Hello ladies. Is there an apartment balcony garden in your future? Are you wondering if it’s even possible to downsize from your gorgeous back yard garden and still be happy? Never mind that the space that’s going to replace your ample backyard may only measure 6’x10’ right? If you’ve always enjoyed mucking about in the dirt, this balcony stuff might seem pretty lame by comparison. But I’m here to reassure you that not only is it possible, but it can look beautiful and it can be fun too.
Mind you, like everything new in life, there’s always a learning curve isn’t there? Luckily for you, if you had a garden previously, you’re already half way there. You understand plants and their varied requirements and their many attributes. I think really the hardest thing is the issues of pot sizes and watering. You want your plants to stay alive but you don’t want to flood out the balcony below yours. After all, we want to enjoy our apartment balcony garden, but we also want to get along with the neighbours right? In light of those considerations, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what might be the best route to go and I’ll share with you what I’ve settled on in a bit.
Apartment Balcony Garden Microclimates Are All Different….
But first, just so you are aware of the kind of micro-climate situation that I’m working with, I’ll give you those details. That way, when you come to studying your own situation, you’ll be able to sort of compare what you have to what I’m finding works in mine.
I’m on the south east corner of our building. This means my apartment balcony garden gets the sun from the time it comes up in the morning until about 2:00. We have a glass balustrade around it which means that if it does rain, none of that really benefits my pots. Oh, and there’s an overhang that extends as far as the glass rail. So any watering that happens is completely up to me and comes from the kitchen faucet via a watering can.
Too Many Choices Makes Deciding Hard to Do….
While some folks love a haphazard and uber-organic look to their gardens (translate to, ‘a wild assortment of pots and baskets and aging cottage-y types of planters’), I prefer something a little more formal and structured. Also, I decided that since I won’t be spending a lot of money on this garden of mine in the years ahead, I’d choose pots today that looked good together and that I really like.
What’s more, because an apartment balcony garden can’t give you the grander, spaciousness of a full sized garden, it makes sense to choose containers that you love. You’re going to get up close and personal every day with those pots. So what’s the benefit if they’re cheap but you hate them? The only hangup was that there are too many possible choices. And being the ditherer that I am, I was undecided for a lot longer than you’ll probably be. But anyway, I finally settled on three 36″ tall pots and two 24″ ones that are identical, to form the ‘bones’ of my design. I also bought three other identical 18″ pots that are different but that go well with the taller ones.
Pots With Holes or Not, For My Apartment Balcony Garden?
Now if you are not used to gardening, it would be best if you chose pots that are fairly large and that also have drainage holes. That way as you’re getting used to your new apartment balcony garden hobby, you won’t drown those beautiful plants that you’ve chosen. And the larger your pots are, the less likely they are to dry out so fast that your plants accidentally get fried by the summer sun. In my case, for a variety of reasons, I chose tall pots with no drainage holes. But I did do a couple things to minimize the chances of killing my plants with too much water and I’ll explain what what that was.
What to Do If Your Balcony Garden Pots Have No Holes…
My pots are about 36 “ high and in the bottom, I put a 4-5” layer of rocks. On top of that, 4” of bark mulch and the rest of the pot got filled with the dirt to set my plants in. The rocks will provide space for excessive water to drain to. And the bark mulch will do two things. It will soak up some of the water and be a bit of a moisture reserve and will keep the dirt from washing down into the rocks which would blow the point of having them there as drainage.
If your pots aren’t quite that tall, just cut back on the depths of your rock and mulch layer.
Achieving Colorful Planters Without Using Flowers…
Choosing Plants for My Apartment Balcony Garden….
When it came to choosing the plants for my pots, I approached it a little differently too. Instead of the typical geraniums/lobelio/petunia flowering annuals, I decided to go a different route. My plants had to have the following attributes:
- colourful foliage (think blue’s, yellows, acid greens, dark greens, burgundies)
- assorted textures (grasses, deciduous leaves, every green leaves, needles, etc.)
- be slow growing
- various habits of growth (hanging, upright, tight ball shapes, open branching, etc.)
- have similar requirements for watering and sun exposure. In my case I focused on plants that could take either full sun or light shade. You might need to only chose shade plants or maybe only full sun plants.
Why I Didn’t Want Masses of Gorgeous, Colourful Flowers…..
