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Apartment dwellers can grow vegetables, too

You don't need a garden to grow vegetables. Apartment dwellers can grow their own food on rooftops.

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— Seedlings. Starting seeds indoors or using transplanted seedlings is a good way to get a head-start. Depending on the plant, seeds and seedlings generally sell for less than a few dollars at a gardening center.

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What to plant

Remember the general rule of gardening: Right plant, right place, right time. The environment has to be appropriate. For instance, tomatoes can't survive any type of frost, while lettuce, spinach and other greens like the shade.

Most of the vegetables we eat are shallow-rooted and can grow in compact spaces. Herbs, green onions, radishes, squash, cucumbers, peppers, carrots, and spinach won't care how many stories high they are.

Weaving in some small perennials or ornamental grass will help bring your garden's diverse botany together. They require little water or care, and they continue to grow and give your bed a healthy glow in the winter.

Carol Pollard, a staff gardener in the horticulture department for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden who has a hand in its rooftop gardening program, offers these tips for small flowering plants with short roots:

— Prairie dropseed, or Sporobolus heterolepsis

— Purple lovegrass, or Eragrostis spectabilis

— Little bluestem, or Schizachyrium scoparium

— October skies, or Aster oblongifolius

— Angelina, or Sedum rupestre

— Little lemon, or Solidago

What to do

— Fill your container with soil. The soil bed should be at least 8 inches deep.

— Plant your seeds. If you're new to gardening, it's easier, faster and just as effective to start your germination process indoors in smaller containers, or use transplanted seedlings bought at a gardening center. Move your plants outdoors once the danger of frost has passed.

No two plants are alike, so check the back of the package to help you decide what temperatures are best.

If you're confident enough to start the germination process outside, be sure to scatter the seeds so that your garden doesn't become too crowded. Water is usually only necessary every couple of days, and the soil should never stay soaked.

— Don't let your seedlings get too tall or leggy. Using your thumb and forefinger to pinch off leaves at the tip of the main stalk to make your plant stockier.

— Rooftops can wear with time so keep an eye on how level your garden is and disperse dirt where necessary.

— Most vegetables are fussy in cold temperatures. In fall, as frost is setting in, it's a good idea to cut plants down at their base near the soil level. If you're in an area with freezing temperatures, move plastic or terra-cotta pots to a warm or covered area if possible so they don't crack.

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To read more about gardening, see the Monitor's main gardening page and our lively gardening blog, Diggin' It. Both of these have changed URLs, so we hope you'll bookmark them and return. Want to be notified when there's something new in our gardening section? Sign up for our RSS feed.