You may have recently moved home and inherited a balcony garden and wonder where to start. Or you may already have one and would appreciate some thoughts on making the most of it. Either way, this guide will offer tips on choice of pots, possible layouts and plant care.
Considering your choice of pots
While you might be able to heft heavy-duty pots around a patio, it’s a bit more effort to locate them on a balcony – one or more floors off the ground! It’s also important not to overweight your balcony, which has the potential to cause expensive damage to it. So, lightweight pots and containers are the wisest option. However, having checked that your balcony can bear heavy-duty pots, then these are often preferable in windy locations. Some keys to effective pot selection…
- Glazed pots are less likely to dry out than terracotta options
- Consider fewer and larger containers, or a mix of sizes grouped, to provide a better overall impression, compared to dozens of small pots. Remember, these can often topple in the lightest of breezes, damaging your precious plants – and are much more fiddly to water and maintain on a regular basis. Groups, together, help protect each other from the elements
Ensuring effective draining whichever pots you choose
It’s essential that pots feature draining holes as these ensure better-growing conditions. Without them, water can gather, unseen, around the roots, causing damage while the surface dries, encouraging you to add more water. For decorative purposes, you might use an outer pot without holes and a plastic growing pot inside. Make sure there is space for the water to drain and do check and empty on a regular basis. Another option is ‘feet’ or small bricks under the pot – do make sure they offer sturdy support – thus elevating them to help drainage. Avoid placing pots with drainage holes directly on to your balcony’s surface. Water will seep out, can discolour and damage the surface, or make it slippy – not a great idea when you’re operating well above ground level!
Watering to encourage healthy growth
In our Australian climate, with its extremes, sun and heat can be an obvious problem, so watering – and the retention of moisture in the soil – can be difficult. Non-porous pots, glazed and plastic, do help with this. Your choice of growing medium (see below) can also help. Two other helpful tips…
- Consider self-watering pots for foliage plants and ferns – especially if you are going to be absent, even for short periods of time. Or if, sometimes in your busy life, you might forget to water regularly!
- Cover the surface of your growing medium with small pebbles, which can also add to the appearance of an organic mulch. Both of these can help slow water evaporation
Choosing an effective growing medium
Selecting a top-quality potting mix is essential for container gardening. Check that any choice meets the Australian Standard, and also that your selection is appropriate for the specific plants themselves. Different conditions are needed when growing vegetables compared to cacti or more specialists plants such as orchids or azaleas. It’s always worth discussing such needs with your local garden centre experts! Other options, especially for long-term rather than simply seasonal and often-changed plants, include a thoroughly aged manure, or compost (usually as a one-tenth or so addition to your chosen potting mix).
Delivering a stunning balcony show
Perhaps not as dramatic a scene as Shakespeare might have created in Romeo and Juliet, but you may want to put on a good show from your balcony. Like an artist, who gains perspective by standing back from their canvas, don’t forget to consider both viewing aspects, from inside your home and also the outside scene neighbours and passers-by can enjoy. Here are some thoughts…
- Like an artist, consider a colour palette for your planting – either on a permanent or seasonal basis
- As well as the standing surface, think how you might use the walls and railings to good effect. Secure trellises can add stability and control and manage climber growth
- Hanging baskets, with trailing plants, planter boxes, or troughs, all safely attached to your balcony railings, can add depth
The last pair of options do mean that extra care might be needed to protect from both wind and soil dry-out; as well as keeping them stable and secure. Remember that people may be passing close-by underneath your balcony, or at lower levels in your building!
To retain a vibrant show, you might also need to dead-head on a regular basis, prune back as necessary, and simply remove those plants that are past their best.
Making use of a professional
Whether you’re new to gardening or a seasoned expert, balconies have different requirements than your average garden. It can be useful to get a balcony garden expert to help.
One question we’re often asked
‘How does balcony gardening differ from ground planting?’
Your balcony plants will need more regular attention as they are exposed to hot wind and sun combinations. Two final thoughts: regular watering, and feeding when in active growth, is vital – and remember that pests don’t just operate at ground level!
Enjoy your balcony garden!