I decided to go with colourful foliage instead of masses of annual flowers because I hate dead heading. There are more interesting things to do than stand there and strip off the old, withered flowers. And face it, if you want that massive basket of petunia’s to look wonderful all season, you’re going to have to fertilize a lot AND you’re going to have to dead-head them. All summer and into the fall. And especially if it’s a major feature of your apartment balcony garden. But if you go the colourful foliage route you can cross that off your list of things to do through the summer. Instead, you get to water as needed and just enjoy it the rest of the time.
How to Arrange the Plants That I Did Choose….
As you can see by the photos, I’ve chosen an assortment of shrubs, perennials and a little skinny Japanese maple. It has the most wonderful little acid-green leaves that seem to float along the lines of the branches. When it comes to placing the plants that you’ve chosen, think of it as an artist would. It’s all about contrasting your shapes, colours, lines, types of leaves whether big or small, dark or light. This is really the fun part so have fun and experiment. So pick something that is ‘ball’ shaped and combine it with something else that is straighter. To that add something that will be angular and perhaps hangs downward over the edge….
TIPS FOR PLANTING UP MY NEW, TALL, BEAUTIFUL POTS
- Give each pot that you’re going to plant, a soaking in a bucket of water.
- Place 4″ of gravel in the bottom of your pot.
- Add a 3-4″ layer of bark mulk or a layer of that cocoa matting stuff that nurseries line wire baskets with.
- Fill to 10″ from the top of the pot. Ultimately, you’ll want the dirt to come up to about 2″ from the top of the pot. This will give you enough room yet to put a layer of the bark mulch on top. I strongly suggest that you do this too and for two reasons. It keeps the dirt from becoming compacted when you water and it prevents evaporation so you will water less.
- Plant your tallest plant first and at the back edge of your pot. After you get that one tucked in, plant the next and just work your way forward. I also made one minor change to the things I’ve already mentioned. I found one of those small flowered plants that looks like a very small petunia. That was my one nod to summer annuals and it’s starting to be a wonderful counterpoint with it’s purple blossoms beside the sharp yellow-green of a little creeping Jenny.
- Once your plants are settled in their places, take handfuls of dirt and gently drop it wherever the dirt is low. When you’re done, you want all the roots covered and a nice level surface.
- The final touch will be to place handsful of bark mulch so that you have a layer that’s about 1-2″ deep. Remember, you’re preventing both soil compaction and evaporation of the water that your plants need.
- Some folks like to fertilize their plants once every couple weeks. But you know, after years of gardening, I’ve changed to fertilizing every time I water. That way I don’t have to try and remember when the last time was. No notes on calenders, no special tags or labels. But the secret is that I cut waaaay back on how much fertilizer I add to the water. So for a five gallon watering can, I add about 1/3 of a tsp of Miracle Grow plant food. That instead of the 5 tablespoons. Keep in mind that because my apartment balcony garden isn’t getting any rainfall, I’m watering a bit every day to every couple days. So a small amount of fertilizer each time and your plants get the nutrients that they need. Well that’s my way, but adjust your schedule to suit you. No rules you know. Oh wait a minute, there is one rule to this. About the end of July, I quit fertilizing and just give them water. The reason is that about that time of the summer, plants are normally finished with their peak growing season. Their next job will be to draw nourishment into the roots to prepare for the coming winter. A healthy root system survives bad weather better.
The Universal Hobby and the Addicts Who Love It….
Are you indulging your need to play in the dirt with a back yard or an apartment balcony garden? Well you’re part of a vast club of gardening addicts. And most of us find that after a long, cold winter, the urge to plant things is very hard to ignore. So we jump in, buy the pots, haul the dirt and cherish the gems that we find at the nursery. And most of all, share the joy that our gardens bring us no matter how big they are.
And What Kind of Gardening Tips Do You Have to Share?
If you enjoyed reading about my developing garden and have some stories or comments that you’d like to share, don’t hesitate. I like learning from all of you and frankly, just enjoy chatting about gardening stuff. So don’t be shy about sharing how your garden is growing this year! We’re waiting with baited breathe!
Love to you all and have a great day, wherever you are!
As always, I will remind you that I’m not a medical doctor. I’ve spent the last 20 years focusing on and learning to ‘grow’ my own health however. And that’s what I’m sharing here. All of it based on my own experiences and also the things that I’ve learned from the real experts! Those are the researchers and doctors who’ve seen the actual patients, worked in the labs and write the medical reports that are sprinkled throughout these posts.
My goal is to motivate and help you find your best way to live a healthier and more peaceful life. I and Ageless at Sixty cannot be held liable for any resulting injury or adverse change in health status.
If you change anything about your activities or lifestyle, please check with your doctor. This would include changes to your exercise routines and any medications you might be taking or other supplements.
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