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wannabegrower

What should I plant on my balcony?

wannabegrower
15 years ago

I just moved into a 3rd-story apartment with a wraparound balcony. I want to plant all kinds of goodies out there - fruit, vegetables, flowers, etc. One side of the balcony faces west, the other faces north. What do you suggest for planting? I could make the whole balcony a gardening area - oh, and by the way, I also want to plant herbs. There's about 8 or 9 feet of space between the floor and ceiling of the balcony, and about 3 feet from door to railing.

I want to plant things that can stay out there all winter, because I'm worried that if I brought the plants inside, my kitties would try to eat them. (It's happened before!)

I'm interested in pumpkins, berries, maybe a fruit tree, roses, lavender, basil, jasmine, potatoes (including sweet), and I'm sure there are many more I'm not thinking of right now.

Winters here are harsh, by the way. And summers can be hot.

Ideas welcome! I don't know much about gardening, but I want to do it - and in particular, organic gardening!

Comments (15)

  • justaguy2
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Unfortunately having a northern and western exposure in the north is going to make veggie growing difficult. Most require full sun to do well and a northern exposure with an overhang is the furthest one can get.

    The western exposure may work OK, you will have to try it and see.

    For the northern exposure google on shade plants and select those that appeal to you.

    Leaving container plants outside in the winter is tricky in cold zones. The containers get much colder than the ground does because the ground insulates the roots better. You will want to choose plants hardy to at least 1, preferably 2 zones colder than your own for best winter survival.

  • Dibbit
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    As justaguy said above, the Northern balcony may pose some major problems as far as growing anything but decorative, shade plants goes. If it is bright indirect light and not sort of dark and gloomy, then you might be able to grow a few other things, or at the least, have things grow well there in the summer, which then move inside for the winter. In the winter, things may not live at all out there. You could supplement the lighting with grow lights or with warm red flouorescent (daylight spectrum) lighting for most of the day, if you can afford the electricity, and make up for the lack of daylight that way. If it gets hot in your city in the summer, then you may be able to grow herbs that do better in summer shade, such as lettuce or cilantro, especially if the orientation of the balcony is not true North, but more toward the NE, so you get some morning sun.

    Your West facing balcony gives better promise of growing things that like summer sun, but because it is (I assume) partly enclosed (at least on 2 or 3 sides) you won't get breezes, and it might get very hot. So anything that can't take extreme heat might struggle - you may have to shade the balcony for part of the afternoon to allow plants to grow, other than desert plants. You will have to play it by ear this first summer, and keep careful note (do write it all down as this time next year you WON'T remember, no matter how well you think you will right now) of how much sun there actually is at what times of the year and of the day - remember the position of the sun does move around from north to south and back again as the Solstices and Equinoxes go by. Also, don't forget that you will probably be watering pots on your west-facing balcony daily in the heat of the summer, so make plans for that, and don't put your most expensive furniture or rugs between the door out and your water source....

    One thing you may be able to do to increase the chances of your perennials, if you decide to try them, on both balconies, surviving over the winter is to double up on the pots, putting the pot the plant grew in over the summer into another pot that is at LEAST 2 inches wider on the inside than the outside of the plant's pot, and filling the gap with insulation. This will give a LITTLE more protection to the plant roots.

    Good luck!

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  • wannabegrower
    Original Author
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    The north-facing side gets a lot of light; it faces the street, and there are no buildings across the street. The west-facing side has a wall on one end, but then it goes on to join the north side around the corner.

    Yes, it can get hot here in the summer; fortunately, I'm not facing another wall from another building. There's open space outside the west part of the balcony. So nothing would be radiating from a wall facing me.

    Herbs, yes; I want to grow herbs. I've also been thinking of a small lilac tree. Lavender. Roses. Veggies. Berries. I hope these aren't pipe dreams!

  • justaguy2
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I just noticed from your profile that you are in the Czech Republic. I don't know the first thing about your area. You are in the northern hemisphere so the whole south north exposure thing should hold true, but I really am clueless as to how much light your western exposure would get.

    Time to brush up on my geography I guess ;-)

    Hopefully someone who understands your area's growing conditions comes along and can offer you regional specific advice. I can't.

  • wannabegrower
    Original Author
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Yes, I'm in the Czech Republic. It's on about the same latitude as Canada; definitely further north than my home in the States. Is there anything anyone would encourage me NOT to plant?

    These are things I want:

    Potatoes/sweet potatoes
    Carrots
    Pumpkin

    Berries

    Herbs (basil, rosemary, mint, melissa and more)

    Roses
    Jasmine
    Lilac, if possible
    Irises
    Lavender

    Pine tree (yes, really!)

    ....and more.

  • Dibbit
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Sweetpotato, unless you start slips inside, probably won't do, but it's worth trying. It, and the pumpkin, will have LONG vines, so you might try for a semi-bush pumpkin, if there is such a thing. You can let the sweetpotato vines drape over the edges a bit, as the "fruit" is in the soil, but the pumpkins should stay within your reach, since the pumpkins themselves will need to sit on the floor of the balcony or have nets/hammocks under them or they might fall to the ground as they get heavy.

