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PHOTO: Ruth Hartnup/Flickr
Even if your only outdoor space is perched stories above the ground, you can have a bountiful harvest at your fingertips. With a little forethought, practically any herb, vegetable or flower is possible in a balcony garden. Here are three tips to consider for balcony-garden success:
Be aware of your balcony-garden location.
Most edible plants require at least 6 to 8 hours of full sun every day, but balcony gardens come with a unique microclimate compared to ground-level gardens. During the summer, southern or western exposures may feel like an oven, so protect your plants during the hottest months with a lattice screen or by tucking them underneath the roof line. There can also be wind issues that will wreak havoc. Be prepared to bring in your plants or shield them with sturdy wind breaks.
Get creative with balcony-garden containers.
Practically anything that will hold soil can be a suitable growing container for balcony gardens. There are great brackets and boxes specifically designed to attach to railings and underneath windows to make the best use of space, but the important thing is to give the plants what they need.
Even if you’re using an old cowboy boot for your strawberries, make sure there are drainage holes, because soggy soil is detrimental to good growth. Don’t put gravel in the bottom of a container for drainage; it creates a false water line and stunts root development.
It’s also important to give plants plenty of space. For example, most tomatoes (except for miniature varieties) do best in a container at least the size of a 5-gallon bucket.
Practice wise watering.
Consistent, deep watering is essential to a bountiful balcony garden. During the summer, this may mean twice a day. You also need to be aware of where your water goes when it drains. Water trickling onto a neighbors’ balcony isn’t a good way to make friends. Set a tray underneath your pots to avoid drippy situations.
In essence, a balcony garden is its own tiny ecosystem that, just like any garden, needs pollinators and benefical insects. By planting herbs such as dill, cilantro and fennel, you can bring in aphid loving insects like lacewings and ladybugs to control the nuisances before they damage your precious crops.