A balcony is the new garden for many Australians as an increasing number of people move into apartments. No matter what size your outdoor space is, there is always something that can be done, and if you have a green thumb then there’s no reason why your balcony can’t have a gorgeous display of plants.
There are certain challenges that come with having an enclosed concrete space, however, with a few simple assessments, you can create a beautiful backyard specially designed to thrive in these conditions. To help you make the most of your balcony, we’ve put together a guide to creating a bite-sized garden in just five simple steps.
Step 1… Assess
Before getting started on your balcony garden there are a few things to consider first. If you’re renting, check if you need to get permission to make any alterations to your balcony. You should also consider what your balcony’s structural load is. The last thing you want to do is overload it if there are restrictions in place! Next, work out how much sunlight your balcony gets per day, which direction it faces, how hot or cold it gets, if it is sheltered or not, and if rain can reach the plants. Answering these few questions will help you work out what you can and can’t achieve before you start making any firm plans.
Step 2… What do you want from your space?
Once you’ve answered those initial assessment questions, then you can begin to plan. Write down your ideas, what you would like from your outdoor space, whether you want to grow produce or plants – or both; if you want privacy or a place to kick back and enjoy the view; or whether you want to lay some specially adapted turf for a more natural garden feel. Remember, you want to maximise your space so you can tend to it and enjoy it without being too cramped, so avoid lots of large pots and accessories. You can keep things more spacious with some vertical planters, over-rail pots or hanging baskets.
Step 3… Which plants?
After you've mapped out a design you can start choosing your plants accordingly. Balconies are often microclimates with more extreme temperatures and conditions than you’d get down on the ground. Consider the amount of sunlight your plants will receive, if there is shelter from harsh elements, if your balcony faces close to the ocean, and if plants will receive rainwater – if not you may want to consider installing a Retractable Hose Reel or free-standing Metal Hose Reel Box for easy watering. This will all help you to make the right decisions on what to plant. If you have a hot, exposed balcony space then choose sun-loving plants such as marigolds, lavender, cordylines and cacti. If your balcony is shady, then palms, hellebores and succulents are a good choice. For balconies prone to strong winds, consider planting shorter potted plants whose stems won’t be likely to bend and break, or think about installing a bamboo screen to give your balcony extra protection.
Step 4… Maintenance
If you don’t have a natural source of water available, or if your balcony is exposed to hot, dry conditions through much of the day, then manual watering needs to be considered. Potted plants generally need more water than a garden, so it will likely benefit you to have a hose nearby or irrigation system set up. If you don’t have an outdoor tap then you will need to plan how you'll water your plants. A watering can might sound like an easy alternative, but if you have a large space or plentiful plants then running back and forth to an indoor tap several times per day may not realistically suit you. In this case, drought-tolerant plants should be considered.
Just like with growing plants inside, you will need to provide good quality drainage and a place for excess water to go to see your new plants thrive. Mulching is also hugely beneficial for potted plants to stop them from drying out as quickly and to reduce water evaporation. You should also consider boosting your plants with a fertiliser once per year, carrying out some light pruning and re-potting your plants from time to time – most will benefit from being re-potted annually as their roots outgrow the containers.
Step 5… Sit back and enjoy!
Consider adding some garden furniture to complete your new outdoor digs. Setting aside a place to relax and enjoy your hard work will make it all worth it. And, there’s no need to stop there. If space allows, invest in a compact barbecue positioned next to any herbs you might be growing for some extra flavoursome al fresco dining. If you intend to use your balcony at night, then consider installing some lighting or solar lights (if the space gets enough sunlight). If you don’t have much room or can’t get out on to the balcony, then consider having just a few colourful over-rail pots for a vibrant, easy-to-maintain display.