    Basil, as an annual, will do fine until the first frost. The jasmine will probably have to go inside for the winter - I don't think they will take too much frost - it depends on the variety. While the lavender will appreciate the good drainage of being in a pot - it may get too cold for it too. Some of the other hebs, and maybe the rosemary, might have trouble with the winter. If you could enclose part of the balcony, if only in the winter, they would have a much better chance of survival.

    The rest of them, if you can put most of them on the west balcony in the winter, and provide a little protection for the roots, should all do fine. It won't be as good as if they were in the ground, but they should all grow and, with luck and care, survive the winter.

    If you can find a local gardener in your city, especially one who also gardens in containers on a balcony, you can get advice that is more specific then we can give. You might also try the Container Growing Forum - they might be able to help you there.

  • flora_uk
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I just looked up temps in the Czech Republic and they look similar to the UK but colder in the Winter. I doubt you could grow sweet potatoes outdoors and lots of things will not be able to stay out over Winter. Tomatoes are good on a balcony. You don't need much space and they crop well for a small number of plants. Same for peppers. You could grow them in pots or a growbag.Instead of pumpkins how about bush zucchini? One plant will fit in a large pot and will not trail. The other thing which comes to mind looking at your list is that some of your ideas have a short season of interest. eg irises, though very pretty are in bloom for only a short time. You sya 'berries' but not what sort. You will not get much crop from the number of bushes you can fit on a balcony and for most of the year they will not be doing anything. Some, eg raspberries take up a huge amount of room. A fruit tree in a pot might be more practical. You do not mention bulbs which are a balcony must. eg daffodils, hyacinths, tulips etc. I would look at what your neighbours grow to get ideas of what is practical.

  • naplesgardener
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I would plant on the north side: greens of all kinds, lettuce, spinach, etc.
    On the west side I would plant several miniature tomato plants (Micro Tom, Tom Thumb, etc) which don't take up much room but grow cherry sized tomatoes. A full size tomato plant would overwhelm a balcony. I would forget pumpkins, melons, sweet potato (any potato) because they require way too much room. I have a small yard and don't grow these plants for this reason. You need to think about maximizing your space for best use.
    Also grow things that have a long season of productivity (greens, herbs). Strawberries are nice but they only bear a few fruits and the rest of the year take up space.
    Nothing will survive winter unless you bring it indoors so plan to buy small plants (or start seeds) in the spring and then close up shop when winter comes.
    You could put tulip bulbs in pots out all winter (along with daffodils) which would give you something to look forward to.
    I remember when I was just starting in gardening. I had no idea what each plant needed to survive so you'll just have to learn by trying (and reading) and looking around to see if anyone else is growing stuff and ask them what works for them.
    Best of luck.

  • patty4150
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    In the winter, you might use the balcony as a sort of frame, and attach plastic to create a pseudo greenhouse, to help with the temperatures.

    Our climate is very different here, but I grow blackberries in pots very succesfully. Pumpkins in pots usually don't get as big as in the ground, but they are happy enough in pots, and they're fun.

  • Dibbit
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    From the description given, although those measurements weren't given, I am assuming we are talking about something at least 20-40' long, for each side of the apartment. Even if the length(s) are only 15', that's enough to put in a lot of pots. If it's bigger than that, then there's room for a LOT of pots. The width is going to be the limiting factor for pot size; you still have to be able to get by to the rest of the pots - I don't know what is available in the Czech Republic, but assume it is similar to what is available here. Anything over about 18" (0.5 m) won't give a whole lot of room, especially with plants growing over the edges, to squeeze by it, esp. with a full watering can in hand. You could get by with a larger pot at each end, since you would stop in front of it. A biggish planter box that fills the end of the balcony might work well there.

    You can definitely grow tomatoes, in my opinion, but do get one of the "balcony" ones for small spaces, or a determinate one, that will stop at a given height - some of my indeterminates have grown to 12' or more before frost killed them! That might be a little much for your area. If you use string as a trellis up from the railing to the ceiling, then you can tie your tomatoes to that, and provide shade to the other plants, and the apartment at the same time. In fact, you could grow your sweet potatoes, and any vining flowers, in the same way, although since sweet potatoes are not twining, you would have to carefully tie them up, or grow them in hanging pots, which would have to be well fertilized over the summer, and have VERY solid hangers - think of the eventual weight! I do think you can grow sweet potaotes, if you get one for Northern gardens NOW, start your slips as soon as you get them, feed them well and keep the pots warm. You may not get a lot of tubers, but you should get some. If nothing else, the leaves are pretty - look at all the ornamental sweet potatoes there are out there now - they make tubers just like the edible ones, which can be over-wintered and replanted, just not as many. And regular potatoes do fine in pots, just use a tall one, as large around as you can manage, starting small at the bottom, so you can "hill" up around them as they grow.

