Grow armloads of fresh vegetables and gorgeous cut flowers in a small balcony space with these easy gardening tips!
Growing vegetables, herbs, and flowers in an urban environment can be tricky due to space limitations and other factors. But if you have an outdoor balcony, you may be able to grow all of the fruit, vegetables, and flowers you need in a small balcony space!
Sunny balconies can be the perfect place for a small herb garden, or some grow bags full of root vegetables, tubers, and flowers. What’s more, since balcony gardens are so convenient for your kitchen, they can provide you with the freshest ingredients to use in your favorite recipes. All you need to start is a bit of creativity, a few space-saving tips, and maybe a few trellises, and you’ll be well on your way to growing a successful urban garden in even the smallest space!
- 12 tips for growing a balcony garden
- 1. Make sure balcony gardening is right for you.
- 2. Choose the right balcony plants.
- 3. Pick the right pots.
- 4. Grow vertically with trellises.
- 5. Try out railing planters.
- 6. Use hanging baskets and other creative pot ideas.
- 7. Add a quality soil mix.
- 8. Prevent water from dripping.
- 9. Keep on top of pests.
- 10. Fertilize wisely.
- 11. Don’t forget to water!
- 12. Try out these other space-saving tips.
12 tips for growing a balcony garden
Growing vertically and thinking outside the box are two essential ways to maximize small garden space. Below you’ll find the top tips to get the most out of your balcony garden, as well as everything you need to start growing your own garden this season.
1. Make sure balcony gardening is right for you.
While balcony gardens can fit in many small spaces, not all balconies are suitable for keeping plants. So, before planting anything, it’s important to consider the unique growing conditions of your balcony to make sure you’ll be able to keep plants there.
First, if you happen to rent an apartment or you live in a condo or HOA, check with the right people, like your landlord, to make sure there aren’t rules that forbid balcony gardening. If there are existing rules that prevent keeping plants outdoors, you may still be able to keep a few small potted herbs or hanging baskets, but it’s important to follow any existing guidelines so you don’t run into trouble later on. After all, the last thing you want after installing a fabulous balcony garden is to be told you need to take it all down by your apartment manager!
Beyond this, you’ll also want to determine if your balcony will be able to withstand the added weight of a balcony garden. If you plan on just keeping a few potted plants, you’re probably fine, but if you want to add more significant raised bed planters or large quantities of soil, you’ll need to check that your balcony is sound enough to bare that weight.
Finally, ask yourself if your balcony receives enough light to keep plants happy. While some flowers and herbs can handle lower light conditions, most vegetables require at least 6 hours of bright light daily in order to grow properly. To decide if you can keep a balcony garden, watch how much light your balcony receives throughout the day and, if possible, throughout the growing season too!
2. Choose the right balcony plants.
There is a surprising amount of flowers, herbs, and vegetables that you can grow in a small balcony space; however, not all plants are appropriate for this type of growing environment. Very tall plants, like corn and standard-sized sunflowers, are usually too big for balconies, as are sprawling plants like pumpkins, squash, and melons. You may be able to grow some of these vining plants with trellising, but their large size can make it difficult to maintain them.
For the most part, it’s much easier to grow smaller vegetables, herbs, and flowers on a balcony. Compact growers, like carrots and lettuce, can be squeezed into small spaces, which will allow you to get very creative with your planting arrangements. Plants that work for square-foot gardening are all excellent choices for balcony gardens, but there are other plants you can keep in these setups too.
Some of the best plants to grow on balconies include:
Most vegetables that grow in a compact form are suitable for balconies. Determinate or bush-type vegetables are usually a good choice since they don’t sprawl as much as indeterminate growers. That said, vining plants can be trained to grow up trellising, which can help you conserve a lot of valuable space on your balcony.
Vegetables and fruit like root vegetables (carrots, beets, turnips, radishes, etc.), leafy greens (kale, Swiss chard, spinach, etc.), lettuce, determinate tomatoes, beans, peas, cucumbers, peppers, eggplants, strawberries, dwarf citrus trees, potatoes, sweet potatoes, turmeric, and ginger are all good candidates for growing in pots in a balcony garden.
Herbs are some of the absolute best plants to grow on balconies since most of these plants stay small and grow happily in pots.
Herbs like mint (peppermint, spearmint, lemon balm, etc.), cilantro, parsley, sage, chives, and more are all good choices for balconies.
Many different flowers and other ornamental plants can be kept on balconies, but often the best choices are annual plants since you won’t have to worry about overwintering them. While some perennials can be kept outside all year round in pots, their roots won’t be as protected in containers as they would be in the ground, so more cold-sensitive plants may be less likely to overwinter well. Annuals, on the other hand, are only meant to grow for a single year, which will allow you to switch up your balcony planter boxes every spring.
Many different annual flowers can look very pretty on balconies, but some of the most common choices include petunias, impatiens, geraniums, violas, fuchsia, dwarf sunflowers, and celosia.
