Starting a balcony garden; advice?

wannabegrowerJanuary 31, 2007

Hello all,

I posted in the Organic section about this (since I'm into organic food), and someone suggested that I also post here.

I live in Prague, Czech Republic, and I just moved into a place that has a wraparound balcony. One side faces north, the other, west. I want to grow, grow, grow! I'm interested in having the following items:




Sweet potatoes (and/or the regular kind)


Pine tree









And I'm sure there's more. Bulbs, for example, such as hyacinths and daffodils. Any suggestions on what to do and what not to do?

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There many wonderful things to grow in containers on your balcony.What you need to do is invest in some hanging baskets w/the coconut fiber lining (there the best and they look so great) and about 5-6 terracota pots in lots of different sizes and shapes go as big as you want.Also you will need to get a small foot stool and a 2 gallon watering can and if you can try to get a hold of some wooden wine boxes,crates or different size plant stands so you can create different levels to maximize your space for sun exposure.On my balcony I planted 4 different types of mint in a big hanging basket and it is going crazy it looks so pretty and very easy to take care of it's overflowing out of the basket.Lavender, plant in cactus soil and barely ever water, treat it just like a cactus in full sun.Gardenia, is great for if you have a spot were it's shady but recieves good morning sun for an hour or so. (mine is right by the door so when in bloom I can smell it inside the apt).Here is a list that has worked great for me. Brugmansia(angels trumpet)-big container. Osmanthus Frangrans(Sweet olive)-med container. Honeysuckle-med container. Everblooming strawberries-container or baskets. Mini-flora roses(overnight scentsation)-med to large container adjust size according to the way it grows(check out nor' Jasmine sambac-great for baskets. Lily of the Valley-great for shady spots. Hycynth,Daffodils and Freeia's-just throw them in a pot and water when dry and be patient! Cherry tomatoes-great for baskets. Flowering tabacco-great alternative to petunias in the summer for baskets. Moonfllower vine-in a container with a trellis inserted or some other type of support. Plumeria-great tropical summer plant for full sun, plant in full sun with cactus soil and water only once every two weeks or so. stock and snap dragons-good in containers and baskets Oriental lily(stargazer)-great for indoor and outdoor containers. I've tried to grow lilac before,but it didn't work out I live in texas so it just couldn't measure up to the heat.But you shouldn't have a problem I would recommend "miss Kim" it's a dwarf version of the old fashioned type and has had many successes being grown in a container.There are also many different types fruit trees that are dwarf size like orange,lemon and apple etc..I tried polmgrante but again it didn't like the heat to much.I didn't have any luck with peonies either unfortunatly they take forever to get estblished to bloom (years!)and I'm not that patient. You definetly need too invest in a water meter and and do some research for some natural organic fertilzers.I know you can use Lime for your acidic plants and coffee grinds for just about anything. The best advise I can give you is use this forum it's great recource and if you see something you like at the garden center go ahead and try it experiment with everything and try to be patient.If you have any other questions please don't hesitate to ask.Let me know how it go's.Good luck! Christina

    Bookmark   February 1, 2007 at 12:28PM
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WOW! Thanks so much!

I don't drink coffee, so coffee grounds are out unless I start gathering some from friends. :) What about a small compost pile, or would that be a bad idea?

Lilac grows like mad here, so it should do well on my balcony. I think this weekend would be a good time to hit the garden store.

By the way, I have an aloe vera plant that's HUGE. It was small when I bought it, but now it's a monster. I have it on top of the refrigerator, against the wall, because it's so top-heavy. It keeps pulling out of the soil. What's the best thing to do with it?

    Bookmark   February 2, 2007 at 5:05AM
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Hi Wannabe,

Rix did a great job there but just a couple things come to mind: your original list included pine and Ive got a mugo pine growing on my balcony  IÂve read that it cant tolerate pollution and IÂm on a major highstreet but so far so good.

There are lots of dwarf varieties of evergreen; IÂm in Toronto so IÂm going to get a dwarf Alberta spruce this year but IÂve read there are various Siberian versions of evergreens that may be more accessible to you over there.

IÂve just planted various bulbs. This year IÂve started them indoors in pots but next year IÂll plant them on the balcony in the largish wooden boxes I have my evergreens in now.

Hyacinths with their lovely smell donÂt even need soil, just place them where their roots can access water.

My rosemary is growing well at its very sunny west facing window and I was recently in Atlanta, Georgia and blown away by the size of rosemary shrubs!!

IÂve also read that lilacs are very hardy and plan to add that to my outdoor collection this spring.

Re Aloe  sounds like it needs repotting and a larger pot. Perhaps use a ceramic pot to help with the weight or use gravel in the base of the pot for drainage and to help weight it down.

Re composting  in an apartment you might want to consider vermicomposting? i.e. composting with worms in a bin. Let me know if youÂre interesting in this. ThereÂs a forum for vermicomposting on this site too.

IÂve also read that you could simply place items in a plastic bag and itÂll decompose on its own with time.

Hope this helps.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2007 at 8:45PM
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I bought a load of seeds the other day; the store had tons of seeds, but no gardening implements! (Department store, not specialty garden store.) I picked up rosemary, basil, gerbera daisy, borage, lavender, miniature pumpkin, sweet pea, delphinium, marigold, and other seeds.

I looked longingly at seeds for such trees as Douglas fir (which CERTAINLY wouldn't work, even if I lived on the top floor!) and some pines. I did find a dwarf pine ("suitable for bonsai"), but I left it for the time being.

