Having a balcony garden can become a delightful extension to your living space and really brighten up your outside space. It can also make for a really enjoyable hobby. HGTV even named having an urban balcony garden a top Pinterest trend in 2017. Managing a garden on your balcony can be a little tricky so there are a few practical considerations to make before you begin.
Checking In And Getting Approval
First and foremost, check with your building super or landlord, if applicable, and secure any authorization in written form. If you live in a condo, apartment or townhouse, odds are you don’t actually own the building in which your unit is contained. As such, what you can do with the balcony is subject to specific rules and regulations. It’s the utmost importance to figure out what they are before even starting. It’s also good to keep in mind that the city or suburb you live in may also be subject to local building regulations and restrictions as well, so we suggest starting with your building codes and going out from there. While you will probably not need a permit to create an urban balcony garden, it’s always a good idea to get everything in writing, just in case.
In some places, the suspension of plants outside the railings is prohibited. Ditto for hanging or vertical planters; as you probably can’t drill holes into the floor of the balcony above you either. So container gardening is typically the best approach for a balcony. Be mindful of weight restrictions, though—clusters of containers, in addition to the soil in the containers, can get heavy real fast. Consider how much weight your balcony can support and err on the side of caution. Most building codes require a balcony to be able to support 60 pounds per square foot but it’s best to check your area for specific weight guidelines. If in doubt choose lighter plastic pots over heavier terracotta or stone alternatives. Position the heaviest pots closer to load-bearing walls or over supporting joists.
Even if you have determined the overall structure of the balcony is safe and secure, you can make it dangerous simply by positioning items in the wrong place. You need to ensure that there are no pots, chairs or other items that children can potentially climb on by the side of the railings.
Another thing to keep in mind is the safety of your pets as well. Not only are pets also prone to climbing (ahem cats) but some common household plants can be harmful, even deadly to our furry friends. ASPCA is a good resource for looking up plants that could be harmful to pets. It can be overwhelming at first to figure out which plants are toxic and non-toxic so here’s an easy cheat sheet with 23 common plants poisonous to household pets.
Start With A Strategy
Presuming that you dotted your i’s and crossed your t’s, the next step is to design your urban balcony garden. Just like a normal garden, you will need to consider a range of factors when designing the layout, including;
Assessing Your Microclimate
What is a microclimate you may ask? Simply put, microclimates are just smaller versions of the everyday climate where you live: temperature, rainfall, wind, sunshine. Traditionally, a gardener might take a peek at the USDA Hardiness Zone Map to determine plants that are best suited for their environment. Once you’ve determined your regional climate, you get the fun of discovering the microclimate of your space – differences to look out for could be warmer or cooler; wetter or drier; windier or calmer; and the amount of direct sunlight. Using your specific microclimate to your advantage will help in choosing what plants you may want to have (or not!) and might even save you from heartbreak later on.
Water and Drainage
A big, possibly the biggest, concern for balcony gardeners is watering. Watering and drainage. More often than not, a balcony will not have direct (tap) access to a water source so coming up with a game plan beforehand is essential. The most common mistake when it comes to container garden maintenance is over- or underwatering the plants. Plant containers dry out faster than those in the ground, especially on hot, sunny and/or windy days, so checking on the plants daily is recommended. On the flip side, plants in containers need good drainage to encourage healthy root growth. Plant containers need drainage holes, as well as a loose potting soil mix to allow water to permeate all throughout the soil and container. Watering must be done with care and consideration, mind you. Just because you want to give your plants a good soak doesn’t mean your neighbors want water dripping down on them. Luckily, there are quite a few solutions that you can work with and figure out which best suits you and your garden.
- Reitman, Erica. “Our Top 16 Picks From the 2017 ‘Pinterest 100’ Trend Report”. HGTV. https://www.hgtv.com/design-blog/design/pinterest-design-trends-for-2017″.
- “Poisonous Plants”. ASPCA.https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants.
- Breyer, Melissa. “23 Common Plants Poisonous to Pets”. Care2.https://www.care2.com/greenliving/24-common-plants-poisonous-to-pets.html.
- “USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map”. United States Department of Agriculture.https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/.
- Pam. “Microclimate: How to Use It to Your Advantage.” Fast-Growing-Trees. https://www.fast-growing-trees.com/blog/microclimate-advantages/. (26 July, 2017)
- “Choosing A Container for Planting”. University of Illinois Extension, Successful Container Gardens. https://extension.illinois.edu/containergardening/choosing_drainage.cfm.