A Beginner’s Guide to Successful Balcony Gardening

I grew up in a little trailer park on a little plot of rented land. Every spring, my mom would take me to the local garden shop and let me pick a few flower varieties to add to her beloved beds. We’d take the tiny plants home and, using a kitchen spoon, we’d dig holes and fill them with the fragrant flowers. Marigolds. Pansies. Begonias. Impatien.

When I first left for university, I was too busy to notice how much I missed this tradition. Over the years, I turned away from the dirt and dove deeper into academics. I moved from one tiny dorm room to the next and eventually all the way to Ontario from British Columbia. I chose my 11th-floor apartment from the internet, sold on the idea of finally having a balcony.

When my mom first came to visit, we hopped on a bus to explore what we considered the big city of London. It’s no surprise our venturing led us straight to a garden centre. My mom encouraged me to pick some plants, some pots, and some soil.

“I want to leave you with something you can look at and think of home. It’ll be beautiful.”

It was. Over the next few years, she visited every spring. We added to the balcony garden, eventually trying our hand at tomatoes and green peppers. Her enthusiasm opened my eyes to the possibility of gardening in small spaces.

And truth be told, I believe this is how the majority of the next gen will garden—in small spaces, in high-rises, on rooftops, and indoors.

The benefits of this are endless. Tending to plants improves our mental health and reconnects us with nature even if we’re stuck in concrete jungles. It’s also a direct way to grow our own food security and cut down on grocery costs—granted we know what you’re doing.

So what are you doing? If you’ve got a balcony, get gardening already! What are you waiting for? Oh yeah, the tips… Here you go:

Take some time to evaluate your space


To have a successful balcony garden, you need to understand its unique ecosystem. Ask yourself: How much direct sunlight does it get? How hot is the concrete during the day and how much does it cool during the night? Does wind and rain rip through during storms? Are there any shady areas? All of these things contribute to your growing conditions and will impact what crops you can reasonably expect to grow.

Psst…don’t forget that you can hang plants, using leaning shelves, and plant stands to create additional space for growing.

Consider how much care your plants will require


I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but there is no such thing as a foolproof plant. Case in point: Basil is supposed to be a beginner plant because it’s supposedly so easy and requires next-to-no care. Imagine my surprise that I could never successfully grow it on my balcony because the conditions just weren’t right.

You’ll need to consider how much care your plant needs, yes, and also how much time you have. If you’re a student or a freelancer who is home a lot, you can probably get away with plants that need daily care.

Now, if you travel a lot, are known as a having a black thumb, or just can’t seem to care enough to remember their individual needs, you can opt for slightly more expensive water reservoir containers, a drip irrigation system, or even paying a neighbour to tend to them on your behalf. Whichever you choose, know that even the hardiest of plants need love—and by love, I mean water and food on the regular.

Think about drainage


You know what you don’t want? You don’t want to water your plants in pots and have it all seep out and start spilling over your balcony’s edge. Your neighbours below you don’t want that, either. Trust me.

Adding some mulch to the top of your soil and some rocks, packing peanuts, or crushed eggshells to the bottom (before you add your soil) is a great way to keep the water in your pot and off your neighbour’s last nerve.

Group complimentary plants in one pot


Companion planting looks beautiful on a balcony and can help save you space when compared to using individual pots for each plant.

Back in the day, I put together some tomato, thyme, rosemary, and marigold containers and they added a pop of colour to my concrete slab in seconds.

Remember to pluck and prune


Droopy or dry flower heads and sun-damaged or wilted leaves need to be plucked, pronto. They suck crucial energy from the rest of the plant. Plucking and pruning will keep your plants healthy and thriving. Plus, it’s hella satisfying going around and de-heading those spent buds.

My first attempt at growing tomatoes on my balcony garden

I scrolled through some old photos trying to find a good shot of those beautiful flower pots my mom made, but instead, I found this out-of-focus pic of one of my first tomato plants on that balcony garden. I let it grow too tall (not knowing about proper pruning to encourage fruit growth), but thought I’d share nonetheless so you could see the concrete jungle I was working with.

If you have some pics of your balcony garden, upload them in the comments for the community to see how widely different and creative we can be in small spaces.

Cover image credit: Pixabay


One comment

  1. […] chrysanthemums near your vegetable beds and deck. Put some in pots and place on your front porch, balcony, and in front of your […]

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