If you live in an urban city, it can be challenging to find enough space to carve out a garden. So, you’ll have to get creative with the limited space outside you have, like window boxes, porches, patios, or a balcony garden. If you’re someone who only has a roof terrace or balcony, it can be challenging to know what to grow and how to ensure that it does well in this unique space.
Stepping out into your balcony, you can be greeted by bare walls and a flat, open surface that can be very intimidating. Also, when your space is at a premium, you don’t have room to experiment and have them go wrong like you do in a traditional garden.
So, we’re going to remove the guesswork from your balcony garden to ensure you get a nice harvest every time. We’ve picked out the best flowers, herbs, and vegetables to grow on your balcony garden, and we’ve also included tricks to help maximize your space, plan out the garden, and create a thriving green space below.
Planning Out Your Balcony Garden
The first big thing you have to keep in mind when you grow your balcony garden is whether or not the balcony itself is capable of supporting whatever you’re growing. Most balconies can handle a few containers or beds, but you want to double-check the sturdiness before you start loading everything up.
You’d be surprised how heavy your containers can get when you pack them with loaded plants, soil, and water, especially if you have several. Spread the pots around the balcony instead of putting them in a single aare. Doing this will help to distribute the weight, and you won’t have to worry about expensive mishaps. Also, take stock of the growing conditions on your balcony, as we’ve outlined below. This will give you an idea on which plants will thrive here and which to avoid.
You want to go out to your balcony in the morning, afternoon, and evening hours to see how the shadows stretch across the space before you set up the garden. It’s common to put in a lot of work setting up your balcony garden only to find that you put your plants that like sun in an area that gets shaded for 80% of the day. Note how the shade plays over the balcony as the day progresses, and find the places that get the correct amount of sun for your plants. It’s helpful to mark these places for later when you place your plants.
Soil and Plant Food
Soil forms the bed for your plant, and some plants like a firm bed while others prefer a soft one. Your soil mix is the foundation which your plants use to grow, and it’s a source of oxygen and moisture for the roots. By addressing your balcony garden’s soil structure from the start, you’ll save time and water going forward.
Fruits and vegetables prefer to be in richer soil with a bigger amount of water-retaining compost or organic matter with great drainage. Mediterranean herbs like to be in a drier soil that has sand to make it coarse. Keep in mind that more porous container materials like terra cotta will dry out quicker, so you’ll need more of a water retaining medium like compost.
A general combination to keep in mind is a 1:1:1 ratio of peat and perlite, compost, and sand in a standard potting soil. To feed your plants long-term, prepare the soil by adding a slow-release organic fertilizer and top feed everything twice a week using compost tea.
To create compost tea, you’ll need to get an aquarium pump, 10 gallon bucket, a water source, high-quality compost, compost catalyst, and an aeration catalyst. Once you fill the bucket with water, dump in your compost catalyst. Then, you’ll float your compost in a sachet just like a tea strainer in your bucket before pumping it to start the brewing process. The air pumps through your compost tea for a full day until it creates a frothy brew. Use this tea to feed the soil.
What direction is your balcony facing? South-facing balconies offer the best amount of sunlight, but southwest-facing or southeast balconies work well too. If you have a north-facing setup and you still want a balcony garden, you can pull it off too. You’ll just need to adjust your plants to shade-loving cultivars.
Most balconies offer drainage holes, or they have a slight slope to them so the water runs in a particular direction. When you’re growing a balcony garden, check the drainage. The last thing you want to do is annoy someone below you by causing dirty water to rain down on them every time you water your space.
If you live in a rainy area, you can conserve your water by setting up a balcony rain barrel system. This way, you prevent huge amounts of runoff from getting wasted, and you get to water your garden using rainwater, which is always better than city water.
Wind issues are usually the biggest problem in your balcony garden, and it’s even more prevalent for raised beds or any containers you have off the ground. The first option you have is to plant anything that tolerates windy conditions, like rosemary. The other option is to stake the plants well and use windscreens to shield them from some of the nastier gusts.