3. Pick the right pots.
Since very few plants can grow successfully in waterlogged soil, it’s essential to pick well-draining pots or containers to use in your balcony garden. Terracotta pots are one obvious choice, but fabric grow bags also work very well since they are breathable, and they won’t trap water around plant roots. Other containers and raised bed setups can be perfect for balcony gardens too, but you’ll need to add drainage holes if containers don’t already have them.
You may be concerned that drainage holes will cause your pots to leak all over your balcony or drip down to balconies located beneath you. While that is a valid concern, there are some fixes for that too, which we will cover in a minute. However, because root rot is one of the quickest and surest ways to kill plants, it’s critical to choose well-draining pots for any gardening setup.
In addition to drainage holes, it’s also important to select pots and containers that are big enough to give your plants plenty of room to grow. While pot sizes will vary depending on the type of plant you’d like to keep, you can use the following guidelines to help you choose the right-sized containers for your balcony garden:
- A single tomato plant will grow best in a 5 to 10-gallon pot.
- A single lettuce plant can be kept in a 6 to 8” diameter pot.
- One sage plant can grow in a 10” diameter pot.
- Three dwarf sunflower plants can grow in a 15” diameter pot.
- Dwarf citrus trees should have at least a 5-gallon pot.
4. Grow vertically with trellises.
For small spaces, determinate and bush-type plants, like beans, peas, and tomatoes, are usually the best choice. However, vining plants can offer benefits to small-space balcony gardeners. Specifically, these plants can often be trained to grow up trellises, which will save you a lot of valuable gardening space.
Most gardeners overlook the option of growing plants vertically, but this is the best way to stretch a limited garden space. Which trellises you choose will depend upon the plants you’d like to keep and how much room you have on your balcony, but some popular plant support options are:
- Bamboo poles
- Cattle panel trellises
- Other ornamental trellises
- A-frame trellises
- Lightweight trellis netting
Using trellises on balconies can allow you to grow a wide variety of climbing plants that you may otherwise never be able to fit in a small garden space. Some plants that can grow vertically with trellises include:
- Morning glories
- Sweet peas
- Some squash and zucchini varieties
- Some melons (usually dwarf or mini melons are the best choices for balcony gardens)
5. Try out railing planters.
Another smart way to maximize balcony spaces is to make good use of your railings. Today, you can find many different railing planters that are large enough to fit an assortment of flowers, herbs, or smaller vegetables, like lettuce and leafy greens.
Some railing planters fit right on top of balcony railings, while others can be hung in front of railings with helpful mounting hooks. You can even find railing planters to match different home decors, such as these traditional planters or these rustic-looking planters that would look oh-so-sweet on a cabin balcony!
While you’ll generally want to select railing planters based on the size of the plants you’d like to grow, if you plan on keeping edible plants, be sure to select planters that are made out of materials that are safe to use around food crops.
6. Use hanging baskets and other creative pot ideas.
Beyond trellising and railing planters, there are lots of other space-saving planter designs that will allow you to pack a lot of plants into a balcony space.
Hanging baskets are one obvious choice, which can be hung from the roof above a balcony. Trailing plants, like strawberries and petunias, always look lovely in these sorts of setups. You can also find hanging pots for larger plants, like tomatoes, that have space for lots of soil to support healthy root growth.
Alternatively, you can try out premade grow towers, or you can build your own with upcycled shelving or trellises if you want to get creative. There are also a lot of store-bought raised beds that can work on balconies, but you can also make your own simple raised bed garden to fit your growing space.
Depending on the look you’re going for, you can select color-coordinated pots, or you can add a mixture of different growing containers for a more mixed and whimsical display. The most important thing to consider when selecting growing containers is the size of the container and whether or not it will drain well. Everything beyond that is just a matter of personal taste!
7. Add a quality soil mix.
While it may be tempting to use the soil in your backyard to fill up your growing containers, this is not the best choice. Garden soil is quite dense, and it can easily become compacted in growing containers due to water, exposure to the elements, and other factors. When this occurs, it can constrict plant roots, reduce drainage and cause other issues that may affect the growth of your plants.
To avoid this, select a potting mix that is intended for container growing. Most potting mixes and bagged raised bed soils are appropriate for balcony gardens. Or, if you prefer DIY, you can also make your own potting mix by blending together 50% topsoil, 30% compost, and 20% other organic matter (like chopped autumn leaves).
When you’re ready to plant, fill up your pots most of the way with the potting mix of your choice, and don’t press it down too much, as this can cause overly dense soil. Also, don’t add potsherds or gravel to the base of growing containers, as this can create a false water table and actually make pots less likely to drain.
8. Prevent water from dripping.
One of the most common concerns with balcony gardens is dripping pots. While this is unlikely to cause a problem if you own your own property or you don’t have any downstairs neighbors, if you live in a busy apartment building, a dripping balcony garden can cause issues.
