How to get started with a balcony garden
Posted: July 25, 2016
Categories: Grow Your Own
There’s a certain satisfaction that comes being surrounded by plants you have nurtured and helped thrive. But what if you live in an apartment without a garden? Balcony gardening allows you to still experience the rewards of growing your own plants and even your own food. Balcony gardening is a popular pastime for those who love to garden but have limited space.
Where do you start?
Firstly, it’s important to check out the practicalities. Are there any restrictions in your building about how you use your balcony? You don’t want to be annoying landlords or neighbours. Do you know how much weight your balcony can bear? Pots of soil can become heavy.
Then it’s time to assess the micro-climate of your balcony. How much sun does it get each day? Is there an overhang from the balcony above which will affect light or access to rain? Wind is also important to consider. Details like these and which way your balcony faces will all affect which plants you choose for your balcony garden.
The next step…
Before you rush out and buy plants, stop and consider the floor of your balcony. Most often it is bare concrete. You have options. Would you like artificial grass for a true garden feel, or a layer of gravel for a beach effect? You could lay a few slatted decking squares to act like deckboards or put down some rattan mats. Even a simple coat of paint can make a difference.
Hold on – it’s still not time to pick your plants. You now need to think about pots and containers. A common mistake is to fill a balcony with lots of little pots; this can appear cluttered and busy. Larger pots and troughs are a more effective choice. Big pots also tend to be deeper and provide plants with more room to let their roots spread and thrive.
High on balconies, especially where there is an overhang, plants can dry out more quickly. Consider plastic, metal and other non-porous containers which will limit moisture loss, but do ensure there are drainage holes to avoid root rot and over watering. Avoid giving neighbours on the balcony below an unexpected shower by placing pots on saucers to prevent water running over the edge of your balcony. This will keep your balcony clean and dry too.
Placing containers on the floor of your balcony is the most obvious choice but to make the most of your space think vertically too. Could you hang plants from the ceiling of your balcony? Use window boxes on your railings? Attach planters to the wall? By planting at varied heights you will add interest and optimise space.
Picking the perfect plants
Now is the time to choose your plants. Think back to your assessment of your balcony and use this to select the best plants for your micro-climate. Read plant labels carefully and, when in doubt, use online or in store advice to help you.
If your balcony is windy, shorter hardy annuals such as nasturtiums are a good choice. Mound or domed shaped plants are better in windy conditions too. For shady balconies, foliage plants such as aspidistra and ferns do well. Grasses, brooms and plants with very small leaves are all a good choice.
If you like flowers you will need to replant annuals throughout your year and be prepared to commit to more routine maintenance. Tougher flowering plants include gazania, osteospermum and pelargonium. Dwarf spring-flowering bulbs can also tolerate balcony life. You could try a method called layering which ensures something is always blooming: place summer bulbs as the deepest layer, then perennials at mid-level, topped off with annuals.
If you want to gain even more from your balcony garden you can venture into growing your own herbs and vegetables. Aromatic evergreen plants, such as rosemary and thyme are good at surviving the sun and drought, and they cope reasonably well with wind. Anything with an edible leaf usually copes with shade so lettuce, rocket, spinach and even pak choi can be on the menu. Typical pot growers, such as tomatoes, peppers and chillies will also do well with a little more care. Why not add some violas to your herb box? They add colour and are edible too!
A few top tips are to plant in odd numbers - one, three or five plants in a container – and to stick to just three colours for your balcony. Add some top dressings to your containers such as pebbles or wood chips. Not only will this create a uniform scheme but it will prevent water evaporating too quickly from the soil. Now, add a bistro chair and table so you can have your morning coffee and read the paper surrounded by the results of your hard work.