It’s great to start growing plants in the balcony but that’s just the beginning. I wanted to find out what it would take to maintain the balcony garden and you can find my research below.
Allow space to enjoy your balcony garden
We create a balcony garden to enjoy the plants we grow in them. But placing too many plants will overcrowd it.
Especially when we start a balcony garden, we may be excited and grow too many plants. So many that there might not be space to move around or sit in the balcony.
That’s a problem to avoid so the idea is to start small with a few plants. And then add plants as we gain experience and see the space available.
Leave some space in the balcony for a chair and to be able to move around taking care of the garden.
Avoid drainage problems that affect your neighbors
This is a common problem when you start balcony gardening. We have to water the plants, right? So what if a little water drips below on my neighbor’s apartment.
Growing plants on a balcony is a responsibility. And it’s important not to cause inconvenience to others.
The best solution is to use watering techniques that don’t leak water on the floor. If you have a few small containers, you can take them to the sink and water them. Let the water drain out before moving them back to the balcony.
If the containers are large, this might not be possible. You can place a saucer under the pot and cover it with a layer of gravel. This helps the draining water to collect into the saucer instead of flowing out of the balcony.
You do need to throw the water out of the saucer every few days. If you have lots of plants, this can be a chore.
A good solution is to use self-watering containers. These come with a reservoir along with the container. You fill up the reservoir and the plants absorb the required moisture without the need for water to drain out of the drainage holes.
You also get water-absorbing modules made with a hydrogel that soak up the water and release the moisture slowly into the soil. This can help prevent the water from draining out of the soil too fast and onto the balcony.
Keep your balcony garden clean and tidy
The longer you keep your balcony garden, the more dust, debris, dead leaves, branches, and insects it will collect.
That’s why it’s best to clean the balcony every quarter as you do for other areas of your apartment. Before you do that, move the plants and furniture out of the balcony and inside your apartment.
It’s best to put a plastic sheet or a bunch of newspapers in your apartment so it does not become dirty. You can dust off the containers before bringing them inside.
Start dusting from the top of the balcony so all that debris and dust falls to the floor for cleaning up later. You can use an extendable broom for doing this.
Then you can use a broom or vacuum cleaner to collect all the dust, dirt, and debris from the floor. You then need to clean the floor and how you do this depends on the type of the floor.
Floors can be made with wood, concrete, or tiles and you need to use the right tools for each. A tiled or wooden floor can be cleaned with a mop and cleaning solution. But for a concrete floor, you’ll need a hard scrub.
Once that is done, you can clean the balcony with cleaning soap and water. Make sure to block the edges with towels so the soap water does not fall into your neighbor’s apartment.
The last thing you need to do is to use clean water and a mop to make your balcony sparkling clean.
Keep your plants happy with watering
A big part of maintaining your balcony garden is watering your plants. You can’t just start growing plants and leave them.
The amount of watering you need to do depends on the type of plant you’re growing and the containers. Drought-tolerant plants like succulents and cacti don’t need much watering. They can go for weeks without the need for a drop of water.
If you’re a busy person who is traveling often or can’t go out to the balcony every day, these types of plants are a good choice.
Plants like herbs, fruits, and vegetables need a lot of water, especially during the growing season. You can check the moisture in the soil by sticking your finger 1-2 inches in it. If the soil feels dry, it’s time to water it.
If you’re using containers made with material like terra cotta, it can dry out fast because of its porous nature. And if your balcony gets a lot of wind, that also tends to dry out the soil fast.
It’s best to create a watering schedule so you can make sure the plants get the watering when they need it. The best time to water the balcony plants is in the morning before the sun comes out. This gives the plants sufficient time to absorb the moisture before it evaporates.
You can water in the evening as well if that suits your schedule. Just make sure not to splash water on the foliage. This can remain on the leaves overnight and invite fungal diseases.
If you have a large number of plants, it’s best to arrange them as per their watering requirements. This will save you time and effort as you don’t need to remember each and every plant’s watering schedule.
