3 Ways To Start a Balcony Garden

Interested in starting a garden but you live in an apartment or condo? If you have a balcony, you can definitely create a small balcony garden. Here are some tips and ideas to create a balcony garden with kids. 

Last week, a friend asked me about starting a garden on her balcony. So many of us are starting gardens right now whether as Resilience Gardens or just for pleasure, especially when we are quarantined in our homes. 

I offered her three different ideas from which she could choose individually or combine them together, depending on how much time, money, space, and commitment she wanted to invest. All three of them will work with kids, and little ones can help care for the mini balcony garden throughout the growing season. 

Having gathered up all the details, I thought others might have similar questions (and I’d love to see everyone start a garden if they can, no matter the size). 

Gardening and nature have so much to teach us. We can bring the outside in. We appreciate the energy and resources put forth to put food on our tables. The list of life lessons to learn from a garden goes on and on

If you’re thinking about starting a small garden on a balcony, a patio, or whatever nook is available to you, here are a few questions to first consider about a balcony garden followed by three ideas at varying levels of investment to give your green thumb a try. 

All of these ideas give little ones a chance to experience the lessons of a garden and work on their green thumb.

Questions To Consider When Starting a Balcony Garden

How much space do you have?

Consider how much space you have available. Is it enough for just one or two pots? Do you use that space for other things such that your garden needs to be portable? Making a portable garden is possible, so don’t give up if that is your limitation. Reflect on how many containers or planters you can fit in your space before diving into and designing your garden. 

What if something falls off your balcony?

If you have a garden on your balcony, there’s a chance something will fall off. A storm or windy day might blow something off the balcony. A railing planter might break and fall. If you have kids or pets, the sky is the limit if they get hands on their something and get a little curious about the mysteries of gravity. 

If you live on the second floor, it’s probably not such a big deal if something rolls off the balcony. We lived on the twentieth floor of a tall apartment building in Chicago for many years that was situated over a very busy sidewalk. If a garden pot fell off our balcony in Chicago, it could have been really dangerous. 

As you’re deciding what to plant, keep these factors in mind. Maybe your pot needs to be particularly heavy so it doesn’t blow off a windy balcony in Chicago. Maybe you live on a quiet second floor balcony with little risk of loss. Either way, plan accordingly. 

How much sun do you get and what direction does your balcony face?

The amount of sun you get on your balcony will significantly impact what you can grow. If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, south-facing walls and balconies are your best bet for gardens because they get the most sun. If you have an east or west-facing balcony, you will probably get a lot of sun during parts of the day, but might not have so much luck growing something that requires full sun all day. 

North-facing balconies are a little tougher because they just won’t get a ton of sun. You’ll need to look for plants that thrive in partial or full shade. They exist, so keep it in mind when selecting what to grow in your balcony garden. 

Ideas to Start a Balcony Garden

Once you’ve decided to get started on your balcony garden, there are an endless plethora of options about what to grow and how to grow it. Below, I offer just a few ideas based on the level of effort and space you want to commit to your balcony garden. You could do one or multiple of these options. (And really… the sky is the limit.)

I buy most of my garden supplies from Gardners.com. It’s a B Corporation, and they have a lot of organic products. Everything has been of great quality. Also, they are one of the few places that still have decent inventory and are shipping with regularity. A lot of places are out of stock and take forever to ship right now. 

Local garden stores may also have options available, but it will depend on your neighborhood (of course). The big-box home improvement stores also have items in stock to start your balcony garden if that is the most accessible option for you.

Here are three different fairly simple options for starting a beginner garden on your balcony. You can try one or mix and match, depending on space and interest. 

Balcony Garden Option 1 | Railing Planters

Railing planters are the simplest place to start and won’t take up any of your balcony footprint. These are probably the easiest to manage. Herbs and small flowers are great for railing planters. Marigolds deter bugs and pests, so they can help keep the bugs away from your other plants. Mix up some herbs and some flowers and give it a shot. 

Balcony Garden Option 2 | Container or Bag Planter

If you have a bit of space for a planter or two, consider a container or even a planter grow bag that’s about 12″-18″ wide. This grow bag is so cute and perfect for herbs, strawberries, or other small plants. Both are easy to fill with a bag or two of soil and some fertilizer.

The bag (and the container, if it’s not too heavy) can be moved around when you want to use the space on your balcony for something else or it gets cold and you need to bring the plants indoors. 

If you and your kids like the idea of a pizza garden, you could grow one or two tomato plants in the container or grow bag surrounded by the herbs that are perfect for a pizza garden. I suggest putting a small tomato cage in the container to support the tomato plant and then growing the herbs throughout the rest of the container. 

It’s ok if the tomato plants and herbs all grow together as they mature; they’ll be just fine. Because of their strong smell, herbs (like parsley and basil) help keep the pests away from the sweet tomato plant as well.

Balcony Garden Option 3 | Vertical Vines & Plant Container

If you’re feeling really ambitious, you could do a larger container (maybe 18 – 24″ across) that has a trellis that would allow the plants to grow up along the wall of your balcony. You could grow something like cucumbers or squash. 

As they mature, train them to grow up the trellis by weaving the vines through the trellis or support. The plants will be inclined to grow toward the sun (which probably isn’t in the direction of your wall and support system, so they will need a little convincing). Just keep gently nudging them up and toward the trellis and they will follow your lead. 

Mix beans in with the squash or cucumbers. Beans will also grow up the trellis, and they put nitrogen back into the soil, which helps the cucumbers or squash grow better while replenishing the soil. 

Here is an example of a trellis that could go against the wall on your balcony.

Starting from Seeds or Seedlings

Depending on when you get started, you may choose to grow from seeds or seedlings. Here are some tips for starting seeds with kids

If you start from seeds, plant a few more seeds than that for which you have space. Inevitably, a few of the seeds won’t sprout or survive. With a small balcony garden, it would be such a bummer to plant just one or two seeds and then have nothing to grow if those are the ones that don’t make it. You can always thin out the extra sprouts if you have too many. 

We used this organic seed starting soil mix for our seeds, and it worked really well. They have several other brands as well, and you can always ask the experts at your local nursery or gardening store what they recommend based on where you live and what you’re growing. 

Good Soil Really Matters

Whether starting seeds in small starter containers or filling your planters, grow bags and containers, be sure to get good soil! Nutrient-rich soil results in much healthier and more bountiful plants. Good soil makes all the difference! 

Safety and Standards

Last but certainly not least, be sure you understand any weight restrictions your balcony may have and any homeowner association standards that might apply. There would be nothing worse than creating a beautiful balcony garden only to find out the pot filled with soil is too heavy for your balcony’s structure or not in compliance with the rules of your building. 

Starting a small garden on a balcony can be a great introduction to gardening. It’s easier to learn to garden by starting small and taking on a larger garden each year (even if that’s only one or two new containers with each season). 

Have you ever grown a garden on your balcony? Do you have any great tips to add? 

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