Have you got yourself a balcony garden but not sure where to start?
As a beginner balcony gardener, there’s a lot to consider, agrees Ellen Mary, gardening influencer and co-host of The herbal podcast – his new book, How to grow a gardenhas a big focus on small spaces and balconies.
She shares the following balcony gardening tips for beginners…
What are the best balcony plants for beginners?
“The best plants for a beginner are annuals like bedding plants for beautification just to see how to get along and herbs too. There’s nothing quite like being able to go outside and pick herbs no matter how big the space you have,” says Maria. “They’re great for wildlife and insects, and you can let them bloom. Just having something productive in a small space outdoors is empowering.”
Which plants do well in shallow containers such as flower boxes?
“Calibrachoas (with small, petunia-like flowers) are absolutely fantastic for this, bloom for a long season and do well in any size box or hanging basket. Petunias and surfinias, typical bedding plants one would pick in a garden center, would all do just fine.”
Are there any rules to follow?
“Yes. The main thing to note is weight restrictions. Check if there are rules about what you can have on your balcony and if there are any weight restrictions before you start.”
Any tips on planting in pots?
“The key is not to overcrowd the pots,” says Mary. “We see a lot of huge hanging baskets with a lot growing in them. But if you don’t have a lot of depth in your pots, you may need to plant a few fewer so they don’t compete for nutrients and water. But they will fill the balcony boxes nicely.”
Which herbs are best for the balcony?
“Basil is amazing. You can grow it outside in the summer and it will let you know if it needs watering when it’s a little wilted. I also love chives, which can grow in all pot sizes, although they do need a little root space,” adds Mary. “If you harvest them willingly, they do well. Parsley also does very well in a pot with limited space. Anything whatever you can sow and grow directly, even coriander, will do well.”
What difference does sun vs. shade make?
“If you have a lot of herbs sitting in pots in constant sunlight, they’re likely to run into problems. They also dry out very quickly in a pot and may need to be fed more because they use up the nutrients and water so quickly.
“Partial shade can be very beneficial for herbs on a balcony. If you have a very exposed balcony, give your plants some shade by placing a large plant in a pot next to it. I have some large planters with bamboo on my balcony them.
“The bamboo gives a nice bit of shade to the plants that don’t like full sun all day. Other plants that might help with shade include star jasmine, which stretches along the balcony railing while providing shade and privacy.
“On a shady balcony you can grow beautiful ferns that look amazing in pots, and if you put a few different species together the textures can look absolutely stunning,” adds Mary.
“Hostas also do well in pots in the shade, large maples look great on a shady balcony, even a camellia can look fantastic in a large pot.”
What other climbers do well on balconies?
“You could try clematis, or if you have a very large pot you could grow honeysuckle or even roses. We often think of a balcony or a small space as something other than a garden, but it really isn’t,” notes Mary.
“We just have to think about how much space you can use and how in the floor. With the right care, most plants, whether shrubs or climbing, can be grown in pots on the balcony.”
What types of pots should you choose?
“It depends on the look you want. A large pot can look very stylish and simple and contain a large plant like a hydrangea, while a collection of pots gives you the opportunity to mix things up and plant different things in them.
“Personally, I feel like when you pack a lot of space into a small space, you bring in the space, and that can feel pretty crowded. But if you like the feeling of being safe in your own small space, lots of pots might be a good thing for you. It’s a matter of preference.”
How can you make your balcony look bigger?
“Use accessories like mirrors for your vertical space. If you have limited floor space that you might only be able to fit a small table and chairs in, consider vertical planting like herb hangers that you can attach to the wall.”
What about the casting?
“Consider how much time and effort you will need to put into your balcony garden, how much space you have to keep a watering can and plant food, how much water you need to have (smaller pots need more frequent watering than larger ones) and whether standing the pot in a tray makes sense and prevents the water from running over the edge and not dripping onto someone else’s balcony.”
How to grow a garden: A beginner’s guide to creating a thriving outdoor space by Ellen Mary is published by Greenfinch. Now available.