Gardening is a fun and productive pastime, benefiting your overall mental and physical health. How rewarding is it when your flowers bloom, your shrubs thrive, or your trees bear fruit? But for those of us without gardens, or who live in a small space, fret not. We won’t miss out on plant parenthood.
Meet the balcony garden — maximising garden possibilities in minimal space. Balcony gardens are perfect for those living in city centre apartments or rental homes, or for those who just want a small plant patch with easy access.
The garden ideas for your balcony are as endless as your imagination (with some caveats, of course)! You can make it as full and complicated as you like, or keep it simple and minimalist. Want a low-maintenance garden? Or want to grow edible crops? You can even have a little row of succulents and it’ll still count. But before you start piling on the plants, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Building A Balcony Garden
There are several factors that go into the design and complexity of your balcony garden. Fortunately, there’s a plant for every space, so once you’ve evaluated the conditions of your balcony, you can start planning!
How big is your balcony? This is one of the most important factors to consider when planning a balcony garden. The size will determine how big or small your plants will be, and how you can lay them out. A more vertical space will necessitate vertical gardening, while a wide area will let you space your plants out more.
Even if you have a tiny balcony, there are ways to start a garden. You can grow plants in hanging baskets, or make use of your window sill or balcony railing!
The amount of direct sunlight — direct, mind you! — will affect the types of plants you cultivate. Take into account how many hours of sunlight your balcony gets, and if anything obstructs the sun to create shade (buildings, walls, and outdoor plants are some examples). And make sure to check throughout all seasons — your balcony won’t be getting the same amount of sunlight in summer as in winter.
To time the amount of sunlight, you can do it manually with a timer, or by using a sun calculator tool. Keep a note handy so you know how long the sun lasts — and where it hits, too!
Some plants like full sun, while others prefer shade. Check with the nursery or plant shop to make sure you’re getting a leafy friend appropriate for your space!
Balconies can get pretty hot, with the sun reflecting off walls and windows. The floor material could also absorb heat, which not all plants like. The same goes for the cold in winter. Their semi-enclosed nature means a balcony forms its own ‘microclimate’, so you should check with a digital thermometer how hot or cold it can get. Not every plant can withstand all temperatures.
As with heat and cold, each plant reacts differently to the wind. Some plants can tolerate a breeze, but others need to be kept away. There are ways to create wind breaks to shelter your plants, such as using large plants or outdoor décor to shield them. But if it gets gusty out there, you may want to pick a leafy friend that’s hardy!
One other disadvantage of wind is that it dries out your plants quickly. You can compensate by creating a watering system, or just water more often — but not too much, or your plants will drown.
Indoors, outdoors, or on balconies — watering plants is always a tricky business. You don’t want to overwater and drown your leafy friends, but you don’t want them to dry out either. There are several ways to water plants on a balcony garden, such as:
- Manual watering
- Drip irrigation
- Self-watering pots
Which system you use will depend on which plants you pick, since some plants are drought-tolerant (lavender, lemongrass, and ferns are good options), while others need moist soil to thrive. Figure out what kind of system you can set up on your balcony first, then pick your plants.
If you’ve ever tried to lift a terracotta pot, you’ll know those things are heavy. For those of you who live high up, getting the pot to your apartment will already be a pain. Consider what weight your balcony can hold, and see if you can’t pick resin or plastic pots instead.
Other options for containers include hanging baskets, or pots you can stack or place on a vertical shelf. Or even get a raised container garden, which is optimised for gardening in a small space!
Each plant has different needs, which is something to keep in mind. How much time and diligence can you devote to them? Will you put in the effort for flowers, or do you prefer low-maintenance herbs? Are you frequently at home or will your plants be alone for long periods of time?
There are ways to design a system so you can minimise the attention you give your plants — or just hire a professional gardening service to maintain them for you!
Types of Balcony Plants
It can feel like there’s an overwhelming number of factors to consider for balcony gardens, and we don’t blame you. But rest assured that no matter your balcony conditions, there will almost always be a plant out there that you can care for. Here’s a brief rundown of several types of plants you can have in your balcony garden!
The classic choice for low-maintenance gardeners, or those of us with brown thumbs. Succulents are great if you can’t water often (or forget — it happens), or if your balcony gets plenty of sun. There are plenty of options for succulents, in all manner of colours and sizes, so just pick your favourites and set them out in a cute row.
Herbs and spices
These are perfect for cooking, or for gardeners who prefer simpler plants to care for. They’re great for a tiny balcony since you can keep them in small pots, or in a planter on your balcony railing. Rosemary, lavender, mint, parsley, native citrus, lemon myrtle, and mustard are excellent choices for a gardener with limited space.
Yes, you can still grow fruits and vegetables on a balcony garden! They’ll need more attention than in a regular garden, but they’re well worth the effort once they’re ready for harvest. Some options for edible plants include:
- Berries: raspberry, strawberries, blueberries, and lemons. You can even check for dwarf varieties!
- Salad vegetables: baby cos, rocket, bok choy, silver beet, kale, spinach, even spring onions and celery.
- Food crops: tomato, cucumber, eggplant, capsicum, and if you like the heat, chili.
You can absolutely grow flowering plants on a balcony — just make sure you have the right conditions. Ornamentals can be sensitive to things like heat or soil type, so prep beforehand and choose wisely. If you’re a fan of flowers, you can grow plants like begonias, pansies, hydrangeas, and even marigolds.
If you have a rack or a rafter to take advantage of, or can add hooks to the ceiling, then hanging plants make an excellent accent to any space. Choose from options like bacopa, verbena, hanging fuschia, spider plants, ivy, philodendron, and even ferns.
Challenges To Balcony Gardening
Of course, balcony gardening — like regular gardening — isn’t without its obstacles. There are certain challenges you’ll face, so keep these in mind if you’re going to add some plant friends to your balcony!
Excess sunlight, frost, and strong winds will all pose difficulties for your balcony garden, and should be considered carefully. Wind is especially frustrating for those living on upper floors of tall buildings. Either work with the weather in your zone (and the microclimate generated on your balcony), or plan around it.
Watering is tricky enough without having to consider where it goes — but you’ve got to! Water overflow comes from excess water when watering plants, and it can cause rot on wood floors or trickle down to your downstairs neighbour (or even people on the street!). You’ll need to include catching systems in all your pots and planters, such as trays.
(And make sure to clean them regularly — stagnant water is a health hazard!)
If you’re growing edible plants, be mindful of any uninvited guests! Your fruits could attract birds and insects, and not all of them might be welcome. You can cover your plants in mesh or a similar cover so you don’t block access to sun and light, but still keep them safe from any curious creatures looking for a snack.
It feels intimidating to start a balcony garden, but as long as you plan ahead and take all factors into consideration, you’ll do fine. Then it’s just a matter of collecting plants, pots, and other provisions, and you’ll be well on your way to designing the balcony garden of your dreams. After that, it’s just a matter of not forgetting to water your plants!