Just like you checked the shade on your balcony garden, walk out a few times during the day to see which way the wind blows and how strong it’s blowing across the balcony. If you get a lot of wind, you’ll need to get heavier duty pots, like terra cotta to ensure they don’t tip over.
Once you know the general environment of your balcony garden, it’s time to pick out the planters you want to use. It’s possible to mix and match based on your needs, or you can go with one specific type. The most common types of planters include:
This is a very common railing planter type, and they have a hook design that you put around your railing. The planter then rests using its own weight, and it presses into the side of the railing. They’re great if you know for sure the design you pick out fits snugly to your railing. Since so many different railings exist, it’s hard to tell whether a specific planter will fit your balcony. Measure the width of the railing and compare it to the size of the attachment or hook the planter box has to get a rough idea.
Balcony Railing Planters
In a balcony garden, the railing is the most sought-after place for your planters. They get exposed to the sun for the majority of the day, and they don’t take up extra space because they hang off the balcony. However, for all of the benefits, there is rarely a more confusing piece of gardening gear you’ll find. Because you have a huge amount of railings available, it’s confusing to know how to securely attach the planter. Since balconies have a huge amount of wind exposure, the last thing you want is to attach it incorrectly and have it fall to the ground.
If the railings are the standard size, you can pick out planters that come with a notched bottom that slides right over it. These are nice if you don’t want to spend a huge amount of time attaching them. All you have to do is put some soil in them, add your plants, and stick it on the railing. If the balcony gets a decent amount of wind, you want to skip these as they can blow off, especially when the soil dries out.
Vertical gardens are a nice space-saving concept for any gardener because they take advantage of your vertical walls on the balcony. There are dozens of creative ways to use this method, including using pallets filled with soil that you fix to the wall, hanging gutters from chains, attaching pots to trellises, or terracing on plant stairs. However, vertical gardens have a splash factor that can cause dirty walls from overhead watering. Installing a drip irrigation system can help you avoid these problems if you combine it with a catchment system along the bottom.
|Type of Container||Suitable Plant Varieties|
|Planters or Large Pots:||Aloe, bamboo, banana, bay laurel, boxwood, carrots, citrus, datura, dwarf fruit trees, garlic, Japanese maples, onions, pampas grass, rosemary, sansevieria, small conifers, and squash|
|Railing Baskets:||Basil, cilantro, geraniums, hens and chicks, lettuce, marigolds, pansies, parsley, petunias, sedum, stonecrop, strawberries, and thyme|
|Vertical Gardens:||Basil, beans, clematis, ferns, honeysuckle, lettuce, melons, parsley, peas, spider plants, spinach, strawberries, and trailing annuals|
Making Balcony Garden Care Easy – Three Tips
A balcony garden is attractive because it’s a relatively easy method to start using, but the following tips can make the whole process easier from start to finish.
1. Bigger Containers are Better
The biggest pitfall of balcony gardening is that you’re growing everything in containers. They dry out very fast, especially if you want to use heavier terra cotta pots. To counteract this and give your plants moisture, pick out the biggest pots you can. The bigger volume will allow the soil to retain more water and it’ll evaporate a lot slower. Pick the biggest containers you can add and safely manage on your balcony, especially if you want to grow thristier crops like tomatoes.
2. Plant Seedlings Instead of Seeds
It’s much easier to get the garden off to a good start if you purchase seedlings from your local nursery and transplant them into the balcony garden. Starting from seeds can be a fun choice if you want to give it a go. However, if you’re a first-time gardener and you want quick results, seedlings are the way to go.
3. Self-Watering Containers
One level above picking out the bigger pots you can handle is to choose self-watering containers. These containers come with a chamber that they wick water from at the bottom of the pot to give the root system a consistent supply. You can find big self-watering pots at most big-box stores or your local nursery, or you can create your own if you’re handy. The extra cost can balance out the time you spend watering.
