If you live in an apartment or town house you may have to think outside the box if you want to join the 'grow your own' trend.
While outdoor space may be limited, a verandah or balcony can be used to produce an abundance of fresh vegetables, herbs and fruits throughout the year. Other than floor space, railings, walls and ceilings can all be used, with clever pots that either hang off the railing or sit over it, tiered stands, vertical gardens and hanging planters. There's really no limit to creating your own growing space!
Before you start:
- Check that your body corporate or site manager allows gardens on balconies or verandas
- Ask if your balcony has a load limit (total permitted weight)
- Wind and lack of shade can be problematic on high rise balconies - if your balcony is exposed, make sure it's possible to put up some shelter or shade
What fruit and vegetables can I grow in pots?
Basil, coriander, mint, chives, parsley and other 'soft' herbs are ideal for balcony gardens. Within a couple of weeks of sowing seeds, you'll have a ready supply of fresh herbs on hand when you need them - just outside the door!
Dwarf rosemary, thyme, sage and other 'woody' herbs are great for growing on balconies. Why not add lavender as well, to attract bees for pollination of your other crops.
Leafy and fruiting vegetables
Lettuce, Asian greens (pak choy and bok choy), dwarf varieties of cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, broccolini are all good choices. You can also try dwarf tomatoes and beans.
If you want to grow carrots, parsnips, turnips, daikon or other root crops, make sure you sow or plant them into pots that are at least 35 - 40cm deep.
Dwarf fruit trees
Miniature citrus like Lots a Lemons and Lots a Limes are ideal for balcony gardens. They produce large crops of regular sized fruits on plants that rarely grow more than a metre in height. Super-dwarf and columnar apples, dwarf pears and dwarf stone fruits can also be grown in large pots or small tubs.
Choosing pots and containers for your vegetables
There are a variety types of pots and containers that can be used including:
- Conventional terracotta, plastic or ceramic pots, troughs
- Self-watering (in-built water and fertiliser reservoir)
- Hanging pots and baskets
- 'Railing' pots that sit on or hook over balcony rails
While vegetables, herbs and fruit trees will do better in larger pots, keep in mind they can be heavy when filled and difficult to move around. Plastic pots, rather than ceramic or terracotta pots will be easier to move.
What potting mix should I use?
The combined weight of pots, potting mix, plants and water is an important consideration for the balcony gardener.
The best results will always come from using a premium vegetable or fruit potting mix. Premium potting mixes that are specially formulated for vegetables are recommended.
- Osmocote Professional Tomato, Vegetable & Herb Premium Potting Mix
- Debco Terracotta & Premium Potting Mix
- Debco Vegetable & Herb Premium Potting Mix
For fruit trees, we recommend:
These mixes have a light weight to volume ratio, wetting agent included and contain six month controlled release fertiliser. They all carry the ‘red tick’ for certified premium products. If you prefer to grow your fruit and vegetables in a completely natural potting mix, then look for Scotts Performance Naturals Premium Potting Mix (100% natural)
How to make the most of your balcony space
Tiered plant stands
Metal or wooden stands with three or four shelves will greatly increase the number of plants you can have per square metre of floor space. Make sure shelves are deep enough to allow plants sufficient room to grow unhindered.
A great way to increase your growing space for minimum cost. Just be sure you source and use unbranded pallets! DYI plans are available from some hardware stores and home & garden websites.
Use ceilings and wall space to install hooks or wall brackets to add extra growing space. Make sure these are securely fixed and even then, don't overload!
There are two types of railing pots - pots that sit over the railing and pots with hooks that hang off the railing. Either type will camouflage railings while increasing your growing space.
There are several types available in kit form from hardware stores and garden centres - their pots interlock to form tiers or layers. They are great for herbs and smaller vegetables because the individual pots are usually small - no more than 20 to 30cm in diameter.
Make the best use of wall space by putting up some shelves. Make sure each is securely anchored to the wall and take care not to overload. Wire mesh shelves that allow for drainage will last longer than timber shelves.
How to water a balcony garden
There's a lot to consider when planning how to water a balcony garden
- Does the balcony have a stormwater channel and drain built in?
- Does excess water run over the edge (and down on to the balcony below)?
- Is there a tap on the balcony?
- Is it practical to use a hose or watering can?
- Is there room to set up a small holding tank for hydroponics?
Different types of watering systems for plants
- Drip irrigation(mini drippers) are water efficient, delivering water directly to potting mix at about the same rate as it is taken up by plants or lost through evaporation.
- Overhead mini sprayers, like mini drippers, are very efficient and don't waste water. Runoff and drainage will be minimal.
- Self-watering planters - pots with reservoirs in the base that are filled with water or fertiliser solution. Pots are only watered from the top once, after potting up. From then on, all watering is done via the reservoir. Avoid mess by not over-filling reservoirs.
The most water-efficient of all is a closed hydroponic system, where water or nutrient solution is pumped from a holding tank into planting troughs or pots and the excess which drains away is collected and flows back, via a filter, to the tank.
Common mistakes to avoid
- Having too many small pots - hard to water, look cluttered and restrict the range of herbs, vegies and fruits you can grow
- Poor drainage - not neighbour-friendly if excess water from your balcony garden drips down to balconies on floors beneath yours
- Be careful with fertilisers, especially if you are renting. Dissolved nutrients in drainage water can stain or mark hard surfaces
- Wrong plants – don 't choose trees and shrubs that grow more than 1.5m tall or have big root systems – they will be too big and heavy for most balconies
- Not watering often enough – pots on exposed balconies will dry out very quickly on windy days.Check them regularly and, if possible and permitted, put up some form of shelter or shade to protect your plants.