balcony gardening for a first-timer

anchita(Bay area, CA)April 6, 2007

Hello everyone,

You might be wondering what a zone 8er is doing in the Minnesota forum! Well, a good friend from Minnesota asked me for some gardening suggestions, and I let her know that I get most of my tips from gardenweb... Only, I hang out in the Texas forum more often :-) In the time she gets down to registering and asking her own questions, I thought I might get her started by making an introductory post on her behalf -- it's weird how I'm so excited about her interest in gardening!!

She's a first-time gardener near Minneapolis, and has limited space -- an east facing apartment balcony that gets sun from morning to early-afternoon (I'd guess about 6 hours or so.) She'd prefer to start from seed: annuals, or perennials that are likely to bloom the first year, and that do well in containers. In addition, she's thinking of buying some houseplants.

What's the optimum time to start outdoors from seed in zone 4, and which flowers are forgiving and rewarding for a beginner? I have had good luck with marigolds, portulaca, profusion zinnias and dwarf cosmos here in Texas, but I'd rather have her rely on your experience/advice than that of zone 8. She doesn't have an indoor light setup, but can she start some seeds indoors in a well lighted window? Again, timing and specifics of plant names will be much appreciated.

Thanks so much for any guidance you might have!


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jel48(Z4 Michigan)

Hi Anchita. Depending on what she likes, the same flowering annuals you mentioned would do well here too. Petunias are another favorite of mine. The grow quickly, produce masses of flowers, smell great, and attract butterflies and hummingbirds, even (I'd be willing to bet) on a second or maybe even third floor balcony. It's getting a little late to start indoors from seed, so she might just want to sow them direct outdoors. I often have both marigolds and petunias reseed themselves in my flowerbeds, so she could probably just seed them direct in her outdoor pots now. For houseplants that she could set out in the summer, I'd suggest a couple of my favorite tropicas, hibiscus and mandevila. Both have done well for me on the east side of my house. I have a hibiscus tree that I bring in every winter and it's about 7 years old now. I haven't had much luck with over-wintering mandevila indoors though. In my house, at least, they tend to loose most if not all of their leaves and they don't come back so fast the next spring. Still, you can buy them here pretty reasonably, and even in a single season you get lots and lots of lovely flowers from them!

    Bookmark   April 6, 2007 at 11:13AM
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Nasturtiums are also fairly easy and six hours of sunlight should be good for them.

Right now we're having quite the cold snap, but she could probably start stuff indoors now and be able to put them out in three to four weeks.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2007 at 12:13PM
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anchita(Bay area, CA)

Thanks for your suggestions jel and gamebird. I really appreciate it. I will be passing on the information to her, and I'm sure it'll help a lot.

This year was my first year overwintering mandevilla inside too! It did look pretty unhappy through the winter, but it's starting to come back now.. I'll be looking forward to the flowers :-)

    Bookmark   April 6, 2007 at 1:22PM
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julie_mn(z4 MN Henn)

Oh- I do love morning glories growing up to provide a screen on balconies- they do well in pots. Upright alocasias provide a great tropical feeling- and will over winter well indoors as well. Hostas and heuchera will overwinter in pots.... As will some dwarf conifers....
Have her take a look at Romando's pics on her GW page. She will surely get some inspiration for patio container gardening there!!
Tell her to come to our swaps too! There will be much advise to be shared there as well as plants!


    Bookmark   April 13, 2007 at 7:28AM
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