The Best Plants for Your Balcony Garden
Depending on your balcony’s location, some plants will do much better than others. For example, some plants do much better in smaller areas while some plants thrive in spaces where there is no sun. Other plants like lots of sun or partial sun, and some require much more protection from the wind. Some are light and some are heavy, especially when you add water. We’ll outline the best flowers, herbs, and vegetables you can grow in your balcony garden below.
Flowers can add a welcome pop of color to your balcony garden, especially if you get ones that bloom all spring and summer. The following are excellent contenders for your balcony garden setup:
Begonias will bloom again and again, year after year when you keep them in partially shaded environments. The flowers are gorgeous, and the foliage is too. The leaves will add texture and improve the overall feel of this plant by giving big, stunningly green, and jagged leaves that surround the flowers.
This is one of the most popular flowers after the rose because chrysanthemums come in several varieties that offer different shapes, colors, and sizes. These flowers do require space, so it may not sound ideal for a balcony garden at first glance. However, since they expand as they grow, you only need a few. One or two mums are more than enough to add color to the garden.
If you have a more shaded balcony, ferns are an excellent choice. Ferns are very adaptable, and they will grow nicely in hanging baskets or containers. If you have a small balcony, you may want to skip this choice as they can grow very large and expand to take up a lot of space as they mature.
This is a shade-loving perennial that looks fantastic in hanging baskets. It offers drooping flowers that mimic the look of a fancy chandelier. With this plant around, you’ll see more butterflies, birds, and hummingbirds.
Hydrangeas work to create a stunning spherical shape. It’s a great choice for people who are very limited on space, and it likes a lot of sunlight with abundant and frequent watering sessions. You can cut off a few bunches of flowers and dry them to create nice centerpieces for your table.
This low-growing flower offers shades of purple, blue, or white, and it looks fantastic when you have it cascading from baskets or containers. Lobelia blooms best before the temperatures get too warm at night. If the plant stops flowering, you can trim it back and it’ll flower when the cool weather comes back. They like afternoon shade and morning sun, but they’ll do decently with mostly shade too.
Pansies grow very well during mild temperature snaps, and you can choose from a huge range of sizes and colors. Some pansies have “faces” that add a whimsical touch to the space, and they’re perfect for growing in pots and window boxes.
If you’ve never planted this pretty annual, you’re missing out. Sweet alyssum is a creative container plant that has sweetly scented, delicate blooms from spring until the first frost of the fall. Pollinators also adore this plant. You should give it room to allow it to fall down the side of your hanging baskets or planters, and keep it well watered. It will tolerate some shade, but it loves sunshine.
Growing herbs in your balcony garden in containers isn’t as difficult as you may think because herbs do well in small areas. Other than regular feeding, watering, and sunlight exposure, herbs won’t require specialized care. Some of the best herbs you can grow on your balcony garden are:
Chamomile is a smaller plant that has flowers with pretty white petals that you can dry out to make a herbal tea. If you want to grow it to make tea in your garden, you should get a German Chamomile plant. It can help relieve stress as a tea, and it can help you sleep. It also works well for upset stomachs, IBS, and it can reduce cramp pain.
Chives are one of the single hardiest herbs you can grow. They do exceptionally well in containers, and they’re great for adding flavor to dips, soups, and baked potatoes. This perennial will come back year after year, and it likes partial shade.
You can grow lavender in a huge amount of climates, and this is why it’s a favorite for balcony gardens. It has a soothing purple color with a sweet smelling fragrance that can permeate the garden. It likes full sun and a well-draining soil that you keep moist. Each time you brush against it, it’ll release fragrances, and you can dry it.
This herb has a very sweet lemon flavor, and it’s refreshing when you put it in teas, meat dishes, or desserts. A lot of people like this herb for their balcony garden because it adds beauty to the space. This herb also releases a nice fragrance, so it’s a good choice for planting by your outdoor living spaces.
