Washington DC Balacony

alynne68June 10, 2013

I have been posting on the pepper forum and the container forum for about a month. I have a 6' x 28' west facing balcony on a major street in Washington DC. The first few years I grew everything - Crepe Myrtle, Japanese Maple, Peppers, Herbs, Jasmine, bourgonvilla, Zinnias, etc. All was fine for about 5 years. Then the pests found me. The previous owner had never grown anything. Spider Mites got my trees and I've been fighting white flys and aphids ever since.

I've been reading all the posts here and most seem to be dealing with lack of light. I have full sun from 1:00 to sunset on the hottest days of the year.

Would love to hear about dealing with pests, watering (no water source outside) etc.

love the info and hope i can share some.


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Welcome to the balcony forum, Alison!

I'm so sorry to hear about the spider mites munching away on your plants! -Personally I've never had spider mites, but I know that they can be a nuisance, Especially since they are so tiny that you don't really notice them, until a plant is heavily infected. I do get Aphids though. Especially my Orpine seems to get infected every year, just as it is about to form flowers (but even untreated, they don't seem to do much damage to this plant). These I treat with homemade insecticidal soap. I apply it at night so that the sun won't burn the wet leafs. Then the following evening I take it into the shower, to remove the soap and the dead aphids. I repeat this every fourth day until I no longer see any aphids, and then I give it one extra spraying, just to make sure, that I got them all. As far as I know, you can use the same procedure with both spider mites and whiteflies. The number of days between reapplying may be more or less for these, as it depends on how long it takes for the eggs to produce mature adults (the soap doesn't kill the eggs).
Some plants seems to avoid pests all together. Like sempervivums, which I don't think should have any pest problems, unless deer and rabbits can make it to your balcony (if they do, please take a picture of them getting there, I would love to see that ;-) -Other plants are good at repelling them all together, like marigolds (not the "pot varieties" though). Wikipedia has a list of bug repellant plants.
I get about six hours of afternoon sun. Many of my containers are just buckets, where I put "rubber foam" in the bottom of the pot. -I don't know the actual word for this foam, but it's a material that is used in a lot of furniture. Mine is an old top mattress. I cut it in size, and drill a hole on the side of the pot, for overflow, so that I don't overwater. You can also build one in other ways, but I came up with this idea, as I thought it would be easier.... and it is. It works quite well, I think. You can also buy self watering pots, but they are a bit pricey. Of course, the plant needs as much water as otherwise, but I don't have to water them nearly as often. Just carry lots of buckets of water out there. During a heatwave some years ago, I would carry 40 liters (about 10 gallons) of water out there, every day... this is when a bucket becomes handy!


I forgot to say, that to cut down on watering, you can use white glazed pots or white plastic pots. This will help the soil from heating up too much, and keep the water from evaporating through the side of the pot. The water in an unglazed pot such as terracotta, will dampen of much faster. However, the roots breathe better, in an unglazed pot.
Mulch is also a good idea to avoid the water dampening away from the soil. Besides, using mulch will keep the topsoil nice and loose, which will make the water disperse itself better into the pot. And in the winter a good layer of mulch is also a good isolation, to keep the temperature even around the base of the plant.


This post was edited by vgtar on Tue, Jun 11, 13 at 8:46

    Bookmark   June 11, 2013 at 5:21AM
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This is the view from the rooftop. I face just west on the 3rd floor. Washington Cathederal

    Bookmark   June 11, 2013 at 9:59PM
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Oh WOW! -That is one spectacular view, Alison! I doubt very much, that you would get any deer problems. You are up there, alright!

-Your cathedral reminds me a bit of some of the Gothic and late Norman churches and cathedrals you will find in England, like Westminster Abbey or York Minster! It looks HUGE!- Is that Potomac river in the background?

Sometimes I wish, I lived 350m (0.2 miles) down the road. That way I would get a view over the harbour and all the many towers and copper roofs of central Copenhagen. -I'm not complaining though, as we have a very nice garden just beneath my balcony. Besides, if I lived by the harbour, I would have a lot more strong winds, than what I get here!

I would love to see some pictures, of what you are growing up there! I really envy you (and others in here) for having a balcony of that size! -I also used to have a Japanese Maple, but I planted it in my mothers garden after a few years, because whenever I let the soil dry just once (which would happen every year), the leaf tips would turn brown. My mother was a bit sceptic when I planted it, because she was sure it would suffer in the spot, where I put it, but it has settled nicely, and now she loves it as well.

I think, a reason that you see many posts regarding a lack of light, is that it is an issue for many gardeners. Even those who have a big in-ground garden, but for them it's easier to just ignore that area, than it is if you only have a balcony to turn your attention to and it's facing due North. -What will grow? -and what will flower? -This doesn't mean that us with sun doesn't face challenges. Many many more plants will grow and bloom for us, but our problems are often regarding, how to keep our plants from getting scorched by the sun in the heat of the summer? -and how can we lessen the freeze/ thaw cycles during late winter and early spring? This is not as much an issue, when your balcony faces North or East, as it is for us, who are looking South and West. There ARE posts on that, but it might have been a while, since we had any. -And often this advice is simply hidden away, in posts regarding plant suggestions.

By the way, what did you do, with your previous pest problems? -It would be good to know, for references of what works, and what doesn't.


    Bookmark   June 12, 2013 at 2:53AM
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Hi! Yes, I am a lack of light person now, but my first apartment in college was a full-sun South-facing balcony which was unobstructed and got sun all day long. I had really good luck with a variety of things, although then the biggest problem was the pots heated up so hot it would stress the plants out. Do you have a see-through railing or is it a wall that can kind of shield your pots?

