Growing a Garden on a Small Balcony

With planning, a small balcony can offer some of the same amenities as a garden in the ground: lush foliage, colorful flowers — even vegetables. A small balcony garden has plants up front and up close where you can appreciate it. Plants provide seasonal interest and a bit of privacy, and you still have room for outdoor dining and relaxing.

A balcony offers a host of gardening challenges — no soil, perhaps too much shade or too much sun, and difficulty in bringing water to the garden. Don't give up your gardening dreams, however. You can grow a balcony garden if you keep the following in mind:

  • Create a focal point. The focal point in this plan is a small tree or standard (a shrub trained as a small, single-trunk tree). For extra color, underplant the tree with trailing spring or summer-blooming annual flowers (pansies, lobelias, marigolds, petunias, and so on).
  • Use window boxes. Fasten window boxes to your balcony's railing, so that they're viewable from indoors or from outside. Use them to create more privacy or to frame a view. Change plantings in the window boxes seasonally by growing annuals in the summer and stuffing the boxes with greens and dried-berry plants for winter and the holidays.
  • Grow container plants. Colorful pots of annuals provide surprising amounts of flower color at close range. Water draining from the containers can stain the balcony surface or drip on your neighbor below — keep saucers under the pots.
  • Don't forget veggies. Squeeze herbs and vegetables into your balcony garden. To save space, train climbers, such as cucumbers and tomatoes, on teepees or in cages.
  • Install an outdoor faucet. Consider installing an outdoor faucet to avoid the tedium of watering with a watering pot.

Size (not too tall or spreading) and maintenance (not too demanding) are your main considerations when making plans for a balcony garden. Also check on your sun and shade exposure throughout the day.

The following small trees and shrubs need sun most of the day and could serve as a focal point on a balcony garden:

  • Camellia (needs shade in hot climates)
  • Crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica)
  • Hibiscus (standard)
  • Japanese black pine (Pinus thunbergi)
  • Japanese maple (Acer palmatum)
  • Palms (indoor/outdoor)
  • Tree rose (Rosa)
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