You can group the plants in batches based on their watering needs and then it’s easy to water them based on your schedule.
If you’re really busy and don’t get the time to visit your balcony garden, you can use a drip-irrigation system with a timer. This is an expensive solution and you need to set it up but it’s worth the price for saving you the time.
Another option is to use a self-watering container. You do need to fill the reservoir in these containers but you can do that after several days instead of watering your plants every day.
You can consider adding mulch to the top of the container. This could be material like dried leaves, wood chips, or straw. It helps insulate the soil and retain moisture for a longer time.
Don’t forget to feed your plants well
The plants in containers don’t have a lot of soil they can reach out into and gather nutrients. That’s why the responsibility falls on you.
When you start growing the plant or seed in a container, it’s best to add a balanced NPK slow-release organic fertilizer to the potting soil.
So as you water the soil every day, the fertilizer will be released into the soil and be available for the growing plants.
Once the plants have grown bigger, you can add liquid fertilizer to the leaves and soil every 2 to 4 weeks. You may need to increase the frequency during the growing season for vegetables like tomatoes.
Another option is to dilute the fertilizer with lots of water and then you can add it to the soil every day as part of your watering schedule.
You can also make a compost tea at home using store-bought compost. And then spray this compost tea on your plants every day.
It’s always good to keep your plants in shape
Plants are living organisms. And like all other living things they need to be taken care of.
You will find that after growing the plants for a while some leaves are wilting or turning yellow. Maybe some branches have dried up and are dead. Or there are weeds growing in the container.
It’s your job to take care of the plants you’re growing. So every day when you’re going to water the plants in the morning, take a good look at each of them.
Check the foliage of the plants and look underneath the leaves as well. You may find pests and diseases just by this observation.
If the leaves have turned yellow or the branches are dead, you can take them off. You can pinch the dead leaves and flowers with your fingers. But for the branches, it’s best to use pruners so you don’t damage the plants.
Make sure to clean the pruners before and after use for each plant. This helps protect the plants from transmitting diseases to each other. Using the pruners gives a clean cut that the plants can heal better than just pulling out the branches.
If you find a part of the plant has pests or diseases, it’s best to keep that plant away from the others. Get rid of the pests and cut off the diseased portion.
If the plant is too infested with pests or diseases to recover, it’s best to dispose of the plant. You can reuse the container but only after making sure it’s sterile.
Do this by mixing one part water with one part bleach. Then soak the container in this mix for at least 1 hour. Rinse the container well with water and let it dry out before using it again.
Make sure you do not use the potting soil that was already used in any container. This can transmit the existing fungal and bacterial diseases into the new plant you grow.
Protect your balcony plants from harsh weather
Your balcony garden can be a microclimate. This means it can have sun, shade, heat, cold, and other elements different than what might be in the area you live in.
If the balcony is large, even different areas within the balcony can form their own microclimates. You need to be aware of this when growing plants as per their needs.
If you find that a certain area of the balcony is getting a lot of sunlight, you don’t want your shade-loving plants growing there. Plants like spinach or lettuce will start wilting if they get too much heat. You need to move such plants away from the sunny areas into the shaded places on the balcony.
The opposite is also true. If you find that your plants are not growing as expected, it might be due to a lack of sunlight. Move the sun-loving plants to areas of the balcony where they can get full sun for the required number of hours.
There might be some plants that will do better in indirect sunlight that bounces off the walls or windowpanes. You can monitor your balcony garden and move the plants around as required.
Plants that are at the back of the balcony might not receive a good amount of sunlight. You may need to place them on an elevated platform so they can receive full sunlight.
If you live in an apartment that is at a height, the balcony is going to get a lot of wind. Some plants can deal with this better than others. You need to place your fragile plants behind the stronger ones to protect them.
You can place your smaller plants among the taller ones so the wind gets dispersed and they don’t receive the full impact. You can also invest in a windbreak that will shield your balcony plants from the harsh wind.
