Many of you will have “container gardens”, “balcony gardens”, “windowsill gardens” and the like. Few of us are able to have full on gardens in our yards or on our properties.
I would like to address the container type gardens first, as I will be starting up a “smash book” that I will be posting about over the spring, summer and into the fall about my garden on my property. More on that later.
Being an Urban Witch for so long I am all too familiar with the Container Garden. Let me say it can be just as rewarding as having a large plot for a garden. The best thing is that there is no weeding! You do need to water more frequently but that is not so bad. The other great thing is that if a plant is not doing too well in one spot you can very easily move it. You just need to move the pot. No digging up and re-planting, and hoping it survives the process and then thrives in its new location.
The only real trouble I have had over the years with a balcony garden is squirrels digging through my pots to store their nuts etc. The simple solution to this is to sprinkle cayenne powder on top of the soil. Squirrels don’t like getting the pepper in their noses. You will need to continuously apply pepper to your pots as the cayenne loses its potency. If you have very persistent squirrels, you can get come garden cloth, cut it to fit the top of the pot in a flat layer and hold it down with stones. Unfortunately, there is no way to keep them out for good, unless you covered your entire space in a mesh cage (which I have seen people do on their balconies). You may still have days where you need to sweep up the soil and put it back in the pot. Annoying, I know. I tend to toss out whatever it was that they buried to teach them it’s not a secure space to store food.
What type of containers you choose is up to you. Terracotta pots are very traditional. I like that you can write on them. (I always wrote the type of herb that they held in nice writing. I can’t really describe why I liked that so much, it was just this sort of a nice feeling I got whenever I looked at them). Terracotta pots can also be painted and decorated. You can put runes and symbols that correspond with the type of plant you are growing, or as a charm for growth and fertility in general. Just remember with Terracotta pots, you need to water them more frequently than other materials because the clay really soaks up the water keeping it away from your plants. Use the trays so that if excess water comes out of the pot the soil in the bottom can soak it up off the tray.
Ceramic pots are also a good choice. They come a wide variety of colours, patterns and shapes. They range from small to very large. They hold the water better than clay pots.
Plastic is cheaper than clay and ceramic for large pots. These are great for your annuals like geraniums, begonias, pansies etc. You will need to put small stones on the bottom for drainage. Find some small stones to line the bottom of your pots with and then layer soil on top. On my balcony I had a very deep large pot and I was able to stand up a small garden hook and hang a lantern from it. Such a nice addition for the balcony!
Of course there are many pots of many materials. You can find pots that are made from recycled materials, metal, wood, concrete etc.
Balcony etiquette: Use trays under all of your pots on your balcony unless you live on the first floor. There is nothing worse than getting comfy on your balcony only to have someone’s plant water drip down on you. Not to mention the mess it makes. My husband and I were eating dinner on our balcony and someone’s plant water dripped down and right into our dinner plates. Not cool!
If you have a windowsill garden I suggest some culinary herbs that you use frequently and a little lucky bamboo. Bamboo is so easy to grow and take care of. They are hardy, even in low light and they can stand up to a little neglect now and then. Herbs that grow well in pots include basil, chives, rosemary, thyme and sage. Eventually, you will have to re-pot them into larger pots so plan carefully. Don’t have too many to start with or you may run out room as they mature. If you have friends who have container gardens you can divide your mature plants and gift them to those who want them.
For the balcony, you can grow all types of annuals that thrive in your plant hardiness zone. You can look up your zone here for the U.S. and here for Canada. Know your zone before hitting the garden center! Garden centres will absolutely bring in plants that would never thrive in your zone. I’m not sure why this is but it happens all the time, everywhere. Check the tags and it will tell you the zone.
Depending on your zone you can grow many herbs on your balcony in containers. The following are herbs that I grew each year on my balcony. The only sad thing is that even though some are perennials, they may not come back and you must buy them every year. You could try moving them indoors over the winter if you have the space to do so. Just remember during the winter you shouldn’t harvest them as this is the dormant stage of the growing cycle. I suggest thyme, rosemary, sage, chives, and sweet basil. Some herbs grow large and fast (like dill) even in containers, so choose things you use a lot of, or plan to harvest and dry to store.
If you have the space outdoors, you can get very large pots and actually grow some veggies. I have had great success with tomato plants on my balcony. Make sure you buy stakes and garden ties to keep plants upright as they grow. Using some tomato or veggie plant food makes a huge difference in how your large veggies will thrive. A little goes a long way! If you use too much food, the plant grows too quickly and the tomatoes end up being too large and lose flavour. Tomato plants need plenty of sun to get the tomatoes to ripen so make sure you plant them in a sunny spot.
Another thing that I have seen success in are bell peppers. Again, check your zone. The same idea applies: you need a very large pot to do this. You can also try hot peppers, chili peppers and the like. Make sure you have small stakes to keep the plant upright. Again, these need to be in a sunny spot.
Garlic, though I have never personally tried, apparently will also grow in a large pot. I would only plant a couple to give them lots of space to grow.
You can grow wax beans in a pot as well as sugar peas. Again, stakes and ties are needed to keep the plants up.
Once you know your zone and your sun exposure, you can start planning out what you’d like to grow this spring. Be sure you don’t put your plants out until after the last frost date in your zone.
Have you had success growing produce on a balcony or in a pot? Have you had failures we can all learn from? Leave a comment and share your stories with us!