Haven't bought any bulbs yet. I planted some of the basil seeds in the only available pot I have and put the pot in my window "greenhouse" (a small plastic-and-wood box that works well for such things). Now, I need to get some soil and lots of pots. And bulbs.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2007 at 5:19AM
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Hey wannabe,how are you doing with your balcony?About your aloe Definetly repot it's getting to big.Use terracotta and then get some rocks or large pebbles and place them on top of the soil.The other day I went to wal-mart and miracle grow just came out with pure organic soil and a slow release fertilizer . Let me know what you growing.Christina

    Bookmark   February 9, 2007 at 1:28PM
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I personally would not grow lilac on a balcony, or anything else bulky and large, that does does not look beautiful at least 2 or 3 seasons out of the year. Lilacs are glorious in bloom but how long does that last? The plant itself is not particularly interesting--gangly and awkward. Instead, among shrubs I would try hardy hydrangeas. Oak leaf hydrangeas, for example, do well on the playground of my former building in New York City, in raised boxes on the north side of a large highrise. This is about the coldest and windiest spot in Manhattan--it gets the full force of the wind coming down the Hudson River, channelled between the buildings to gale speeds. The plants get no direct sun at all, it is bitter cold in winter - (15 degrees F / -9 centigrade is fairly common) they live on rainfall alone and get no care (though the boxes are good-sized, which cuts down on how dry they get--you would want to water them in a tub on a balcony). They require no pruning except at the end of the fall you can remove the spent blooms. They have magnificent large corrugated leaves, like oak leaves, that are beautiful from the moment they unfurl until late in the year, when they turn a brilliant red. They have very large panicles of bloom that start white and gradually fade to pink, and last from early summer to the bitter end. These plants stay reasonably compact in a big pot but I believe there are also genetically small varieties. If your balcony faces due south and gets blazing hot, with full sun all day, it might be too much for this plant but in gardens they can be in the sun or the shade. Hardy hydrangeas do well in many climate zones, they are more adaptable than lilacs or peonies. Their only downside is that they are not fragrant.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2007 at 11:54PM
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Well, the basil seeds I planted last week are now beginning to sprout, so soon I can put them outside. I haven't planted anything else because I don't have the containers yet.

As for the aloe, it's still leaning against the wall. I read that they have very shallow root systems, and that they should be planted in shallow pots. And then put rocks around them?

Thanks SO much for the advice!

    Bookmark   February 12, 2007 at 4:10AM
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jenny_in_se_pa(USDA7 Sunset 32)

Hi wannabegrower and welcome!

I have had 2 lilacs on my balcony for going on 9 and 12 years and I would disagree about them being "gangly and awkward". There are many hundreds of types of very hardy lilacs and in particular, the koreans like S. meyeri and S. patula (like "Miss Kim") have unique, dark green foliage and a mounding habit as well as no powdery mildew worries, making them a beautiful and fragrant addition to a garden - whether in-ground or on-balcony. My lilacs are part of my quest to have something blooming through most of the growing season and are my favorite for the couple weeks that they are blooming. The fragrance is well worth it and the privacy/shade that they provide to my bedroom is wonderful.

This was my "Miss Kim" last spring:

I also have a "James McFarlane" (S. x prestonae - thought I had a pic of it from last year but this is from 2005).

The nice thing about "Miss Kim" is that she gets fall coloration as well, with the green leaves turning to a reddish wine and/or bright yellow (example of that below):

With respect to your aloe - it's funny but one of my brother-in-laws had a potted (and very potbound) aloe for years and finally had one of the local nurseries repot it for him a couple years ago. They divided into 3, ~12" (~60 cm) containers. The 3 ended up completely potbound by the end of that summer and last year, he had them repot them again - resulting in 6 pots of them. Now all of those are starting to get potbound, with babies coming up everywhere, so they are obviously very happy. The pots aren't shallow either (although he originally grew a large one in a small aquarium with about 4" of sandy soil). The current pots are ceramic and about 60 cm deep as well. I think what helps is in summer, he puts them out on a south-facing deck in full blasting sun, so they get that "desert" feel. LOL As long as your soil is free-draining, they should be okay in a deeper pot and the heavier pot will keep them upright.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2007 at 9:46PM
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cats123(5 STL MO)

For the aloe, get a taller container and don't fill it all the way up with soil. The aloe can use the side of the pot for support.


    Bookmark   February 19, 2007 at 5:35AM
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What great advice! I never thought doing what cats123 suggested.

Update: I've bought two new plants, an iris and an orange lily. The iris has been put in a bigger pot, and it's doing well. The orange lily keeps tipping over; I have to get a real pot for it.

I bought two small pots and planted more seeds in them - sweet pea in one, spinach in another. I plan to transplant them when they're big enough.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2007 at 6:10AM
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I transplanted the spinach seedlings into a big ceramic pot on the balcony. They've been hanging in there, despite the fact that it's windy on the balcony in February. I finally bought some bamboo stakes and tied the little seedlings to them. They're still alive!

I planted delphinium seeds indoors and waited for them to sprout. This weekend, I took the seedlings and transplanted them outside, tying the biggest one to a bamboo stake.

I planted an iris bulb outside, and mint seeds; no change as yet.

This weekend, I planted pumpkin seeds (miniature pumpkin) and tomato seeds - in separate containers, of course. :)

I finally tied the lily to stakes, so it doesn't flop over anymore. I still need to transplant the sweet pea. I think it's sweet pea; it doesn't look like spinach, which I planted at the same time in a different container, and have since transplanted.

Any other advice?

    Bookmark   March 27, 2007 at 7:49AM
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