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Create a Balcony Garden

Hanging fern

Take your garden to new heights by adding flowers and other potted plants to your balcony.


Balcony or Rooftop Gardening

Not every aspiring gardener has the option of a garden bed, but almost every aspiring gardener can find a place to grow. Flowers, vegetables, herbs, even trees are possible if you have balcony or rooftop space. However, before you start, make sure your homeowner's association and your stucture support your project.



Watering Options

If you plan to have more than a few containers in your balcony garden, you will need a supply of water nearby, such as:

  • A drip irrigation system
  • A specially designed recoil hose
  • A regular hose with a watering wand or a watering can
Don't water the plants until you have them placed, as the water will make them heavy. Remember, the higher the balcony, the dryer it's likely to be. Until you get accustomed to the water needs of your garden, check your new plants everyday to make sure they haven't dried out.


Sunlight

North- and east-facing balconies get less sunlight than south- and west-facing structures. If you include dwarf trees and shrubs in your garden, you'll need to plan ahead to ensure they receive enough direct sun daily. The sun's path changes over the seasons, so take this into consideration as well. Also remember that most flowering plants (especially annuals) need lots of sunlight.



Containers

Choosing the proper container is always important. But it's even more crucial when gardening on a balcony. Weight and proper drainage is key, no matter what material you choose. Plastic is lightweight and fashionable. New lightweight plastics are made to resemble clay but are only a fraction of the weight. Wood is another option. Saucers under the containers help if the balcony area does not drain well. Large containers can be dramatic, but if you have to move them in winter, put them on a platform with casters to allow mobility. A lightweight potting mix allows good drainage and reduces the overall weight of the container.

Use caution when placing containers on balconies. Improper placement creates a tripping hazard or an undesirable step-up for children. Make sure that railings and ceilings can support the weight of planter boxes or hanging baskets.


Design

Like a traditional lawn or garden, it's best to start with a plan. The same design principles that apply to yards also apply to balconies.

Some suggestions:

  • Use colors and textures wisely.
  • Try a combination of container and plant sizes to create depth and dimension.
  • Place taller plants in the back and smaller ones in front.
  • Repeat plants and colors in different parts of the garden.
  • Incorporate a trellis, small bubbling fountain or a hanging basket with the other containers.
  • Check the view from the windows before you commit to a design. Don't forget, you'll be seeing the garden from indoors as well.
  • Use a large specimen plant as a focal point.
  • Group plants, but for their health's sake, don't crowd them.


Plants

Factors to consider during plant selection include the usual criteria:

  • Planting zone.
  • Plant size at maturity.
  • Amount of sunlight available in the area. Remember: Light and heat can be reflected from walls and windows.
  • Appearance during all four seasons.

The types of possible plants for the balcony is extensive:

  • Foliage or flowering annuals and perennials.
  • Dwarf varieties of shrubs and trees.
  • Fruits, vegetables and herbs.
  • Miniature roses and even grass can be adapted to balconies.
  • Evergreens for year-round enjoyment or deciduous plants for changing four-season interest.
  • Bonsai is a good choice.
  • Vines are great, but consider the downstairs neighbors if you're planning to let the plants grow down instead of up.

Follow a normal grooming, pruning and feeding schedule. Depending on where you live and which way the balcony faces, wind may be a major factor. Conversely, reduced air circulation in some balconies can promote disease.

Regarding winter care, larger containers are less likely to freeze than smaller ones (more soil in the pot provides more insulation). If your climate requires that the garden be moved indoors, choose plants and containers accordingly.



Additional Considerations

  • Bugs and even birds may find your garden. Some people consider birds a plus. If you add a birdfeeder, you may attract avian residents, not just visitors. If you really want birds, a hummingbird feeder may be a better idea.
  •  It’s easy for gardeners to get carried away and balcony gardeners are no exception. Don't forget to leave room for people and furniture so you can enjoy your new landscape.
  •  This article refers to balconies. Many of these ideas and principles can be applied to patios as well. Rooftops can also be adapted to gardening, provided the structure can support the extra weight.
Check your building covenants or rental contract before undertaking any gardening project. In addition to rules governing types of plants and containers that may be used, there are also codes regarding height and weight restrictions.