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6 Tips for Planning a Successful Balcony Garden

A green ombre background with the words in a handwritten style script written in black over it - 6 Tips for Planning a Successful Balcony Garden. Under the words is a photo of a variety of green plants growing in red containers on a balcony.

Balcony gardens both enhance your own living space and are good for the planet, since they feed the bees. To have a successful balcony garden, it’s important to plan it to fit the space you have. Here are some tips to help you end up with a lush balcony.

1. Know the sun exposure your balcony gets.

Exposure in this case refers to both the amount of sun it gets each day, and how windy it is. Just like yards, some balconies are shady. Others are partial sun or full sun. It’s important to look at your balcony on a sunny day about once an hour and see how much sun it gets. Be aware that some areas of your balcony may have different exposure than others. Consider the exposure in the areas you want to put your containers when selecting plants.

2. Identify wind solutions.

Even if the ground level of your home isn’t windy, it’s likely your balcony is. The further from the ground you are, the more windy it will be. Other factors like how close tall buildings are to your own can also impact the amount of wind.

Once you’ve established how windy your balcony is, consider which solutions to windiness you want to use. You have options.

  • Select wind tolerant plants like zinnias.
  • Erect wind barriers, such as screens attached to the railing.
  • Install support structures for your plants, for example grow cages or trellises.

3. Select containers for your space.

Consider what type you will use. Rail hangers? Vertical planters? Planter boxes? It’s important to know what containers will fit in your space and how before you select your plants. Once you’ve determined the type of containers you’re using, measure the space to ensure you only buy what will fit.

Ideal balcony containers will both have internal water reservoirs and drainage. You want some excess water held onto for drier days at the roots of the plant. But it’s also important that any excess beyond that reservoir can drain. Otherwise it will simply sit on top of your container and potentially drown your plant or cause unsightly mold to grow.

4. Choose your plants.

Now that you know the sun exposure, windiness, and containers you will be using, it’s time to select your plants. Remember to consider your planting zone when making this selection. You can  grow a plant from outside of your zone if you are willing to move select plants inside during certain parts of the year. For example, if you are in zone 7, you can have a banana tree on your balcony if you move it indoors in the cooler months.

There is value to growing both edible and decorative plants. Flowering decorative plants help attract more pollinators to a garden that is mostly edible plants. On the other hand, decorative edibles, such as chives or ornamental peppers, can add a dash of variety to both your garden and your meals.

Be aware that many types of plants have varieties already identified as being likely to succeed in containers. For example, the Paris Market Carrot grows to be short and fat instead of long and narrow, which makes it ideal for a container garden.

The world of perennials (plants that come back on their own each year) is not cut off to you in containers. Consider making about half your container garden perennials for ease of care. Chives are perennials and are actually easier to care for in a container than in a lawn garden. Raspberries and blueberries can also do very well in containers and come back perennially. 

5. Buy the proper soil and toppers.

Research the best soil mixes for the types of plants you’ve selected. For example, a banana tree needs a different type of soil mix than a tomato plant. You can either buy pre-made mixes or the elements to mix them yourself.

Soil toppers help the balcony garden succeed. Mulch, such as coconut coir, serves two purposes. First, it prevents weeds, which can happen even on a balcony. Second, it helps the plants retain moisture. You might consider further topping the mulch with decorative rocks. Desert plants should skip the mulch and use only rocks or sand.

6. Plan for watering.

Just like lawn gardens, you will need to water your balcony container garden. Ideally you will do this in the early evening or morning. This both ensures the water is there when the plants need it during the heat of the day but also helps prevent the growth of fungi. Schedule it so you don’t forget.

The careful selections you’ve made so far in containers and soil should help minimize your watering. Keep in mind that larger containers also have a larger soil reservoir of water, and so you can water these less. If you have a variety of plants, try to place the plants with higher watering needs in the larger containers. This will help equalize your plants so you’re watering them all at a similar cadence.

A drip irrigation system is the ultimate easy way to water your balcony garden. But you do need access to an external water spigot for these to work. If you don’t have access to a water spigot from your balcony, don’t despair. There are other tools available to ease your watering efforts. You can buy and fill watering spikes or glass globes. You can also repurpose plastic and glass bottles to fill this same need. 

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