Oregano is a very popular herb to use in container gardening. Growing it in containers or pots stops it from spreading, so if you want to keep it under control and stop it from taking over, we recommend pots. This very hardy herb is easy to grow and maintain, so it’s great for beginners.
Parsley is an excellent addition to your balcony garden as it only requires partial sun and small pots to be happy. You should pick a location that is partially shaded or sunny if you live in a moderately warm or cool climate. You want to keep the soil moist and don’t overwater the plants. It grows best in 40 to 80-degree weather, and this makes it nice for cold climate balcony gardens. Bring it inside during the night so it doesn’t get too cold.
Herbs like rosemary like smaller spaces, and it’s a herb that loves being in containers. Growing rosemary requires you to have a pot that is at least 12 inches in diameter as this gives the roots enough room to spread out. It likes moist but well-drained soil, and it can handle wind very well with partial sun.
Rue is a very hardy plant that does well with little care from you. It grows in a shrubby habit, and it loves dry, hot climates with sandy, poor, or rocky soil. This herb has a long history of medicinal and culinary uses, and you can use it as an organic insect repellent. All you have to do is cut the leaves, dry them, and place them in satchels. The satchels go anywhere you want to repel bugs.
Virtually any vegetable you want to grow outdoors can grow in a balcony garden in a container, and they’ll thrive here as long as you give them the correct growing conditions and care. You’ll also have to get a container that is large enough to house your vegetable plant comfortably with space for the roots to mature.
Bush and pole beans are great for container gardens. All you need is a space that gets a decent amount of sunlight and a pot that is a foot deep. You’ll also need a trellis structure for the vines to grow up on if you have a climbing variety. You’ll see a decent crop of beans that will be ready to go in a few weeks.
Beets are arguably one of the easiest vegetables to grow in your containers. They don’t need huge pots in your balcony garden, and they are very fast growing vegetables. You want to pick out a container that is eight to ten inches deep, and they need a compost-rich, well-draining soil.
As long as you pick out the right varieties, carrots are easy to grow on a balcony garden. You want to pick short carrots instead of standard ones because the standard ones need much more room to grow the roots. Also, you want to pick out a container that is deep enough to support taproots. Keep the foliage dry to prevent mildew issues and avoid overwatering.
Eggplants are larger vegetables, but if you give them a minimum of a five gallon pot that is wide enough for the eggplant to grow, they’ll do very well on your balcony. Eggplants need six to eight hours of sunlight each day and regular fertilizer applications. These plants require support when they fruit, so you’ll want to put cages or stakes in the container to help support the weight of the eggplants.
Any pea variety is good to plant on a balcony garden, but dwarf cultivars and bush cultivars are preferred, especially if you have space in your vegetable garden. Peas like cool weather and moist soil with six to 12 inches of depth. If the container is roughly a foot in diameter, you can fit four to six pea plants per container.
Aside from radishes and tomatoes, peppers are some of the easiest vegetables to grow in containers, and they produce a huge amount of fruit per plant. You will have to give them a deep, large pot that is at least a foot deep for ideal growth. Keep your plants in full sun and start giving them fertilizer when the plant flowers until it stops producing fruit.
Radishes are very fast-growing plants that work well in container gardens. They will do well in smaller containers too. Use a container that is a minimum of six inches deep for smaller radish varieties, and a minimum of 10 inches deep for bigger ones. If you have a very wide container in your balcony garden, you can plant more than one radish per pot. You want to space them out to two inches between each plant, and they should be ready to harvest in 24 to 60 days.
Tomatoes are some of the easiest vegetables to grow in your balcony garden. You will need a space that gets five to six hours of sunlight a day, and they will need a cage to help support them with the wind. If you have limited space, you may want a dwarf cultivar or cherry tomatoes instead of bigger varieties.
You now know the basics to setting up a balcony garden, as well as which herbs, vegetables, and flowers will thrive in this environment. You can mix and match them to come up with a unique space that you love spending time out in all spring and summer long.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.