GROW IN ABUNDANCE: How to Start a Balcony Garden

By Sommer Cartier.


creative commons
Balcony garden.

There is something really enjoyable about balcony gardening. It’s a place to commune with nature, decompress and let your creative juices flow. With a little creative thinking, you’ll discover there are many ways to grow your own food with very little space while creating the perfect little refuge after a long hard day.


With balcony gardening, it is important to plan before planting. Below are some helpful points to consider before starting.


Space:

If you have a small balcony, you’ll need to get creative. Consider how much space you want to devote to plants and how much you will need for seating or storing a grill. When it comes to small space gardening walls, ceilings and railings are a blessing. While traditionally we think of gardening as something that happens in the ground, there’s a lot that can be grown vertically. Consider installing planters over railings and on walls. You can also mount a trellis above ground boxes to encourage vining plants to climb up rather than sprawl out over your balcony floor. Hanging baskets are another great option. With plants growing up from below and trailing down from above, you can create a lush, bountiful garden far grander than you ever thought a small balcony would allow.


Sunlight exposure:

How much sun does your balcony get? Does it get full sun (6 or more hours), partial sun (2-4 hours) or mostly shade? Is it sheltered from the wind? Or does it get a good breeze? Different plants have different growing needs. Knowing the conditions on your balcony will help you determine what plants will grow and thrive there.


Access to water:

Your crops will require frequent watering, especially during warmer periods. Consider how accessible your water is before deciding the number of containers to plant. Will you be using a watering can and how much time are you realistically willing to devote to watering by hand? If you have the right set up, a pipe hose can be a very convenient method for watering. Aqua globes, watering spikes and ollas are also fairly effective strategies for watering small gardens. They act as water reservoirs that slowly release water over time and only need to be refilled every week or two.


Selecting plants:

Below are a handful of cool season crops to consider for your balcony garden. For each of these plants, be sure to use a potting soil that is rich in organic matter and well-draining. For specifics on required care, please see the back of their respective seed packets.


· Herbs - herbs are a great choice given their high value, low space requirements. They require roughly 4 or more hours of sun, however, some will manage with less light. Most grow year-round in San Diego and can be harvested throughout the year. It is common to see multiple herbs planted in one pot. If arranging your herbs in this way, plant herbs with others that have similar moisture needs. For example, basil, an herb that prefers more water, should only be planted with other moisture loving herbs. Rosemary, an herb that prefers dryer conditions, should not be planted with basil.


· Peas – Peas are a perfect crop for containers. They don’t require a large container, just a little vertical space for climbing. They are prolific plants that require little care and grow fairly quickly, making them great for balcony gardens. If vertical space is hard to come by, opt for dwarf or bushier varieties such as Little Marvel or the Oregon Dwarf Snow Pea. These are low growing peas that will reach a height of roughly two feet.


· Lettuce/arugula/spinach – If planting during the cool season, these plants can be grown in full or partial sun. While they won’t be as prolific, they can even grow in mostly shaded spaces. They require very little sun to thrive. Choose a pot that’s at least 6-8 inches deep and has good drainage. These greens have shallow roots so the depth of the container is less important as the surface space. Wall planters, such as wooly pockets, make great growing containers for these leafy greens.


Lastly, remember to leave space for you to sit amongst your plants and enjoy them. Once your garden is off and growing, you will want to sit back and admire all of your hard work. Don’t sacrifice a space to unwind for a few more plants. If able, designate a place for a small table and chair or some floor pillows. You will be glad you did.


Sommer Cartier is a certified Master Gardener with a Master of Arts in International Development and Social Change. Her specialty is working with local food systems and using gardens as a tool for community engagement.