12 Hacks for Balcony Gardening
Have you ever done this?
You’re walking down the street, and catch a glimpse of someone’s yard. You can’t help but stop. Your senses come alive as you look at all their flowers; captivated by the layers, colors … the sweet unmistakable scent of wisteria. You think, someday I’d love to have a garden like that.
The good news is, you don’t have to live in the country or even the suburbs to have a garden. You don’t even have to have a single patch of dirt. All you need in order to create your own little oasis is an outdoor balcony, and a little creativity and ingenuity.
And best of all, you can do it on a budget.
A balcony can be transformed into an area where green life flourishes. A place you can go to snip a few sprigs of thyme or a handful of basil to elevate a home-cooked meal. A peaceful refuge for flowers, veggies, and other plants to grow, and hummingbirds visit from time to time.
An area you can retreat to with a book after a hectic day; a place to sit and enjoy someone else’s company.
Feeling overwhelmed about where to start?
The following tips and hacks are a guide to creating your own outdoor oasis on a budget, incorporating fun upcycles, and maximizing your space!
From selecting your plants to finding clever ways to display them, you’ll learn how to:
- Handle low-light situations
- Use vertical space to your advantage
- Reuse disposable food containers as seed starters
- Add other elements to transform your lackluster balcony into your own botanical paradise
Before you begin buying plants, there are a few things to consider. Keeping plants alive is the goal — there is nothing worse than watching your greenery slowly wilt and die.
Your neighbors probably don’t want to see that either.
To ensure your balcony garden’s success, first check the amount of light it receives. What direction does it face? Is it completely covered, or does it jut out a bit beyond the roofline of your building?
If your balcony faces south, selecting plants that thrive in sun exposure is ideal. North-facing balconies have less sunlight, which other types of plants and leafy green veggies prefer.
Most smartphones come equipped with a compass app which you can use to help determine where your balcony lies. Alternatively, pay attention to the sunrise. The sun rises in the east, so you can use that to help gauge which way your balcony faces.
Other things to think about are the time of year you’re starting your balcony garden and the climate in your particular region. Select your plants (or seeds, if you’re feeling up to it, tips to follow) accordingly.
There are a ton of resources to help guide you through this process. You don’t have to rely solely on the internet, either.
For instance, pay attention to what’s for sale at your local nursery. Make an effort to chat with the clerks who work there. Chances are they have a lot of knowledge and experience, especially when it comes to the particulars of your area. If they are passionate about gardening, even better. Share your ideas with them and see if they have suggestions.
Once you know what loves to grow in your region, you can think about what you’d like to grow. Do you want low-maintenance plants? Just want flowers, or would you like herbs and vegetables, too?
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The most cost-effective way of creating a balcony garden (and to some, the most fulfilling) is to start off with seeds. You can order seed packets online, or pick some up at your local garden center.
It’s such a special experience seeing the seeds you planted start to emerge from the soil; watching the little pea-green shoots grow bigger and stronger. And if you’ve never done it before don’t worry, it’s not as hard as you might expect. There’s no need to buy expensive starter kits.
How to Start Seeds in a Tiny Homemade Greenhouse
Take plastic food containers with clear lids, or clear plastic bottles. These can be made into mini-greenhouses to start your seeds. All you need is soil. Poke drainage holes in the bottom of the container, and if there are no holes in the lid, add a few there as well.
Next, scoop in the soil. Flatten it, and use your finger to poke little indents in it. Then drop the seeds in the little cavities, and cover them up.
Snap the lid of the container in place, and you have your own little greenhouse!
The same can be done with bottles. Cut them in half and add holes to the bottom. Plant your seeds, and then stick the top back on to create your little greenhouse.
Egg crates work as well, and so does starting your seeds in little plastic pots. Take sticks and line a few around the edges of your egg crate or pot, and drape clear saran wrap over the top so it’s propped up by the sticks like a mini tent.
Follow the planting, watering, and care instructions on the seed packet, and be sure to mark each one so you know which is which. New shoots look surprisingly similar.
Set them out in the sun on your balcony. The warmth of the sunlight shining on the little greenhouse you made for them speeds up the germination process.
When your little shoots are finally big enough, you can transfer them to larger pots. Be careful of their fragile roots, and mindful of the depth needed for them to continue to grow.
Starting a Balcony Garden With Starter Plants
If you would rather not start with seeds, you can buy your plants from a garden center or hardware store.
Read the care tab provided with each, as it tells you what the plant needs. Note that not all plants require the same amount of water or sunlight. It may take a little time to figure out which plant goes where. If they are showing signs of distress, try moving them and adjusting their watering schedule.
If your balcony isn’t the brightest, add mirrors.
