Vertical gardening - creating a balcony garden

You can create a beautiful and useful green space for your property, even if you live in an apartment or unit, or a townhouse with a terrace or limited courtyard space. Create a balcony garden using the right kind pot, soil, and plant type for screening and to soften your outdoors living space. Think of it as vertical gardening.

Pots

You can’t plant in the ground, so you’ll need the right kind of pot to support your balcony garden. The right pot size is important, as when the plant roots hit the pot, the plant won’t grow any larger. Tall and narrow pots are useful as they don’t create a big footprint on your balcony.

Pot material is also important. Terracotta needs to be sealed on the inside to prevent the roots from drying out too quickly.

Ensure that your pot has adequate drainage via holes in the base. Consider placing your pot on feet to keep them off the ground, as draining water may stain decking or tiles. Place gravel at the bottom of the pot and geo fabric or jute matting to separate the gravel from the soil, to prevent soil loss through the drainage holes.

Pot colour will also impact the amount of water that a pot requires. Black pots are chic, but will absorb more heat and dry out faster.  When the pot is exposed to sun and wind, and particularly when the pot is a darker colour, the plant needs to be able to handle heat (such as a succulent or hot climate plant).

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Soil

Potted soil requires a lot of nutrients in it. Use a special potting mix with fertilisers included. Fertilise throughout the year using commercial fertiliser such as Osmocote and Dynamic Lifter or byproducts from a worm farm.

Potting mix can go stale over time as the plants suck up the nutrients. The soil also becomes hydrophobic (won’t draw up water). Change potting mix every couple of years.  When re-potting or changing potting mix, remove as much soil from the roots of the plant as possible. (Choose plants that you won’t kill by tickling the roots). The more new soil in the pot the better.

Plant types

Vines are great for training up a trellis and used as screening. Choose a fixed trellis with wires or a free-standing trellis (this needs to be secured properly to protect from wind). Great vines for balconies include Jasmine (tractaspernum jasminoides), orange trumpet vine (on-trend, and a prolific grower), and passionfruit. The best choices are plants with glossy leaves as they stand up against sun and wind.

Tall, skinny plants are also great choices for balcony gardens. Great examples include dwarf bamboo, tiger grass, alpinias (gingers), and heliconias. Keep these plants well-pruned to maintain an upright form. Chat to your local nursery about the best species for your particular environment – let them know what level of sun, shade, and elements that the balcony contends with, as well as the height of railings, size and aspect of the balcony.

Edible plants are useful for cooking and are great for screening. All the Mediterranean herbs do well in pots (rosemary, thyme, oregano, lavender). Dwarfed citrus plants will also do well on a balcony – ask your local nursery about potted dwarfed apple and pear trees. (read more about creating a mini orchard here on the blog).

Remember to keep up the water.  Potted plants need to be managed diligently.

At SEED Landscape Design we are always happy to chat to you about your gardening needs – feel free to contact us to share your particular property challenges.

Images from top: 1. The Balcony Garden 2. The Balcony Garden 3. The Artist Garden 4. Outhouse Design