Not everyone has a garden. Some flat-dwellers are, however, lucky enough to have a balcony and these can become wonderful high-rise gardens if you know what to plant.
There’s room for some greenery, wherever you live, from the smallest studio apartment through to a terraced house with a tiny back yard. Not only will plants look good but studies have shown that they are good for your health too. There are window boxes, balcony boxes and plants that are happy to sit on a windowsill. Some people even manage to house a hanging basket indoors where it overflows with colourful annuals, protected from frost and wind. Indeed, almost anything is possible. In fact, thousands of people grow a wide range of plants in tiny spaces. They just need to think about basic requirements.
If it’s a balcony you are hoping to adorn with plants, consider the potential issue of weight. Check out your space via a structural engineer if you’re not sure a balcony can take it. Or restrict the size of your planter and use a compost mix which is lightweight. Mixing vermiculite with compost is a good idea.
The greatest enemy of balconies is the wind. It tends to whistle around upper storeys, even on a calm day. Choose your plant varieties carefully because the majority won’t enjoy the constant buffeting. Sunshine is another consideration. There are some plants that will be happy facing north, but most of them will prefer south or west. They will face the extremes on a balcony.
It’s all perfectly possible, however! Perhaps you have noticed the gradual greening of above-ground spaces that has evolved as the years slip by? Modern apartment blocks are sometimes designed to house semi-mature trees on their balconies. Plants help remove some of the pollution in the environment. They reduce the ‘heat island’ effect and soak up water which helps to alleviate flood risk. Their foliage makes an appealing rustling noise which is calming. Even the colour green is meant to be good for people to look at. Many people grow vegetables on their balconies and indeed they enjoy great success. Fresh food, just a few steps away from the kitchen, is hard to beat.
Be realistic about what you can hope to achieve. Think about pots that will keep plants warm, such as terracotta in the sunshine. You can secure shelving onto walls and use the balcony rails and edges for planters that straddle the structure. But tie them down! Group plants together so they can protect each other and create their own micro-climate.
Everything you choose to put on a balcony will need to be drought and wind tolerant. The plants also need to be happy enough to live permanently in a pot. They can try to break out of their container if they’re not given enough food. Generally, the small-leafed plants are more wind-tolerant than those with large leaves. You have to be prepared to water and feed regularly.
Plants to avoid on balconies
Japanese Acers tend to suffer very easily from wind burn and they won’t look very impressive on balconies unless they are very sheltered. Architectural tree ferns will dry out too much and are unlikely to survive. Even bamboo doesn’t take too kindly to high-rise living as it thrives on copious watering.
Plants suitable for balconies
What can you plant on a balcony? The first beauty that springs to mind is the olive tree, provided it occupies a sunny spot. They are drought tolerant and the small leaves allow the wind to pass through easily. What’s more, they look amazing too. The larger they grow, the more interesting they become, particularly those lovely trunks.
Geraniums, or more correctly pelargoniums, will be perfectly happy in drought-like conditions. What’s more, they will give you some amazingly colourful flowers in the summer. There are many different alpine plants that will be well-suited to windy and dry conditions. Some ornamental grasses will also tolerate the conditions and plants that have edible leaves such as sage, rosemary and thyme are often robust enough to enjoy the above-ground habitat. There are root vegetables such as beetroot and carrots that can do well, and even raspberries, blackberries and gooseberries too. Be bold enough to experiment and you’ll soon be able to add to the list of balcony-loving plants!
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