Balcony planting

Climbing plants on balcony courtesy of Pxfuel

Geneva Pattison

Limited outdoor space makes creating a garden difficult. Add in the fact that if you’re three or even six storeys up from the ground level, unsheltered from harsh winds and without an inch of soil, things can get even more problematic.
Brightening up your apartment’s outdoor area with potted plants on the balcony is a fantastic idea. However, people are often discouraged when plants wither and die due to demanding watering schedules, un-ideal planting conditions or inadequate light sources. Don’t give up just yet. If you struggle with growing greenery on your balcony area, read on, as we consider all the variables that will improve your chances of striking green.

Plant Up, Not Out.
First, let’s talk about planting container options. These days, there are numerous container planting solutions for limited spaces, from modern living walls to DIY hanging gardens. Most people don’t want a sea of small pots taking up the entire floor space of a balcony. If you’re one of these people, something that may work for you is using vertical planters.
These types of planters can come in all shapes and sizes, maximising your flower output with minimum space taken up and many are DIY-able. Here are two ideas to consider.

The Tiered Terracotta Planter.
Inspired by tall, elegant Georgian flower fountains, this type of planter would be perfect for people who already have a selection of pots at their disposal. Depending on the size of your pots, you may need to purchase a large, round, flat tray to steady your tiered vertical display. The pots should be placed in ascending order, starting with putting the largest plant pot on top of the flat tray which should also be filled with soil. Bury each pot one-third of the way in the previous pot’s soil as you fill each stacked plant pot. When you’re finished assembling, plant your flowers as normal and water them thoroughly, until you see the water leak out into the base tray. The wonderful thing about this method is that you can also use up plastic nursery pots for this DIY.
If you decide to go with plastic pots, make sure to weigh each pot down with a handful of stones in their base before adding soil. Linked below are some examples of different tiered pot planters from Clay Pot Crafts for inspiration and an easy to-follow step by step guide from the Get Busy Gardening website.

The Pallet Planter.
Keeping with the space-saving theme of vertical planting, another option people have been opting for in recent years is the re-purposed pallet planter. This idea is great for both large and small balconies, you just have to source the right size pallet to suit your outdoor space. Hopefully you can get your pallet for free, but you’ll need gardening tarpaulin and certain tools handy.
Disassembling your pallet is not necessary, just turn it upright and on its side. Roughly cut out rectangles of tarpaulin to fill the empty spaces of the planter. Remember to leave enough slack to fill up with compost and try to make the tarpaulin reach as deep as the base of the front facing planks of wood.
Carefully secure the tarpaulin to the edges of the empty sections with an upholstery staple gun. Don’t worry about neat edges, you can trim them down afterwards. Fill each section with compost and you’re ready to plant flowers! If you’re not keen on the shape or colour of the original pallet, as mentioned previously, you can cut sections apart, paint or redesign the pallet to suit your needs.
Below you’ll find an easy to follow online guide by the Floral and Feather blog and a selection of ideas by the Garden Lovers Club website on how to build the best pallet planter for your space.

Flowers For All Weather.
Let’s face it, Irish weather is unpredictable. That’s just a fact. Between torrents of rain one minute to sweltering heat the next, it’s difficult to get a handle on any given plant’s health, even for ‘well weathered’ gardening experts. However, there are certain types of flowers and plants that can withstand many different harsh conditions. Spring bulbs are something you can rely on year after year and hyacinths and daffodils are a wonderful place to start. Hyacinths come in a variety of colours, they’re beautifully scented, hardy in cold weather and you don’t need to dig them up and store them indoors in winter.
Most varieties do not grow higher than 6-12 inches, making them great for balconies exposed to frequent winds, something taller plants simply couldn’t handle. Hyacinths will live happily for many years in a potted container and ideally the bulbs should be planted in early Autumn for March/April flowering.
In the same vein, daffodils are another colourful option to consider. The daffodil, Narcissus ‘Tête-à-tête’, is the most popular and reliable genus for small container planting. Growing to around 15 to 20 centimetres tall, this plant is hardy to most conditions and small enough to be missed by the winds.
Another small daffodil variety especially suited to barrelling wind conditions is the narcissus bulbocodium, also known as the petticoat daffodil. Much like hyacinths, daffodil bulbs should be planted in early Autumn.
Summer flowers and plants for container balcony planting need to be largely drought resistant. If you’re looking for something with colourful foliage as well as a flowering period, hebe shrubs could be the plant for you. They’re drought tolerant, frost hardy and require little to no pruning as they stay compact in size.
Colour wise, the hebe ‘heartbreaker’ or ‘frozen flame’ varieties both have gradiented foliage with lower leaves remaining green and white and newer leaves putting on a purple and pink show. Hebe flowers range from lavender to fuschia to deep purple depending on the genus of plant. The plant will tolerate full sun to partial shade in Summer, but this shrub does not like to be waterlogged, so be sure to water the shrub at least once a fortnight during very sunny and dry conditions.
If you want a showy flower display but aren’t keen on maintaining multiple planters, consider looking into climbing plants. Clematis ‘Bill Mackenzie’ is a relatively hardy deciduous climber, which will flower all through Summer and well into Autumn. The flowers form an attractive star shape and are sunshine yellow in colour. As the plant moves through Autumn, you’ll be gifted with striking fluffy seed pods which will add interest to your balcony up until Winter. This clematis will do well irrespective of whether you have a South, North, East or West facing balcony. Prune the plant in late Winter or early Spring to encourage abundant flowering.
Winter flowering pansies are wonderful for adding some colour to your planting container during colder months. The Winter pansy is a much sturdier variety than the Summer pansy and requires less care and less light in general. Pansies usually have a two-year life cycle if cared for properly. However, if the flowers are pollinated well by insects, they will produce seed heads, meaning they can self-seed themselves in the container or you can collect the seeds yourself and replant them. If you’re growing Winter pansies from seed, take care to plant the seeds late in September, for a late Winter to early Spring display.

More information from:
Tiered terracotta pot planters.
Tiered terracotta pot planter step by step guide with pictures.
Garden Lovers Club pallet planter ideas.
Step by step easy pallet planter DIY guide from the Floral and Feather blog.