New to gardening, advice appreciated

cyliMay 10, 2006

Hi all! I just moved into an apartment with a narrow but long balcony that faces NE (more north than east). It gets sun in the morning, but there is another balcony above it so I guess I don't get all that much sunlight. I'm guessing it's maybe 4ft wide by 15-20ft long. I was hoping to put some plants up to help block out some road noise, and also because my view isn't that spectacular.

I was wondering what everyone recommended that I plant. A friend suggested dwarf alberta spruces in pots in the corners - when I looked up the information, it said that such plants had to be pruned in a certain way to keep them dwarf.

I'm no gardener - I've really only ever had an office fern, so any simple, hardy plants that will survive any mistakes I make would be appreciated. Also, I live in a tiny apartment, so I probably won't have room to take many, if any, plants indoor during the winters. It's pretty cold here in the winter, and my balcony is fairly windy.

Thank you in advance for any advice or links to other information on the web that you provide. I feel completely lost. :)

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Hi there, and congratulations on your new balcony!

Well, since noone have come running to your rescue, I will try and give it a go, even though my own balcony gets lot's of sun.
I wouldn't plant dwarf alberta spruces if I were you. As far as I know, they prefere full sun. However, these following plants should do well, I think:

Impatiens, Impatiens wallerana (The only anual I could think of).
Hostas (Foliage colors range from solid green, yellow-green or blue-green to variegated forms with white or gold markings)
Many ferns (among them Christmas fern, Polystichum acrostichoides and Ostrich fern, Matteuccia pensylvanica)
English ivy, Hedera helix
Barrenwort, Epimedium sp. (Flowers in spring are usually yellow, red or white, resembling small orchids!!!)
Sweet woodruff, Galium odoratum
Wintercreeper, Euonymus fortunei
Pigsqueak, Bergenia cordifolia (It's so pretty, oh so pretty...)

Trees and shrubs:
Common witchhazel, Hamamelis virginiana
Smooth hydrangea, Hydrangea arborescens
Sweet pepperbush, Clethra alnifolia
Winterberry, Ilex verticillata (females gets bright red berries in fall through winter)
Fetterbush, Leucothoe fontanesiana
Yew, Taxus x media (beware, plants vary from upright to spreading forms depending on cultivar)

I would recomend mixing water retaining crystals into the soil to keep it moist, and cut down on watering.

Happy gardening!!!

    Bookmark   May 13, 2006 at 6:09AM
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jenny_in_se_pa(USDA7 Sunset 32)

Hi Cyli and welcome! Glad to see that vgtar came to your rescue. :-D

I face the same way and also have a balcony above me (the top floor), but because I am up high above the trees, I get about 6 hours of unobstructed direct sun in the morning in summer (little or none in winter). I also get a few hours on the western corner as the sun sets, as I am the end balcony on the west side of the building. There are many many things you can grow. I haven't yet made an inventory of all that I have out there right now because the list keeps growing (I've been trying alot of new things the past 2 years to attract hummingbirds) and more things are due to come in! LOL But I'll be doing that soon and posting some threads on the status of the garden.

The one major issue with Alberta Spruces is that they can be prone to spider mite damage and so if you are willing to keep after that, you shouldn't need to do any pruning of them and they would be a good hardy choice of tree. In general, they are slow-growers - whether in the ground or in a container (moreso in a container).

With me living on a busy street - large enough to be a main thoroughfare for commuters, ambulances, trucks, and busses - I can say that it does get very noisy at times, despite my being way up on the 18th floor. And that is because of the bizarre acoustics (I can often clearly hear people talking to each other down on the street corner while they wait for a bus). I don't know if there really is anything that can be planted to deaden the noise as I certainly have a load of large shrubs out there and it doesn't really help. But you can grow a number of things to at least soften the view.

What would be helpful is for you to actually make an attempt to determine the number of hours of sun you really do get - ie., maybe check when the sun rises (at least in June with the longest day) and peep out often during the morning to see where and when the last light hits the balcony. That way we can make better recommendations for plants for you. As a safe set of choices - any plants that obviously grow in part sun should work. There are a number of hardy shrubs that can grow well in those conditions if they can get from 4 - 6 hours of sun.

I have had posters on GW insist that lilacs like "Miss Kim" won't bloom at all or will only have 1 or 2 blooms in less than 8 -10 hours of all day blazing unobstructed overhead sun. Yet mine is in full bloom right now with only about 4 - 5 hours of edge-of-understory-equivalent sun this time of year (this on a covered balcony that mimics the edge of the understory of woods). She is wafting up a storm with a fragrance that has been drifting into my bedroom from outside the past couple days! So sometimes you have to experiment, because you might be pleasantly surprised.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2006 at 11:33AM
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If Jenny says you can grow dwarf alberta spruces, then you propably can. This is a lady, who knows what she is talking about! So forget what I said on this subject, I would listen to Jenny, anytime.

Jenny, nice to pop into you again :o)
Miss Kim really looks pretty this year. It's amazing how much she has grown since last spring! As you might or might not know, the only bush/tree I've got on the balcony is a Japanese maple (partly your doing) and this year it looks more pretty than ever before. -For the first time I've decided not to remove any leaves just to see, how it will do "au naturelle" (unless of course, I loose my nerve and do it anyway in a moment of temporary insanity).

    Bookmark   May 13, 2006 at 3:37PM
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jenny_in_se_pa(USDA7 Sunset 32)

Hey vgtar - Thanks for the compliments on Miss Kim! It's funny how year after year, lilac lovers eagerly wait for those 2 weeks when they are in their glory with blooms and fragrance and then they're done. And then we wait another year for the next bloom, sortof ignoring them the rest of the time. LOL

I bet your Japanese maple looks gorgeous! As they age, they get better and better.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2006 at 7:27AM
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Dear Jenny,

no, I don't think it's amazing how people can wait year after year, for the lilacs to bloom. What would be amazing, would be if people didn't wait eagerly to let these flowers tingle their nose and feast their eyes every spring. -However I don't have any on the balcony, but they grow in the neighbourhood, so I don't have to walk far to get the experience.
That was a sidetrack. What I wantet to say, was... yes, the Japanese Maple really get's better year by year. -When I bought it, it was easy to see that the top had been cut off (or run over or whatever had happened), but it was the best one they had in the gardening center. -I know it wouldn't do well on a bonsai exibition, but it still looks great.... just the leaves in themselves... the colour and shape of them.... amazing!

I doubt it myself, but do you think a japanese maple would do well for our shaded friend here???

    Bookmark   May 17, 2006 at 7:41PM
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jenny_in_se_pa(USDA7 Sunset 32)

vgtar - I think the japanese maple can do okay in a somewhat shadey spot (although not sure about deep shade). Since they are smaller and slower-growing, they often end up growing up in the understory of a grove of larger trees or may peep out along the edge of the understory. The only thing that might occur is that for certain cultivars of the red-leaf types, the leaf color may not be as dark, but would tend towards greenish. I know many in my neighborhood who have Japanese maples in their front yards, where those yards are almost completely shaded by the larger decidous trees like sycamores. However this is an "open" shade where the larger tree's branches have been limbed up pretty high, so there is some dappled sun and generally bright conditions.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2006 at 7:59AM
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One thing you didn't mention...did you check the apartment regulations about planting, etc.? Any chance of large pots falling and injuring anyone? If it was my apartment, I would plant fast growing vines that would not only look good, but would act as a privacy screen. There are many beautiful vines out there to choose from, and they don't need enormous pots to grow in.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2006 at 2:40PM
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