Especially after watering, pots may accidentally drip onto downstairs balconies, and that can be messy. One option is to locate pots over balcony railings so that they drain only on the ground below. Alternatively, you can water your plants only at certain times of the day when you know no one else will be using their balconies, so splashing won’t be as much of a problem.
However, the best way to handle dripping pots is to address the drip before it even starts! To do this, you can add plant saucers beneath small pots or larger drainage trays beneath bigger growing containers to catch excess water. Placing plastic mats and sheeting under growing containers or using self-watering pots with large water reservoirs can also help prevent water issues.
You may also be able to use different watering methods, such as sink watering, to prevent leaky pots. And, of course, avoid overwatering your plants, as this is the single greatest cause of water drips.
9. Keep on top of pests.
Pests are less likely to be problems in balcony gardens, but they can still occur. That’s why you’ll want to check your plants over from time to time for any evidence of pests or other plant diseases.
Some pests, like aphids and cucumber beetles, are easy enough to see with your eyes, but other pests are excellent hiders, so you may just see the evidence they leave behind. Signs of pest activity and plant distress can include:
- Yellow or discolored plant leaves
- Visible holes, skeletonized leaves, or ragged leaf margins
- Broken stems or completely missing plants and leaves
- Pale plants, sometimes with visible leaf veining
- Wilted plants or deformed leaves
- Stunted growth
If you notice any of these issues, look your plants over to see if you can determine what exactly is ailing them. Plant nutritional deficiencies often result in plant leaves with dark veins, and they can usually be fixed with fertilizer. Pests, on the other hand, can be treated organically with handpicking or products like organic insecticidal soap or neem oil sprays.
10. Fertilize wisely.
Most plants will benefit from some fertilizer, and heavy-feeding plants, like tomatoes and potatoes, should be fertilized several times throughout the growing season to produce a large harvest of edible crops. Different plants have different fertilizer needs, however, so you’ll want to do a bit of research to determine how much fertilizer you should use on your own balcony garden.
Well-balanced, all-purpose, organic fertilizers will work well with most plants; however, fruiting and flowering plants often benefit from a low-nitrogen fertilizer. Conversely, leafy greens love lots of nitrogen, which will support the development of lush leaves. While you can use different fertilizers in your garden, some good organic fertilizer options for balcony gardens include:
Compost, compost tea, and worm castings are other excellent products to add to balcony gardens to boost plant growth and health. All these products are very easy to make, and they’ll be even more convenient to use if you set up a home composting bin on your balcony. Many composters and worm bins are very compact and can easily slip right into a balcony garden space!
11. Don’t forget to water!
How often you’ll need to water your balcony garden will depend on the plants you’re growing, as well as the temperature and weather. Most plants do well with about 1” of water per week; however, some plants require a lot more water than that. On the other end of the spectrum, drought-tolerant plants typically have lower watering needs and may develop root rot if they’re overwatered.
One way to simplify watering is to use self-watering planters, which will take a lot of the guesswork out of watering. These planters contain large water reservoirs, and they may not need to be refilled for several weeks. If you travel often or you don’t have a lot of time to spend on your balcony garden, self-watering planters may be just the solution you’ve been looking for.
Another option is to install a drip irrigation system. While these systems are mostly associated with inground beds, they can be worked into balcony setups. Even better, since these systems use automatic timers, they can be fully automated, and you won’t need to hand water your plants at all!
12. Try out these other space-saving tips.
While the right pots and plants are critical for balcony gardening, there are a few other ways that you can make your small space garden even more productive.
Using the techniques of square-foot gardening can allow you to pack even more plants into a small window box or raised container bed. Succession planting can also allow you to grow more plants as you’ll continuously sow new seeds throughout the year, which means you’ll never have bare soil going to waste!
Pruning certain plants, like tomatoes, at the right time can encourage plants to fill out more and produce additional branches of fruit. And starting your garden with nursery starts, rather than seeds, will also extend your growing season and help you get mature fruit, flowers, and vegetables even earlier in the year.
Using floating row covers, cloches, or other products for season extension can also lengthen your growing season, allowing you to grow vegetables for a few weeks longer in spring and autumn. Finally, selecting plant varieties that can handle the cold, such as spinach, mache, and radicchio, will allow you to continue gardening well into fall and winter in many areas.
Even in the depths of the city, you can grow baskets full of plump tomatoes, fiery hot peppers, and gorgeous cut flowers right on your balcony! Although space may be limited, if you follow a few simple gardening tips, you can grow a lot of plants successfully in a tiny balcony space.
Part of the secret of balcony gardening is choosing the right plants and pots, including self-watering planters. Using vertical planting methods is also a great space-saving technique. If you’re new to working with trellising, you can learn all about the best trellis options for balconies with this easy gardening guide.