Blooming your balcony, gardening tips for apartment and condo dwellers
Image: Flickr/Sletsie van Erve
There is something magical about spring that inspires new activities. Maybe this means drying your laundry on a line outside, maybe it means walking to work, or maybe it means that you’re eager to get back to the garden. If you’re like me and live in a highrise, there’s not much space in your apartment or condo, and there is definitely no patch of dirt that you can grow anything in, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have a garden. All you really need are some pots, plants or seeds, access to water and a bit of sunlight.
Before you start buying every plant that you think is pretty, take some time to plan. Make sure that the plants you want to buy are going to be viable in the space that you have. For instance, if your balcony faces west and only gets sunlight for two hours of the day, a plant that requires five hours of sun probably isn’t going to do that well. In turn you need to also consider the rest of the climate on your balcony. Is it windy, hot, cold. sunny, shady? Balconies can have more than one climate so choose plants according to what fits the space. You also have to consider other factors like budget, space, access to water, building regulations, winter storage and the amount of time you’re willing to put into your garden.
Once you’ve determined the climate of your balcony, you need to consider the best types of plants to fit that climate. You can find what you’re looking for by doing some simple research online. Keep in mind that most flowered plants require pollination and many of them rely on animals or the wind to do this for them. If your balcony is too high off the ground, or doesn’t get any wind your flowering plants are going to have a hard time pollinating themselves. Toronto Master Gardeners, a website containing helpful advice for Torontonian gardeners (they invite questions for gardening advice through this form on their site), recommends enticing these pollinators to your balcony with the promise of lots of tasty pollen and nectar. They say to use plants of different heights to imitate a layered canopy. Try to block the wind with a trellis or tarp and place alike plants close together so that the pollinator doesn’t have to do as much work finding the next flower to pollinate. Toronto Master Gardeners also advise using native plants, as pollinators are more apt to pollinate these before a foreign plant. If you’re really struggling with getting pollinators to your balcony, there are certain plants that self pollinate or you can try pollinating your plants by hand. This is when you use a cotton swab or brush to collect the pollen on the male parts (stamen, anthers) of the flower and transfer it to the female part (pistil) of the flower.
Finally, once you’ve done your research and chosen appropriate plants or seeds, you’ll need containers for them to grow in. The options for containers are almost endless, but each has its own set of pros and cons. Blooming our Balconies, the partner of Toronto Master Gardeners, is a hub for Toronto’s balcony gardening community, and they offer helpful advice for beginners on the best containers. Wooden containers are easy and cheap to construct, but are porous and can contain disease or pests that will harm your plants. Clay pots don’t have the risk of disease and pests but they are more expensive and porous—meaning they need to be watered more often. They can also crack if they’re left out over the winter. Cheap and colourful alternatives are plastic pots; however, these walls do not breathe and most will need a drainage system to prevent soggy roots. Other alternatives include fiberglass and polyethylene, but again these can be pricey.
Of course, if you want to go the natural route you can always construct your own hypertufa pot, but these will break down over time. You can really use anything to house your plants unless they are containers that have been coated in preservatives or previously held a toxic substance. Mix up your garden by using hanging or wall baskets to maximize space.
Blooming our Balconies also warns that the soil you stock in your chosen pots shouldn’t be normal dirt. It’s too heavy for a container balcony garden and is too dense to drain properly. the most popular method is using a soilless growing mix (potting soil) and some sort of fertilizer on top. These soilless mixes are extremely lightweight and porous, but do not give plants any of the necessary nutrients found in regular soil. Both the soilless mix and fertilizers are easy to find, and relatively cheap. Again, there are many different types of soilless mixes, but you should look for one made of peat moss, pine bark and perlite or vermiculite. Some bags will include “starter charge.” This just means that it includes a slow inducing fertilizer. You should still add fertilizer to these mixes but you may not need as much to do the job.
Before moving your plants outside be sure that there is no risk of frost. You don’t want to kill your plants before you’ve even had a chance to enjoy them. Plants are like people, each has a different set of needs, so pay attention to the amount of water, sunshine, and wind they are getting.
Balcony gardening can be an easy way to liven up your living space, recycle air and reduce stress. Happy gardening.
Jennifer Wilson is the web editorial intern at Post City Magazines. During her off time she enjoys being active outside and exploring Toronto. You can find her on instagram or twitter @wilsjenn.