with plants that have a low plant hardiness rating and taking the party indoors when the snow falls.

Water

Most plants die from overwatering. The deep-rooted instinct that causes parents and grandparents around the world to say, “Eat, eat, you’re skin and bones!” causes many plant parents to overwater their darlings.

Overwatering eventually leads to root rot, but the immediate danger from too much moisture is that it cuts off the oxygen to the root system. Plants pull their oxygen from the surrounding soil. If the soil is over-saturated, there aren’t enough air pockets to pull from. You often hear good soil described as “aerated”. This means that your soil has these air pockets – it is neither too dry, too compact, or too wet.

My terrace is well sheltered from the rain. Since there’s no real direct rainfall, it will be up to me to make and keep a watering schedule. More work. (Are we seeing a pattern here?)

Final Thought

It should have become clear by now that gardening is hard work, and gardening on a tiny terrace feels even harder. But this is a dream I’ve had since the days in my walk-up, and it’s a labor of love. Having a bit of outdoor space of my own is like having a little patch of heaven, and I’m determined to fill it with color and life. All I need to do is keep the natural elements in mind and I should be golden.