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Spring into urban greening for Earth Day

Alicia Colombo

By Mary Anna Rodabaugh

As we finally put the cold months of winter behind us, Earth Day on April 24 is a great time to add some greenery to home. Whether it is indoor plants, outdoor window boxes, backyard planters or a small herb garden, urban greening is a wonderful hobby that not only benefits the environment, but also your well-being. Adding a touch of green can brighten up your living space, no matter how big or small. This is especially true while you’re spending more time at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


First, you must determine what you would like to grow and where to start your garden. If you do not have a lawn, there are many options for container gardening using various sizes of pots and planters.

When selecting plants or seeds for your garden, check the label to make sure they are recommended for our hardiness zone and will have the best chance of survival in the region’s climate. According to Greensgrow, educational urban farms and demonstration gardens in Olde Richmond and West Philadelphia, our region’s hardiness zone is 7B, which has a minimum winter temperature of 5-10º F.

If you just want to care for a few low-maintenance indoor plants, African violets, peace lilies and bromeliads are plants that require indirect sunlight and thrive indoors. The snake plant is a vibrant green perennial that is perfect for apartments or smaller spaces. In fact, snake plants are proven to improve air quality and tolerate nearly all indoor conditions. Ferns also make good houseplants. With the right amount of light and moisture, ferns are easy to maintain indoors.


When you’re ready to try your urban green thumb, assess your outdoor space for possible garden locations. Clear the gardening area of any standing water, dirt or debris that may have collected over the winter. As you plan your gardening arrangement, be mindful of areas that receive daily sun and areas that are primarily shady, as different plants prefer different types of sunlight.

Since the early days of spring can be variable in temperature, the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society (PHS) recommends planting an ornamental container with spring annuals that can tolerate the cold, like pansies and sweet alyssum in early April.

If you’d like to start a flowering window box, a rectangular flowerpot affixed to the outside of your window ledge, you can plant petunias or marigolds in early May. These flowers do well in window boxes.

PHS notes that you can plant vegetables, such as kale and brussels sprouts, in early spring. According to BalconyGardenWeb. com, sow half an inch deep and space kale seeds 3-4 inches apart in pots or the ground. Potatoes, celery, onions, beets and herbs are great companion plants for kale. For additional backyard vegetables, pepper plants can be potted in mid-April and tomatoes in mid-May.

Want to start an herb garden? Herbs like oregano, thyme, and mint can thrive in just about any environment that receives at least six hours of sunlight per day. You can start by growing small pots of herbs in your kitchen and, when the weather gets warmer, move the herbs outdoors. Take note that some herbs, like mint, are invasive and, if planted in a bed near the lawn of a property, may take over.

There is no better way to celebrate Earth Day than to safely volunteer your time in the community on a greening or gardening initiative. Philadelphia has a variety of outdoor gardening volunteer opportunities that are perfect for older adults.

“We are excited to engage gardening volunteers this spring at several of our landscapes and gardens, like the Navy Yard, PHS Meadowbrook Farm and the Azalea Garden,” said Andrew Bunting, vice president of public horticulture at PHS. “We will also have many opportunities to volunteer for the Philadelphia Flower Show in June. All volunteer opportunities are designed with health and safety as a top priority.”

The Philadelphia Flower Show will take place outdoors at FDR Park in South Philadelphia from June 5-13. Individuals who are interested in volunteering with PHS initiatives, including the Philadelphia Flower Show, can go to or call 215-988-8800 for a current list of opportunities.

Love Your Park, a collaborative program managed by Fairmount Park Conservancy and Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, is hosting an Earth Day Project on April 24, from 10 a.m. to noon. Volunteers are needed for a restoration project to help plant trees and remove invasive vines. Tools and materials will be provided, including work gloves. All volunteers are asked to bring their own bottled water and to wear a face mask. For more information, visit

Throughout the gardening seasons of spring and summer, Greensgrow Farms, 2501 E. Cumberland St., and Greensgrow West, 5123 Baltimore Ave., are accepting volunteers. All volunteers must be scheduled in advance. To learn more and sign up for Greensgrow’s newsletter with volunteer opportunities, visit or call 215-427-2780.

Mary Anna Rodabaugh is a writer, editor and writing coach.

Categories: Milestones eNews


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