Mirrors reflect light, casting more of it onto your plants. Plus, they have the added bonus of making your space appear larger, adding depth and delight. Just be mindful that the reflection of the sun on your mirrors doesn’t pierce through a neighbor’s window at certain times of the day.
Don’t let a tiny balcony deter you. While traditional gardens stretch out horizontally into lawns and landscapes, you have the benefit of height. Your balcony garden can still have the same – if not more color, layers, and traffic-stopping, “Look! I’d love to sip prosecco there after a long day of work…” appeal.
Consider that some of the most delicate and sweet-smelling flowers love to climb.
Certain veggies do as well!
You can easily DIY a trellis for them. Thrift stores are an excellent place to find items and give them another chance. Keep your eyes peeled for old wooden ladders, small narrow shelving units, or even old picture frames.
Picture Frame Trellis
To create a trellis out of picture frames, remove the glass and everything else so you’re left with the frame. Tie the frames together, one on top of the other, as wide as you’d like, and secure from above.
The result is a one-of-a-kind trellis for your vines to explore.
You can also use woven wire or “hog wire.” These are traditionally used for fencing, but they work perfectly for leafy vines to wind their way through. If you wanted, you could nail a frame around it, but that isn’t necessary.
You can also take a pallet and remove some of the horizontal slats. Attach the pallet to the wall, and secure another above it. The little climbers will find their way up and around the remaining wood.
If you want to grow other types of non-vine plants and veggies, create tiers.
Consider taking a pallet and screwing eye hooks into the horizontal wooden slats. Lean it against a wall so it’s almost upright. Then, secure your plants to it by wrapping twine around the pot and threading it through the eye hook and cinching it in place with a double knot.
If you can’t find a pallet, use a wooden fence post or another piece of wood. You can secure little metal or baskets to it as well.
Take old wooden crates, or milk crates and stack them, showcasing some of your smaller plants, and allowing ivy or other similar types to sit on the top and drape down the sides.
Cinder blocks or bricks can be used to set pots on the ground at different heights, creating a little space to showcase your favorites.
You can even make shelves that way. Take bricks and stack them as far apart as you’d like, then stretch a board over the top.
Hanging plants from above is another excellent way to maximize space. Drill two or more holes on either side of plastic pots, and knot twine through each hole. Then, secure them to a hook screwed, or otherwise mounted, depending on what the ceiling is made of.
You can also use colanders to nest your plants in or even sturdy baskets.
You can secure plants to railings, or set them on top if it is wide enough. The plants that require the most sunlight love this option.
If your balcony is routinely exposed to wind, you’ll want to keep this in mind, as it will affect your setup. You don’t want your hanging plants to swing wildly, or anything not firmly secured to a railing to get picked up and tossed.
Besides plants, there are many other elements you can incorporate into your balcony garden. You’ll want to spend a lot of time there, and the following ideas will help elevate the space.
Put yourself in a creative frame of mind.
What type of look are you hoping for?
Do you want your space to feel like a jungle — a place dominated by greenery — or do you prefer to mix your plants with outdoor decorations?
Or, maybe you just want to go for it; picking up whatever speaks to you and adding it as you go along. There is no right or wrong way. The fun lies in the creativity.
You can find or repurpose used items picked up from thrift stores, antique stores, craigslist, Facebook marketplace, and things that have otherwise been discarded. DIY ways to display and showcase your plants or maybe buy new items designed for that specific purpose. You can frame yourself within the greenery, or have select pots here and there.
Take a look at your space and think about how you’d like it to feel. There’s no harm in starting small and adding to it as you go.
When selecting furniture, the amount and size you choose will depend on the area. If space is limited, you can use folding chairs, which tend to be smaller. You can also incorporate benches that your plants can sit on too. Use little folding side tables for meals, or to set your laptop on.
Incorporating an outdoor rug can help warm up a concrete floor, as would outdoor pillows to sit on. Or, if there’s room, add outdoor couches and lounge chairs.
String lights are a fantastic way of adding a little twinkle after sunset. Even if you don’t have an outdoor outlet, you can buy battery-operated lights, or even solar-powered ones.
Alternatively, you can create a similar look with flameless candles, or solar-powered individual lights. You’ll want something that’s not too bright and casts a warm glow.
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Curtains are an excellent way of adding depth to your space. They also lend extra protection from the sun and give you privacy. Painters drop cloth works well, it’s sturdy, neutral, and very inexpensive.
Or if you prefer something sheerer you can easily find those options at a fabric store or online. Another bonus feature of curtains is that they double as a mosquito net.
Take some of the suggestions and add your own ideas. Think of other pieces you’d like to incorporate: galvanized metal, smooth driftwood that’s been sculpted by the elements … have fun!
Don’t be afraid to try new things. You’ll find your balcony garden will be one of your favorite places to relax, and if it’s visible to pedestrians, you may notice that they stop, and take a few moments to appreciate what you created.