While in lockdown, private outside space is more valuable than ever. But if you only have a balcony or roof terrace, it can be difficult to know what to grow and how to ensure it thrives. Stepping out onto your balcony to be greeted by bare walls and a half-dead pot plant can be pretty dispiriting. And when space is at a premium, you don’t have space for experiments that go wrong. So, we’ve taken the guess-work out of balcony growing, to ensure you get it right every time. We’ve picked out the best flowers, vegetables and herbs to grow on a balcony, and we explain how to grow them. There are also clever tricks for fitting more plants into a tight space, and solutions to those common balcony problems.
More advice on gardening during lockdown:
Before you start your balcony garden, it’s important that you’re confident about how much weight the balcony can bear. Wet compost and stone or terracotta pots can be surprisingly heavy. You may want to opt for lightweight plastic or resin containers, although if your balcony is exposed and windy these can get blown over easily unless they’re fastened in place. There are also lightweight composts available, specifically designed for container-growing, which are worth considering.
Choose the right plants
Coleus growing in pots on railing
First and foremost, when growing on a balcony or roof terrace, you need to choose the right plants. Dreams of 10m-tall magnolias have to be set aside, but there are plenty of plants that will flourish in pots on a balcony. Summer bedding plants, like begonias, petunias, osteospermum and busy Lizzies are all great container plants and will brighten up your balcony from late spring right through summer and into autumn. Succulents make great houseplants, and are perfect for growing in a pot on a balcony. There are also lots of vegetables and herbs that will grow happily in pots.
Shade plants for balconies
Shade-loving plants growing in a container
Many balconies are shady. If yours faces east or west, it’ll only get direct sun for part of the day, and if your balcony is north-facing it may not get any direct sunlight at all. Add to this shade cast by walls, screens and overhangs and you’re looking at a pretty shady spot for growing plants. But don’t despair, many plants actually prefer shade. Lettuces, salad leaves, rocket, parsley and chervil are all best grown in partial shade to stop them running to seed too quickly. While hostas, begonias, heucheras, geraniums and ferns are great for brightening a shady balcony.
Plants for sunny balconies
Pelargoniums in pots
Plants in pots on sunny balconies can really bake – especially if the balcony has a clear screen, creating a greenhouse effect. The answer is to choose drought-tolerant, sun-loving plants. Look to the Mediterranean for your inspiration. Herbs such as lavender, rosemary and oregano will fill a sunny balcony with flowers and scent, while pelargoniums, stachys and succulents will add colour and interest.
Plants for windy balconies
Ornamental grass – stipa tenuissima
Another challenge you may face when creating a balcony garden is wind. Many balconies are windy and exposed – delicate petals get ripped from flowers, while moisture is whipped out of leaves. Create a windbreak if you can, and make sure pots and furniture are not going to get blown over the side, securing them in place if necessary. And choose plants that can cope in a windy spot – such as those that naturally grow by the sea.
Grow up the walls
Vertical planting, with vegetables and herbs on a wall
When space is limited, you want to make the most of every bit of it. If you’re able to attach pots or trellis to the walls of your balcony, they can provide extra space for growing plants – plus the walls will look more attractive covered in plants. You could make a simple planter for salads, or make a dramatic statement with a living wall. Many climbing plants will grow happily for two or three years in a large container, and you can train them up a trellis attached to the wall. Jasminum x stephanense grows well in a large container and is covered in fragrant flowers all summer.
If you can’t attach anything to the walls of your balcony, you can still make the most of the vertical space. Grow sweet peas or a clematis in a large pot and train the plant up a wigwam inserted into the pot.
Grow vegetables on a balcony
Vegetables growing in upcycled pots
You don’t need a garden to grow your own vegetables at home. Now’s the perfect time to sow vegetable seeds, and with just a few pots on a balcony, you can look forward to harvesting fresh, flavoursome vegetables and herbs. There are lots of edible crops that you can grow in pots – tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, potatoes and a host of herbs are all ideal for growing in containers. And you don’t need to buy purpose-made pots, try using a woven plastic shopping bag, or lining a wooden crate with an old compost bag – just make sure you make some drainage holes in the bottom.