Got yourself a balcony garden, but not sure where to start?
There’s lots to consider as a beginner balcony gardener, agrees Ellen Mary, gardening influencer and co-host of The Plant Based Podcast (theplantbasedpodcast.net) – whose new book, How To Grow A Garden, has 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 prettiness, just to see how you get on, and also herbs. There’s nothing nicer than being able to go outside and pick some herbs, no matter what size space you have,” says Mary. “They are great for wildlife and insects and you can leave them to flower. Just having something productive from a small outside space is empowering.”
What plants will cope with shallow containers like window boxes?
“Calibrachoas (with small, petunia-like flowers) are absolutely fantastic for that, flowering for a long season, and will do well in any sized box or hanging basket. Petunias and surfinias, typical bedding plants you’d pick up at a garden centre, would all do quite well.”
Are there any rules to consider?
“Yes. The most important thing to consider is weight restrictions. Check if there are rules about what you can have on your balcony and weight restrictions before you start.”
Any tips for planting in pots?
“The key is not to overfill pots,” says Mary. “We see lots of huge hanging baskets, with loads growing. But if you haven’t much depth to your pots, you might need to plant a few less, so they are not competing for nutrients and water. But they will fill up balcony boxes beautifully.”
Which herbs are best on balconies?
“Basil is amazing. You can grow it outside in summer and it will let you know if it needs watering, when it wilts a little. I also love chives, which can grow in all sizes of pots, although they do need a little root space,” Mary adds. “If you are harvesting them readily, they cope well. Parsley will also do really well in a pot with not much space. Anything you can sow direct and grow, even coriander, will do well.”
What difference does sun vs shade make?
“If you sit a lot of herbs in pots in constant baking sunshine, you will probably make them struggle. Also, in a pot they are going to dry out very quickly and might need more feeding because they are using up the nutrients and water so fast.
“Part shade can be really beneficial for herbs on a balcony. If you have a very exposed balcony, give your plants a little shade by placing a large plant in a pot next to them. I have some big planters on my balcony with bamboo in them.
“The bamboo gives a lovely bit of shade to the plants that can’t take full sun all day. Other plants which might help with shade include star jasmine, which trails along the balcony railings, giving shade and privacy at the same time.
“On a shady balcony, you can grow beautiful ferns, which look amazing in pots, and if you put a few different species together, the textures can look absolutely stunning,” Mary adds.
“Hostas will also grow well in pots in shade, large acers 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 big pot, you could grow honeysuckle or even roses. Often we consider a balcony or small space to be different from a garden, but it isn’t really,” notes Mary.
“We just need to think about the aspect and what space you can use as you would in the ground. With the right care, most plants, whether shrubby or climbing, can be grown in a pot on a balcony.”
What types of pots should you choose?
“It depends on the look you want. One large pot can look very stylish and simple, containing one big plant like a hydrangea, while a collection of pots gives you the opportunity to shuffle things around and plant different things in them.
“I personally feel if you put a lot into a small space, you bring the space in and that can feel quite crowded. But if you like that feeling of being safe in your own little space, then lots of pots could be a good thing for you. It’s a matter of preference.”
How can you make your balcony feel bigger?
“Use accessories such as mirrors on your vertical space. If you have limited floor space where you might just be able to fit a small table and chairs, think about vertical planting such as herb hangers, which you can attach to the wall.”
What about watering?
“Consider what time and effort you have to put into your balcony garden, what space you have to store a watering can and plant food, how much watering you’ll need to do (smaller pots will need watering more frequently than larger ones) and whether standing your pot in a tray will be useful and stop the water from running over the edge and not dripping on to somebody 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, priced £16.99. Available now.