Balcony Gardening Tips
Gardening on a balcony during lockdown
During the COVID-19 pandemic which means isolation for many people worldwide, gardening and nature has become the highlight of our lockdown days. Being without connection to the people we love and socialise with is hard and we need to make those connections to be happy. But to truly thrive we need to connect with the natural world and during times of isolation, that connection is highlighted even more. It’s been heart warming and exciting to see and hear of so many people enjoying gardening and growing their own food. But what if you don’t have much space? How do you enjoy the natural world from a balcony or patio or perhaps a windowsill? Here are my tips for balcony gardening when you have to stay at home.
Just like any garden, all balconies are different. If you are facing south you could have a hot, sun trap or are you being shaded by a nearly building? A great way to work out where on your balcony the sun will or won’t shine is to take a piece of paper and draw your balcony then draw a line on the paper to show where the sun is at different times of the day. It’s an easy way to work out where to place your pots and what to grow. Consider if you are sheltered or not from the wind. Some balconies high up are quite exposed so think about plants that will survive windy conditions and not blow away.
Container grown plants dry out really quickly so it’s important to make sure they get watered sufficiently and preferably early morning or evening time to allow the plants time to absorb the moisture before they dry out again. As the plants will soon use up the nutrients in the compost, feeding once a week is a must and I’ve found seaweed feed to be a great source of nutrients or a slow release fertiliser can help. If you live in a particularly hot or dry area, mulching the top of the pots is great for moisture retention. There’s no need to feed over winter and always make sure your containers have good drainage so your plants don’t sit in wet compost. Don’t forget to think about the weight of the containers you choose if you need to move them around. Try using a milk crate, with a hessian sack liner then fill with a potting mix and plant out your tomatoes and aubergines. Looks great, easy to move, maintain and you can use the crate again the following year.
Reuse, recycle, repurpose
Gardeners are so resourceful! It can be fun to look at items you are about to throw away and decide if it is something you can use for gardening. Use old food containers as seed trays, tin cans for seedlings or small plants plus used water bottles as watering cans. You can get really creative and it’s so satisfying turning something about to be thrown away into a useful gardening item. I even cut up old food pots to use as plant labels and turned plastic food containers with lids into ready made propagators. Saving waste and truly making your balcony a creative and personal space with the environment in mind can be immensely rewarding.
Pests and disease
Just like in any garden, pests and diseases can find their way to your plants, even on a balcony high in the sky! The one thing I have found is how fast they spread between containers in confined spaces so check your plants frequently for any signs of damage that may be caused by something you don't want to ravish your pots. Vine Weevils are particularly destructive and will need to be stopped super quickly. I’ve never seen a snail on my balcony 6 floors up but I’ve seen caterpillars on my Brassicas and Red Lily Beetle on my Stargazer Lilies.
Break the rules
There really are no rules, so if you love a particular plant then give it a go on your balcony. There is no harm in trying and plenty of theory has been proven not to be the case sometimes. Gardening is so much trial and error! I once had a whole container garden of tropical plants and created a urban jungle in a tiny garden at the back of my house. The plants thrived and wildlife soon found homes, food and nesting spaces so there’s no reason why your balcony can’t be your place to experiment. It’s your balcony garden, stamp your own personality on it and have the best fun learning along the way.
No balcony? No problem!
Even without an outside space nature can be brought inside with pots of herbs on windowsills to make a refreshing herbal tea, succulent pots to decorate the table, houseplants to detoxify the air, fairy gardens for a fun project with kids and moss picture frames for an arty afternoon project. There is always a way to enjoy plants, no matter where you are.
Balcony gardening can be incredibly rewarding, there is something very special about maximising a small space and when you see bees buzzing around your pots, just stop and take that moment in. You helped a bee! No matter what space you have, no matter what is going on in the world - gardening really can give focus, hope and some inner peace.
Top 5 balcony vegetable plants
Runner Bean ‘Hestia’ - dwarf growing and delicious
Lettuce ‘Outredgeous’ - if it grows on the moon, it will grow on your balcony!
Carrot ‘Early Nantes’ - early and tasty
Squash ‘Eight Ball’ AGM - round green and easy to harvest
Kales ‘Redbor’ - winter interest and a superfood
Top 5 perennial balcony plants
Trachelospermum jasminoides (Star Jasmine) - perfect for screening and fragrance
Lavandula Angustifolia 'Dwarf Blue’ - great for pollinators and perfume
Verbena bonariensis ‘Lollipop’ - blooms from summer to first frosts
Heuchera ‘Citronelle’ - enjoys a shady balcony and has vibrant colour
Fuchsia ‘Tom Thumb’ - masses of flowers and easy care
You can also read this full copy in Grow Your Own Magazine.