    Bookmark   June 12, 2013 at 1:27PM
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First of 2 pics of my balcony, pulled everything in because of huge stormes here in DC. 2nd will follow.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2013 at 9:36PM
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other side.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2013 at 9:38PM
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You are less high up than I thought, which is good I guess. You get to have those trees to break the winds a bit. What kind of tree is that in the first picture? Looks a bit like a gigantic rhododendron? My balcony is very sheltered, so I only take the small pots inside, and water the bigger ones down.
They say that size doesn't matter, but right now I'm suffering from balcony envy! My balcony could fit on yours several times over. With a balcony that size, I wouldn't be on waiting list for an allotment!

    Bookmark   June 14, 2013 at 3:12AM
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very nice space!
aren't those bull magnolias? and so big! we'll need a pic of flowers when they come...

    Bookmark   June 14, 2013 at 3:05PM
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That's a magnolia grandiflora. Very nice!

    Bookmark   June 14, 2013 at 8:16PM
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A magnolia? Wow! -It will take some years, before the one I've got in view from my balcony will be of that size! I think ours is an Asian variety. Do they get as big as this one?

    Bookmark   June 16, 2013 at 10:08AM
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if yours is Asian(hardy magnolia) it's a much smaller tree, it'll get to 10m/30feet at most. bulls=grandiflora=southern do double of that in 20 years, and almost as wide. we have hardy magnolias in NYC - lots. but southern magnolia grows in the southern-US : Carolinas to texas.
it's very common tree there. very spectacular. the blooms are the size of dinner plates and have unbelievable fragrance.
I've seen bull magnolias in Italy, they prune them to be much smaller then in US, umbrella like. but I think it's the same tree.
I saw some in philly in front of the museum of art - which is sort of unusual, it's too far north; but if planted sheltered against brick/darker stone , it'll grow , I guess.
Alison, do you have many southern magnolias in DC?
yours look like a forest!

This post was edited by petrushka on Mon, Jun 17, 13 at 21:24

    Bookmark   June 17, 2013 at 12:32PM
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The magnolia is huge and I guess very old. I'm on the 3rd floor and the tree is at least as high as the 6th. Here are some pics. 1st one a bloom past its prime, the second new blooms.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2013 at 8:23PM
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Better blossoms

    Bookmark   June 20, 2013 at 8:33PM
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I think my favorite thing about this tree is that is is just outside my bedroom window. Lets me know when it has snowed, how windy it is, if it's raining or if all is calm.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2013 at 8:36PM
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Here is the balcony with plants in place. Most are chilies, one Fig and a big pot of lavender. Still fighting aphids and white flies. Too low to avoid them, too high for helpful critters.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2013 at 8:41PM
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You could try planting some insect repellent plants (there is a big list on Wikipedia). The thing is really, if you have many of one plant, then the insects will find you, and easily move from one plant to the next, in what they see as a great big buffet. But if you have lots of different plants between each other, the insects gets confused, because they really just want to eat their favourite meal, and do not want to smell something they think is yucky, while munching away on the good stuff. There are many hundred kinds of aphids alone, and they all have different tastes. The ones that like roses, will not necessarily touch tomatoes etc. That, and an insecticidal soap might be of help. You could also try and catch some ladybugs. Then in the evening (where they tend to fly around less) you can place a bag over an infested plant, and release them in there, and see if they won't discover the feast you have laid out before them. Then remove the bag later on as gently as possible, so they don't get disturbed.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2013 at 6:46AM
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I am using soap but am finding the best thing for aphids is squishing. Have gotten over the ookieness of it and seems to be move effective. Also removes stress after a bad day. I do tend to have heebee jee bees for a while after.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2013 at 7:24PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Hi & Welcome, Alison. Love love love your balcony! Nothing to add to the great advice at the moment, but wish you luck and enjoyment!

" I do tend to have heebee jee bees for a while after."
No doubt! Gloves? I try to deal with pests manually when I can but I get grossed out sometimes too. The caterpillars eating my Cannas must be stopped but I still dislike snipping them in half with the scissors.

This post was edited by purpleinopp on Mon, Jun 24, 13 at 10:42

    Bookmark   June 24, 2013 at 10:21AM
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Hello, Neighbor!

I know this is an old thread by now, but, I'm just about three blocks down from you (guessing by your picture). I've outgrown my windowsills and am planning to start a container garden on our patio. Front facing, over the avenue, very large, lots of light.

I'm curious what herbs you've had the best luck with in your space? Do you have much of a wind issue? I imagine they'd have a similar fate a few blocks away...

    Bookmark   March 9, 2014 at 11:53AM
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Hi Abby! I'm at Wisconsin and Porter. West facing across from McLean Gardens.
The two biggest issues I face is the afternoon sun/heat and bugs. I'm on the 3rd floor and am high enough to get the spores/eggs from mites and aphids but too high for the good bugs to find. I grow a lot of chilis so don't want to use pesticides. I've gotten immune to the ewiness of squishing aphids - best cure yet.

Most herbs do very well. The only one that doesn't seem to work is cilantro - goes to seed very quickly.
Just got my new season of chili plants. Here's a pic.

Would love to know what you are thinking of and how it goes!


Having technical difficulties with the pic. Here is early last spring.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2014 at 8:19PM
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how are the buds on magnolias? big?

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 6:34PM
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