    As I think about it, a lot of your plants, like tomatoes and sweet potatoes, could go in hanging pots - just check with your landlord to see if putting the hooks or screw-eyes in the ceiling is OK.

    Because all these plants would be in pots - you will have to fertilize them a bit more than you would in the ground. There have been a number of recent posts about fertilizing/potting soils/growing in pots, so if you go back through and read them, you will get a lot of information.

  • julianna_il
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I lived for a few years on a second floor apartment with a little balcony. It had a roof over it and faced northeast. I live in Zone 6, which is further south than you've got (near St Louis).

    But because I *had* to garden, I turned that little bit of a balcony into a garden of Eden. Even pizza delivery guys would comment (in a good way). The only complaint I got was from someone downstairs who was sure I was bringing spiders. boo hoo.

    Anyway, based on a few years of container gardening, my advice is: experiment! Accept that you'll have some failures, but you'll also have great successes and those will be fabulous.

    Make a list of what you want to try and play around on paper (or Photoshop) with your balcony area. My problem was that my eyes and heart were always bigger than my balcony.

    But I successfully grew tomatoes, eggplants, lettuce and all kinds of flowers. And HERBS out the yahoo...that's really when I started herb gardening because herbs do so well in containers (don't fertilize, herbs don't like fertilizer). Other things do need fertilizer of some kind.

    I bought one of those terra cotta strawberry pots and used it to grow herbs...it worked quite well. Now that I've got ground again, I use it for portulaca.

    My other advice would be to purchase plants at your local nurseries the first year. They won't carry plants that won't grow in your area. If you start shopping seed catalogs, you'll likely end up with things that won't do well.

    I love the jasmine idea, and my aunt grows a big beautiful jasmine in a pot. Takes it out on the deck during spring/summer, then brings it back in. They have seven cats.

    On the cats, I don't have any advice. I have cats myself and when I was at the apartment, they mostly left things alone when I brought them in. (Exception: one cat could eat an entire Oxalis plant in an hour if I didn't keep it out of his reach..he loved them) Now I have a little cat who goes totally insane if I bring plants in. She tries to climb them, digs and pees in them and generally just shreds them. So until she gets older, I have to put plants in the basement. I've tried everything and nothing works except keeping them out of her way.

    I may try this next fall:
    http://www.catscat.com.au/

    One plant I've had great success with is hibiscus if you can find them there. The kind you have to bring inside over winter. They bloom beautifully and are spectacular on a balcony. For winter, I cut them way back so there's no growth. Most cats would have no interest in that because it's just some dead looking branches. (My little cat is an exception) I would stick it in a closet all winter, ignore it, then take it back out in spring.

    I agree that you should check out the container gardening forum. But experiment and have fun! Balcony gardening can be great fun, and wonderful joy when things really take off.

    Oh, and get a good watering can. Know that some of your things will require watering on a daily basis. (Some won't...read the info that comes with the plants)

  • julianna_il
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    You know, if you want to try strawberries, then try them! It's true you won't get many in a small space, but the joy you'll have of popping a strawberry into your mouth is worth it.

    I sometimes would grow things that weren't bred for containers. The heck with it. And I might get one or two eggplants the whole season. But oh, the joy!

  • wannabegrower
    Original Author
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Wow, so many responses!

    I went hogwild at the department store recently, and bought a ton of seeds - gerbera daisies, marigolds, spinach, basil, rosemary, borage, balcony tomatoes, lavender, cilantro, miniature pumpkin, and more. I haven't found any bulbs yet, which is just as well, since I don't have a container for them. I planted some basil seeds in a small pot and put it in the incubator (a very small, plastic "greenhouse"). No sprouts yet, which isn't surprising.

    One of my kitties will eat ANYTHING green, which is why I have to be careful with her. I don't want her ingesting anything harmful. I have some cat grass, and she eats it so enthusiastically that I realized I'll have to plant it in one huge container so she can munch away (and leave my other plants alone!).

    Yes, the balcony is big. We're talking about 15 - 20 feet long, each side. I can hang containers from the railing, as well as putting containers on the balcony floor. Oh, do you recommend those wooden frames for containers? I thought they might help with insulating during the winter.

    I looked longingly at seeds for (of all things!) Douglas fir trees - I'd love to have one, if I had a house and a huge yard!

    Still workin' at it; all advice welcomed!

  • flora_uk
    15 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    You will not find bulbs of spring flowers in the shops now. They are on sale in the Autumn. You may find gladioli, dahlias and other summer flower bulbs/tubers. Regarding your basil, I think you have started a bit too early for Central Europe. It will be several months before it is warm enough outside for basil, so you will have to pot it on and keep it inside somehow. Be guided by the locals. Conditions will be very different from what many of the US posters are used to.

  • rabbitcatcher66_yahoo_com
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Hi-
    I just found your thread, trying to figure out what to plant on a northern exposure balcony. I live in Ceske Budejovice and am wondering how your project went. I want to plant on my northern exposure balcony. Where are you in CZ?