Balcony gardening is a great way to enjoy your gardening hobby without the hassle and time commitment of traditional large outdoor gardening.
If you are considering it but have no idea where to start, this article will help guide you through some important first steps.
It is also fun for children, who may enjoy working with soil and plants in their own space. Children can help you create a garden with their own hands and watch it grow from the ground up. Give them easy and fast growing annuals to start their gardening experience.
A balcony is also great for people who don't have much outdoor space because they can maximize what little room they have by planting in containers or hanging planters - you'll never feel like your living space is too small again!
Position of your Balcony
What you can plant depends on the direction your balcony is facing.
Depending on the position, it will either be sunny or shady.
A south-facing balcony will get the most light and sun, so plan to plant sun-loving plants. Plant poppies, petunias, zinnias and geraniums. Larger plants that grow well in containers in the sun are bougainvillea, star jasmine, African daisy, Shasta daisy or a kumquat for fresh fruit in the fall or winter.
An east-facing balcony will catch the first sun rays in the early morning - ideal for that first cup of coffee. Plants that do well in a semi-shady area will thrive on this balcony. Fuchsia, impatiens, begonia, clivia, calla lily, growing herbs and vegetable plants and many other flowering plants. Larger plants being boxwood or a maple tree.
A west-facing balcony will get afternoon sun which can be harsh in some regions. Instead, opt for plants that enjoy partial shade, such as geraniums, million bells, and verbena, or even roses that will do well.
A north-facing balcony will get very little sun, if any. Grow shade-loving plants such as hosta, clivias, rhododendrons, hydrangeas, and foliage plants such as ferns, coleus, and hostas. A large shade-loving plant that will do well in a planter and ideal for a privacy screen is Blue Dragon bamboo or if balcony space provides an elephant ear (Colocasia esculenta).
Containers for Balcony Plants
Never overload your balcony, and you should first find out the weight limit allowed. An overloaded balcony could result in a safety hazard, and you and your neighbors could be placed in danger.
There are very many different types of containers that work great on balconies because they're easier to move around when needed and can be stacked. Some examples are pots, window boxes and hanging baskets.
Choose containers that are lightweight and unlined.
The size of the plant container you choose will depend on how much space you have available.
If you can't lift more than a few pounds, or if your balcony is narrow, try using small pots and window boxes instead of larger hanging baskets.
Larger containers are heavier to move around, but they'll also hold bigger plants well, so it's worth it if you have space and ability.
There are many different types of containers that work great on balconies because they're easier to move around when needed and can be stacked.
Choose lightweight containers such as resin pots that are incredibly lightweight and look like regular planters, such as clay pots and terracotta pots.
Potting Mix for Container Gardening
Use a good quality soilless potting soil or a succulent potting mix which is lightweight. Garden soil is very heavy, and an artificial potting medium is a better choice for balconies.
If the balcony is windy or is very sunny, add some water retaining crystals to prevent the plants from drying out too quickly. Especially for a hanging planter as they dry out fast in the wind.
Add mulch to keep the temperature even in hot and cold weather and also to retain moisture.
Fertilize with organic slow-release fertilizer or more regularly with an organic liquid seaweed extract.
Watering the Garden on your Balcony
Self-watering containers are a great option for balcony gardens.
Watering your garden on a balcony is not as simple as watering your containers in the garden.
Excess water can become a problem for your neighbors below your apartment if your balcony does not have adequate drainage.
Ensure you know the drainage requirements for your type of balcony before planting anything, as this is an important issue that could cause problems for your neighbors below if they don't have adequate drainage on their own balconies.
Place a container under your potted plants if it is a free-draining container, and remember to always check the soil moisture before watering. Overwatering will cause problems.
The watering frequency depends on the size of your containers, the position of your balcony and the types of plants. For example, a sunny balcony will require more water than one in the shade.
The best time to water is in the early morning or late evening when the sun has gone down, and there is less chance of evaporating your precious supply.
Use drought-tolerant plants to use up as little water as possible. Keep the vertical garden and hanging basket moist but not soggy.
Set up an automatic irrigation system where possible - preferably with a drip system that will target the plants and not your balcony.
Protect Balcony Plants from Bad Weather
It is important to protect plants on your balcony from changes in weather patterns.
For example, if you have a south-facing balcony and it becomes sunny all day for a few weeks straight, this could cause the temperature of your plant's soil to become very hot.
This would be dangerous for your plant and cause it to wither away. To avoid this, make sure you rotate the plants on your balcony frequently so that they receive more balanced sunlight exposure.
It is a good idea to monitor the first frost date for your location and protect plants by covering them with insulating material.
You can buy special covers designed for this purpose or use blankets, sheets, or old towels. Another trick would be to wrap up pots in newspaper before placing an insulating layer on top.
In warmer climates, plants should be brought indoors if frost is predicted. In cooler climate areas, soil can be protected from the cold by covering it with a thick mulch and piling up snow around the pots.
If you have young trees under five feet tall, they might require extra protection to shield them against extreme weather.
Another tip for dealing with inclement weather would be to select cold-resistant plants. This might include plant varieties like Oleander or Rosemary that can withstand harsh winter conditions in temperate climates.
Pests and Diseases
Watch out for aphids, whiteflies, caterpillars or slugs, which can infest your plants even if you are several stories up.
Pick off the pests as soon as you see them, or wash off whiteflies and aphids with soapy water. These infestations probably arrived with the plants and have spread to other plants. As soon as they've been removed, wash your hands thoroughly.
To protect against any diseases or pests that you might not have noticed during planting time, use natural repellants for pest control, such as garlic or chili powder mixed with water sprayed on leaves.
Garden Maintenance on the Balcony
It is a common misconception that all you need to do for the balcony or terrace garden is water it once or dump compost on top of the soil.
A successful small balcony garden requires more than just these tasks. The plants will require frequent trimming and maintenance because they have limited space in their container.
Not only should you make sure no weeds are growing in the small garden, but you should also remove any dead leaves and debris that may be in the way of new growth.
If you're not sure about what type of plants to grow on your balcony, think about how much sunlight each plant needs during different times of the year when deciding which ones are best for your space.
As the seasons change, you may need to adjust your watering schedule or move plants around so that they get sufficient sunlight and don't grow too tall for their space.