balcony garden

I hear you.

You hate your barren balcony.

A couple of dusty plastic chairs faded by the sun and a wonky-legged table are all it holds. It’s so ugly you avoid looking at it, let alone sitting there.

Yet you’ve seen and envied beautiful balconies — ones with lush tomato plants hung with red fruit or others filled with gorgeous pots of colourful flowers.

You’d love to have your own little oasis, your own corner of paradise just outside your door.

But you’re frustrated, not knowing where to start.

Creating a beautiful and productive garden on a tiny balcony space is a challenge. But you can have pots of beautiful flowers or lush greenery surround you, no matter how small your space.

Here’s how to transform that ugly space into your own little paradise.

Assess Your Balcony’s Climate

Your first step is to understand your space. Watch for a few days, and take note of how much sunlight reaches your space.

Is it:

  • sunny all day, and hot in summer (you may be limited to succulents and cacti)
  • mostly sunny, but with some shade (Almost anything will grow well)
  • mostly shady (Ferns, leafy greens and some flowers)

Notice the wind patterns and whether the space is protected from heavy rains. Is the decking strong and water-impervious or will you need to protect wood decking with trays? Remember that earth-filled planters are heavy, so check to see how much weight it can hold.

Check whether you can attach planters to the walls and whether the balcony railings are strong enough to hold hanging planters. By using these vertical spaces you expand your growing area and add some privacy.

Imagine Your Balcony Garden in Vivid Colour

It’s time to choose the theme of your new garden.

For example, if you have a lot of sun, most flowering plants and many vegetables and herbs can thrive. You have many options.

If you love cooking, a productive kitchen garden, with containers of fruit, vegetables and herbs may be your choice. Intersperse them with some flowering plants — always useful for attracting pollinating bees!

Perhaps your dream garden is a space filled with colours and scents to relax you. A themed flower garden interspersed with greenery may be what makes you happy.

How about a balcony with colourful and aromatic herbs like lavender, mint, lemon verbena, basil, thyme or sage? They add zing to your meals and make delicious herbal teas.

Is your space mostly shady? You can still enjoy relaxing in this space once you’ve filled it with ferns and shade-tolerant but colourful flowering plants like begonias, fuchsias and impatiens. Add a container of shade-loving daphne shrub and you’ll have a fragrant corner to relax in on hot days.

Choose Your Containers Wisely

You can find many creative and exciting choices for plant containers. Your choices affect the look of your balcony garden and its ease of maintenance.However, not all containers are equally good or useful.

Consider these four questions when choosing your containers:

  1. Will it be heavy and difficult to move?
    On a balcony, weight is a considering factor. Either smaller pots or lighter pots are the best choices. However, don’t skimp on size — your plants need growing room. Heavy planters can be placed on a dolly or located in a permanent spot.
  2. Is the container material porous?
    Pot porosity determines how fast your plant loses water. Clay and peat pots will soak up water from the soil. These are a poor choice on a very sunny balcony.
  3. Does it allow good drainage?
    Regardless of your choice, make sure your container has good drainage or your plants will die from soggy roots.
  4. How long will it last?
    Natural wood containers will rot over time, although cedar and redwood are naturally resistant to decay. Although treated wood will last longer, it should never be used to grow food plants.

Container Types: Pros and Cons

The most common containers come in a variety of sized, shapes and materials — natural or glazed pottery, bright plastics, rustic metals, fibreglass or wooden boxes. Choose containers you like and that suit your plants, but there are pros and cons for each type.

container garden
Large terra cotta pots look warm and natural and will breathe, but when filled with soil and plants can be extremely heavy.

Glazed ceramic pots add colour, are decorative on their own, but are heavy when planted.

Wooden planters are much lighter and cheaper, and can be made in any size and shape. However, unless lined or treated for rot, they will deteriorate over a fairly short time.

Plastic containers are lightweight, inexpensive and available in a variety of colours and uniform sizes. Good quality ones can last for years, and are a good choice.

Fibreglass containers are stronger and more durable than plastic, and because they can be made to look like other materials, are more attractive. They generally cost more than plastic or wood.

Metal containers are lightweight, and you can often find unique ones of all sizes and shapes. Enamelled or galvanized ones will last longer. However, metal containers will become very hot in full sun.

Prepare to Beautify Your Balcony

So you’ve decided on the type of balcony garden you want.

Start by selecting containers that will allow your plants growing room, and buy a quality soil mix that’s designed for potting and will hold moisture. After all, you want the best so your plant’s roots, leaves and flowers will grow. Add a slow release fertilizer so your new plants get a constant boost for the first weeks.

If you’re concerned about weight and cost of potting soil for larger pots, consider filling the bottom half with compost. Alternatively, turn a plastic pot upside down and place it in the bottom of the container.

Now comes the fun — selecting your plants.

Use the ‘thriller-spiller-filler’ rule for decorative containers.

Begin by selecting colours that work together and need the same growing conditions. Center a tall dominant plant that will grow upward. The spiller is a lower-height plant that will trail over the pot and hang downward. The remaining gaps are filled with medium sized plants.

This rule works for both ornamentals and herbs — even some vegetables!

Foolproof Tips for Healthy Plants

Start your new garden off healthy by cleaning your plants before you plant them. Remove any dead or yellowing leaves and spent blossoms. Pinch back tall leggy plants, always making your cut just above a leaf node that’s at the height you want. This will encourage the plant to bush out.

Examine the root ball. If it is rootbound, score or cut the roots and gently loosen the soil. Once it’s planted, new roots will soon begin to grow from the cuts.

As you plant, move soil aside, place the plant into the cavity, and pat the soil back around the plant, setting it in place firmly. Take care not to compress the soil. Once you’re done, immediately water the container, thoroughly soaking the soil.

Keeping it Green and Gorgeous

As the plants begin to grow, keep the soil moderately moist, ensuring it doesn’t dry out. Add a general purpose liquid fertilizer every other week to feed your plants.

Over time, keep up on the maintenance of your container garden. Deadhead flowers and remove any dry or yellowing leaves to keep your garden disease free. This also encourages new flowers to form. Keep an eye out for pests, especially on the underside of leaves and on the stems, and get rid of any promptly.

balcony garden

Relax and Enjoy Your Beautiful Balcony Garden

Creating an amazing garden in a limited space can be a challenge. But you’re up to the challenge.

You can create a balcony garden full of colour and charm, filled with beautiful flowers and lush greenery — the envy of your neighbours.

It can also, if you prefer, be a tiny kitchen garden with aromatic herbs, fresh vegetables and juicy fruit to harvest, all possible within the confines of your small area.

So, go ahead — envision the balcony garden you desire, and get started.

Use these steps and gardening tips to transform your barren terrace into a beautiful spot to enjoy and dream in.

Then sit back and admire your newly beautiful balcony garden!

About the Author

Nicki is a dedicated gardener, a creative artist and a published author. Passionate about what she does, her gardening articles, books and paintings reveal her love of nature and the western Canadian scene. She loves sharing her container garden success with others to inspire their creativity.

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