Planning a balcony garden
1 Building regulations Find out what limitations you must follow as determined by the building management. Are you allowed to attach anything to the building or railings?
2 Weight restrictions For anything more than a few pots and chairs, be sure to find out the maximum weight your balcony can handle. A half barrel loaded with wet soil weighs about 200 pounds.
3 Watering How will you water your plants? If there is no outside faucet available, try connecting a lightweight coil hose to your kitchen or bathroom tap. Otherwise you may have to ask yourself, "How many buckets of water am I willing to carry across my living-room carpet?" In the heat of the summer some small containers will need water twice a day.
4 Drainage Ideally there should be a sloped floor with a drain and perhaps open-weave rubber mats to protect the floor surface. Otherwise excess water may drip to your neighbour below. Plant saucers will help but they should be emptied after watering so that your plants are not sitting in water.
5 Access Gardening off the ground means bringing all the bags of soil, containers and plants up the elevator. Be sure the trees and shrubs you order will fit into the elevator.
6 Exposure to sun and wind Understand your growing conditions so that you can choose the right plant for the right place. Full sun is more than six hours of sunlight per day. Constant winds at high altitudes can dry out and knock over containers very quickly. Select tough plants and provide a windbreak. Hardy plants may overwinter if they are at least 2 zones hardier than where you live.
7 Containers Large containers made of lightweight plastic, wood or fibreglass can overwinter outdoors with hardy perennials. To reduce the soil weight in large containers, fill the bottom third with crushed plastic cell packs or Styrofoam peanuts. A layer of landscape cloth will keep the soil from washing through. Anchor containers securely.
8 Soil and fertilizer Soil-less mix made of peat moss, vermiculite and perlite is light but will not provide the nutrients your plants will need. Add compost and slow-release fertilizers.
9 Design How do you want to feel in your garden? Are you hoping for a secluded shady nook or an open tropical sun spot? Do you want to frame your view or block it? Borrow inspiration from pictures. Create groups of interesting foliage and let the flowers become the extras. Make use of vertical space.
10 Storage Plan for somewhere to store tools, bags of soil, extra containers, fertilizers, cushions and anything that cannot overwinter outdoors.
Margaret Nevett is the store manager of Gardenscape Tools in Toronto's Beach area. She shares her passion for gardening in her spring and fall workshops. Margaret studied horticulture through Guelph University and garden design with international designer John Brookes.