Even the tiniest balcony can connect us with nature, fresh air and beautiful plants.
Balconies come in all sizes, but their greatest asset is the feeling of space, especially when the walls of the apartment are beginning to close in on you. Adding container plants will make the space even more inviting, and you don’t even need green fingers.
Different plants need different amounts of sunlight, and that goes for watering too. Get that right and cultivating a balcony garden is a cinch.
How sunny or shady is your balcony?
What you do need to know, before buying the plants, is how much sunlight the balcony receives during the day, and whether it is morning or afternoon sun.
- A very sunny balcony, that receives at least six hours of sun, will suit succulents, including kalanchoe and calandiva, lavender, calla lilies, pot chrysanthemums, and pot roses, provided the latter two are watered daily in summer.
- A balcony that receives morning sun and shade for the rest of the day will suit fuchsia, hibiscus, hydrangea, violets, jasmine, and palms. Pot roses and chrysanthemums will also cope with this.
- Those balconies in full shade are better for foliage plants like Philodendrons, delicious monster, alocasia, ferns and peace lilies.
- Very few plants can cope with hot, afternoon sun and it may be a good idea to use shade cloth as a screen.
Most important: check the light requirement of the plant on the label before you buy it.
Good to know: the angle of the sun moves as winter moves into summer. See how time and amount of sunlight changes and move your plants around accordingly.
Watering dos and don’ts
Plants need less water during the cooler months, but that also depends on the amount of sun they receive.
The general rule is keep the soil evenly moist, not bone dry or water-logged. Push your finger into the soil to check the moisture level. In summer, add a liquid fertiliser to the water once a month.
Plants in terracotta pots dry out more quickly than those in plastic containers. If pots stand on saucers, let the water drain through and then empty the saucer. Don’t let the pot stand in water.
Spring flowers for the balcony
Lavandula stoechas is a spring flowering variety with fragrant leaves that release their delightful perfume when rubbed. It is a natural stress reliever. Let the soil dry out moderately between watering. Snip off dead flowers to encourage more. In warm, sunny conditions, such as a balcony, it may flower for up to three months.
Kalanchoe and Calandiva are hardy, flowering succulents with glossy dark green leaves. They do well in sunnier spots on the balcony and also grow in semi-shade. These small, compact perennials need very little care and should only be watered when the soil starts to dry out. Over time, plants fill out and can be trimmed.
Chrysanthemums are also sun-lovers and are available in a range of warm and cool colours. Plants don’t like to dry out but should not be soggy either. Water from the top every day or every second day. If the plant dries out very quickly repot it into a larger pot.
Pot roses will thrive and flower beautifully with plenty of sun and daily watering in summer. Each pot contains three to four mini-roses, which is why a single pot is so full of blooms and buds. Under-watering could lead to red spider infestations. When the flowers are over, cut off the stems to 5cm above the ground, and when new shoots are visible, feed with a liquid fertiliser. Just make sure they are watered every day.
Calla lilies (Zantedeschia) can bloom for up to six weeks. Feed with a liquid fertiliser once a month and remove spent blooms to encourage new blooms. Calla lilies like morning sun, consistently moist, but not soggy soil, and liquid fertiliser (at half strength) every two weeks to encourage flowering.
Fuchsias are another spring flowering favourite that you can start indoors if it is still too cold outside. Once it gets warmer, fuchsias thrive outdoors in a shady spot or one that receives morning sun. Keep the soil evenly moist because they don’t like wet feet. They are best displayed in hanging baskets and will attract butterflies.
‘All Season’s’ hydrangea produces a long-lasting extra-large bloom in pink or white. It needs at least four hours of bright light a day. The flower lasts longer if the plant is kept cool, with moist but not soggy soil. Plants prefer lime-free water. If the air is dry, place the pot on pebbles.