Balcony Gardening for Beginners

Beautiful Flower Gardens for Small Spaces

Balcony garden on three levels of a residential building.

John Warburton-Lee / AWL Images / Getty Images

At first glance, a balcony garden doesn’t seem to be any different than a container garden. You have a small outdoor surface and a few potted plants to let everyone know that this is where your home meets the natural world. Then you realize the challenges:

  • Which flowers can survive wind gusts and shifting shadows?
  • Can my balcony support the weight of the containers and their contents?
  • How can I water the plants without drenching the tenants below?
  • Does my garden look as pleasing to passersby as it does to me?
  • What happens when winter arrives?

Learn more about growing a successful flower garden when you have zero in-ground planting area, and transform a space for a couple of potted plants into your urban paradise.

Flowers for Balcony Gardens

Flowers that thrive in alpine or rock gardens are also ideal candidates for balcony gardens. Like alpine environments, balconies are exposed to unbuffered winds, and the succulent leaves and low profile of these flowers protect them from desiccation and breakage. Alpine flowers also get by on less water, making them low maintenance and less likely to drip on neighbors below. Include Armeria sea pink for a cushion of bright pink flowers in late spring. Delosperma hardy ice plant produces daisy-like flowers over a long period. Dianthus flowers will cheer you up with a spicy fragrance. The penstemon may attract passing bees and butterflies.

If you aren’t ready for the commitment of perennials, choose drought-tolerant annuals that don’t need fussing to thrive. Vinca flowers are self-cleaning; no need to deadhead. Million bells are petunia look-alikes but won’t look like something the cat dragged in after a rainstorm.

Choose Balcony Garden Containers

Before you choose containers for your balcony garden, you should determine if you need permission to start your garden, learn about balcony garden regulations, and, if the plan is ambitious, consider a consult with a structural engineer for safety. High-quality poly-resin garden containers and urns are indistinguishable from glazed pottery or stone, but weigh just a fraction of the real thing. In addition to lightweight garden pots, you can make your containers weigh even less by placing Styrofoam peanuts or empty milk jugs in the bottom half of large pots instead of soil. If you prefer to use only natural materials in your pots, fill the bottoms with coco coir, which provides excellent drainage and breaks down slowly.

Balcony Garden Design

The trick of balcony garden design is to create enough diversity to be interesting without looking cluttered or chaotic. Choose one or two colors and keep all of your flowers in that color family. You can go for a hot color scheme of red and yellow, a cool scheme of purple and white, or contrasting colors such as blue and orange.

Include hanging baskets for vertical accents. A bracket that hangs from a wall is a safer way to hang baskets than a freestanding metal tree, which may topple in high winds. In this small space, bypass the cheap plastic hanging baskets and plain brackets and instead invest in ornate pieces that compliment the architecture of your building.

Consider installing a small trellis or tuteur to support a flowering vine. Thunbergia and firecracker vines will stay in bounds. If you get permission to attach a trellis to a wall, set it at least 1 inch away from the wall to discourage rot and mildew problems.

Care for Balcony Garden Plants

Watering is usually the number one challenge for balcony gardeners. The possibility of unexpected muddy showers won’t thrill your neighbor beneath you. A drip irrigation system is the best way to give potted plants only what they need, without much more than some condensation beneath the container. You will need a gravity-fed irrigation system with a reservoir of at least five gallons. Other balcony-watering ideas include using capillary mats or drip caps that attach to your recycled two-liter plastic bottles.

The small space of a balcony garden makes pest control methods that are usually laborious seem feasible. Handpicking is a viable way to control any insect large enough to be handpicked! Put on your gloves, and drop all offending beetles, caterpillars, and slugs into a bucket of soapy water. Nip pests in the bud early, as infestations blossom quickly in such a small area.

As you prune and groom your balcony garden, think about buying a kitchen composter so you can turn clippings and veggie scraps into black gold for your plants. Bokashi models promise quick results with no smell.

When winter arrives, balcony gardeners must decide how or whether to save plants. For the gardener with annuals, it’s fun to start with fresh specimens each year. If some of the flowers are expensive exotics, you may be able to overwinter them in a sunny window. Hardy perennials may survive the winter in their containers; large containers with excellent drainage are the key to success here. Finally, you can take cuttings or divisions of large perennials to overwinter indoors. This challenge is part of the fun of balcony gardening.