Written by: Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
Want to make your apartment stand out from the crowd? Plant a balcony garden to share flowers and fruits with your neighbors. It will make your home seem more inviting and give you another opportunity to meet the people next door. You’ll find your neighborhood friendships grow almost as fast as your plants!
Just because you have a small outdoor space doesn’t mean you can’t grow edible and ornamental plants. Instead of having plants that spread out, go with plants that grow up.
If your balcony gets at least six hours of direct sunlight, you have the makings of an outdoor garden as well as a lovely meal for friends and neighbors and a few flowers for a vase on your table. The best part? Your garden paradise will take very little of your time.
1. Reach for the Sky
A vertical garden allows you to use all of your floor space and then some. A trellis will support your plants as they climb. They come in all shapes and sizes and are readily available at garden centers and big-box stores. These usually are made of metal, plastic, or wood.
You can also make your own with bamboo stakes or something similar. Start with three stakes for each plant or in each pot. Form the stakes into a teepee, and the plants will twine up them.
Select your trellis for size and form. Consider the mature height of the plants you plan to grow for a guide. Remember, you can wind the vines back onto the trellis if they get too tall. Whatever you use, the individual stake or section of a trellis should be no larger than 1-inch circumference.
2. Get Climbing
You can use plants that climb or plants that trail on trellises. With a little human assistance you can influence the growth direction. Look how climbing vines curl – clockwise or counterclockwise. Wind the plant’s tendrils or stems on the stake or trellis in the direction of that curl.
You may need to use a few twist ties or string affixed to the trellis to train your tomatoes and beans to travel upward. The only other maintenance involved is the occasional watering and harvesting.
3. Vegetables and Flowers
Many vegetables, such as green beans, peas, squash, and cucumbers, can be considered a climber or of the bush type. You can start these by sowing seeds or with starter plants. The bush types are easy to grow in containers. Climbers are what you would want for a trellis.
Veggies also can be dwarf types, making them perfect for apartment balconies or patios. Dwarf plants are bred to be quite productive for their size and you’ll find them in tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, and squash varieties. These veggies, along with broccoli and cauliflower, are best purchased as transplants.
It’s easy to find annual flowering plants that climb (or trail). Nasturtiums not only climb, but the flowers and leaves are edible. Other climbing plants to look for?
- Colorful sweet peas (not edible)
- Red cardinal vine (which hummingbirds love)
- Climbing black-eyed Susan
- Purple and pink hyacinth bean (edible)
- Star Jasmine (produces fragrant blooms)
These can all be grown from seed.
4. Herbs and Fruit
Strawberries are a fruit that’s easy to grow in a small space. These ruby jewels are perfect for window boxes slung to a balcony railing with zip ties. Grow everbearing strawberry varieties for a summer-long treat.
Herbs are well adapted to grow in pots in small spaces. You can also grow lettuces, spinach, and other greens in containers. Instead of filling up your floor space, place the pots on a multi-leveled planter and place it where it’s sure to get the most sunlight. You won’t have to bend down to water them, and you’ll be surprised at how many you can fit into a small space.
5. Enjoy the Harvest
Remember to pick your veggies, fruits, and flowers as they mature to keep the plants producing. Encourage neighbors with small spaces to grow some of their own to share with your community or friends. By hosting a pitch-in plant party, you don’t have to grow everything yourself. Folks who have shadier spaces can grow the lettuces and other greens, while those with more sun can grow other vegetables or flowers.
Trade your bounty with each other and set a few flowers aside for the apartment manager as a way of saying thank you for all you do. Sharing your harvest with others is one of gardening’s greatest joys.
Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp is an award-winning garden writer, editor, and speaker. (She speaks at libraries, garden clubs, public gardens, home and garden shows, Master Gardener groups, and horticulture industry events.) Known as a hortiholic, she frequently says her eyes are too big for her yard. She blogs at hoosiergardener.com.