If there is a lot of rain that falls into your balcony, you may need to add a cover to avoid this. Or you will need to move the plants indoors when there’s heavy rainfall.
Prevent pots from falling on someone’s head
The danger of placing containers on a balcony is they can fall. And that can be bad if it falls on someone.
It’s your responsibility to ensure that the pots and baskets are secured when growing balcony plants. If this is not done, the wind may move the pots around causing a potential hazard.
You can tie the potted plants to the railing with some secure ties. You can also fix the hanging baskets and wall planters to ensure they don’t move around.
An option for potted plants is to stick them to the larger saucers you place below them to collect the water. You can also consider using pots made from heavy material like clay or metal in areas with the potential wind.
It’s best to keep an eye on the pots in the balcony garden as the plants grow bigger. A plant that was safe and secure a few weeks back might have grown larger and have a higher risk of falling over.
Deal with plants outgrowing their container
It’s going to happen that your plants will outgrow the container you started growing them in. You can avoid this problem by growing small plants that don’t grow beyond a limit. Or by regularly pruning your plants so they can remain the size you want them to be.
If you’re going to leave the plants growing without doing the above, it’s best you monitor them every day.
As soon as the plants show signs of stress, check whether it’s because the plant has outgrown the container. This happens when the soil runs dry too fast because the plant is root-bound and has covered the entire pot.
The plant will show a lack of growth and problems like leaves turning brown or yellow. And the plant might even topple over because it has become top-heavy.
When this happens, it’s time to transplant the plant from the small container to a larger one. It’s good to choose a container that is 1 to 2 sizes larger than the plant. This gives it sufficient growing space to spread out the roots.
Make sure the new pot is sterile and clean. You can soak it in a mix of 1 part bleach with 9 parts water and leave it for an hour. Then wash it well with water and dry it before use.
You can fill the larger container with a sterile potting soil till 1-inch from the rim. Dig a hole in the center of this potting soil having a space sufficient for the plant.
Gently tap the smaller container and place it on its side. Hold the base of the plant with your hand and gently remove the plant out with the roots. If the plant does not come out, you may need to break or cut open the pot.
Check if there are any rotting or unwanted roots sticking out that you can cut out. Place the plant roots into the hole you created in the new container. And then cover the roots up well by adding more potting soil. Water the soil well so that the water drains out of the bottom drainage hole.
Protect your plants from pests and diseases
Growing plants in the balcony helps protect them from the pests and diseases you would find in the garden soil. But there are still some problems you need to look out for.
Pests can still infest your balcony plants so you need to watch for them every day. Before you try to do something about it, make sure the insects are harmful to your plants. If there are beneficial insects like ladybugs, earwig, lacewing, you don’t want to hurt them.
Insects like aphids, caterpillars, slugs, and whiteflies are the ones you need to look out for. These can infest your plants quickly and cause great damage to them.
The best approach is to get rid of them as soon as you find them on the plant. You can pick them off and put them in a bucket of soapy water.
If a part of the plant has some disease, you need to find out whether it’s something that is cosmetic or can damage the plant. If it’s a serious issue, you can cut that part of the plant and dispose of it. Keep the plant away from the other plants so the disease does not reach them.
Make your plants last longer in the cold
Your balcony is a microclimate that differs from the outside environment based on the sunlight, wind, heat, and cold it may receive.
The plants you grow on your balcony may be annual or perennial. Annual plants grow for one season, produce seed, and die. Perennials grow during the season, become dormant during winter, and then regrow back in the next season.
You can use the benefit of growing in a balcony to extend the growing season for your plants. When the weather becomes cold for the plants, you can cover them up with a blanket at night. This helps them retain the heat they require to survive.
You could also consider moving some of the perennial balcony plants indoors. Then you can provide them with the required heat and artificial light to continue growing. And move them back to your balcony when spring arrives.