How to Manage a Balcony Garden

Here is how to create the balcony garden of your dreams, by maximising the pleasures while avoiding any potential pitfalls.


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    Find out what the Strata rules for your building are. Think of your would-be plants as your children, and for their sake at least, strike up a friendship with the self-important manager of your apartment (aka building manager). Befriend and have pleasant relations with your neighbours. If you do not have good relations with all your neighbours, including the all-important building manager, even small infringements, real or made-up, in the course of your garden-building can create flashpoints that can end up with you having a fight on your hands. There can be a hundred reasons why people can object to your garden and even if they are all wrong and you are all right, still it's not worth the aggravation. After all, you are keeping your garden for relaxation and enjoyment, not stress.
    • Be thorough in your enquiries and find out what is allowed, what is not allowed, and make sure you get Strata's permission in writing for everything you plan to keep or do in your balcony to save yourself heartburn down the line.
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    Estimate beforehand what plants you are going to grow, the size and material of the containers they would need to grow in, and very important, how many such containers your balcony can safely hold. Also very important, check the drainage qualities of your balcony. Does it slope gently as it must, according to apartment-building rules, towards the drain-holes or is it prone to water-logging in places? If not, and if the lay of your balcony floor happens to be faulty, try to get Strata to repair and rectify it.
    • Don't start a balcony garden on a floor going down the wrong way because it would entail daily clearing of small pools of water, a nuisance on a daily basis.
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    Research on what plants you will be able to grow well as opposed to what you would like to grow. Thank your lucky stars for the internet and the hundreds of gardeners, botanists and other experts who give generously of their knowledge and time. You will find a lot of the information you need at your fingertips. Be practical and mind the height and weather conditions at your balcony and consider carefully which of your favourite plants are likely to do well and which are likely to struggle.
    • For instance, if you feel yourself in love with the jackfruit of your native land, don't mail order a seed and plant it in a pot under the eaves. You might even find an expert on the net who assures you that jackfruit can indeed be made to fruit and flower in a window-box. But unless that window box measures at least 2 square metres, is located on the ground and is open to the sky, don't try. It would be cruel to the plant. So, choose the plants according to their purpose, their ability to thrive under the conditions that you can provide for them and/or their usefulness.
    • For example: Tall plants that can provide screening and privacy, easy-to-grow and pest-resistant hybrids that can thrill a novice gardener, prolific leafers that can quickly green up a space, pretty flowering shrubs that bring pleasure to the eyes, night-flowering plants that waft their fragrance out on the evening breezes, hardy natives that, though not showy, can host wildlife because of their edible leaves or nectar-producing capabilities; or aromatic herbs that double as bee magnets. There is a whole world of beauty from which to choose those that will thrive in the particular environment that you can provide for them.
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    Consider the affordability. Do not be taken in by effusive assurances that you can have a balcony garden that costs next to nothing. Maybe this is true for a garden on the ground where the basic soil, at least, exists and there is ample space for a compost pit. Things are usually very different with a balcony garden. Here, everything has to be bought, from the pot and planter, the potting mix, manure/fertilizer to trellises, stakes and supports, which a garden on the ground may have resources to provide, like trees, posts, pillars and large vertical and lateral areas like fences and walls. When at the garden store, you will find that things that are freely available and easily improvisable on a farm, for instance, comes at considerable expense when you want to buy them off a shelf.
    • If you have land, you have the space to do things yourself, like propagate many plants from one or grow your own seedlings. These can be done even on a balcony, but not too easily, if it's not a large one.
    • If you want a good quality balcony garden, you have to invest in premier potting mix, fertilizers, amenders, etc. It is, of course, possible to make your own compost from kitchen waste using a table-top composter and some may succeed in making a go of it, but generally speaking, in apartment-type homes, space proves to be a constraint both within the kitchen, out on the balcony and inside the pots themselves.
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    Ensure that you have sufficient time. Plants need individual attention, even the poor, so-called abuse-tolerant ones, unless they are made of plastic.
    • Pots have to be weeded individually.
    • A keen eye has to be kept for pests on each and every plant as different plants may be susceptible to different pests. If the pests, depending on their kind, are not picked off by hand or otherwise disposed of as soon as they arrive, and are allowed, instead, to stick around and multiply, chemical warfare will have to be resorted to- not at all a happy solution anywhere, but especially not on a balcony, which is usually bang next to a living or sleeping area.
    • Diseases like mould and mildew can take over when pots are kept in close proximity due to space constraint and air circulation between plants gets curtailed.
    • Again, individual plants will have to be moved around according to their specific requirements of sun or shade or protection from wind and rain. The more attention is paid to each plant, the more successful it's life will be.
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    Expect additional cleaning duties. With a balcony garden, expense also comes from what may be called an unnatural use of space. For instance, your lovely balcony tiles will likely be stained by the muddy water leaking out of your pots because leak they must if your plants are not to be left standing in water to suffer root-rot. You can alleviate this problem by mounting your pots on stands, but again, this costs money and is not a full cure. An added problem is the necessity of having to frequently clean under and between the pots -a backbreaking chore.
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    Be realistic. All this goes to show how important are factors like time, money, strength and energy in the maintenance of a healthy balcony garden. A balcony garden is a lovely thing to have, but it's not a breeze and people at various stages of life and health should think hard and realistically about the implications and consequences of embarking on such a project.


  • Take care to see that you do not get addicted to 'collecting' plants and overcrowding your balcony as there will be hell to pay in more ways than one.
  • Use a few large pots than many small ones.
  • Mount your pots on stands with wheels for portability.
  • Buy everything of the best quality that you can afford, except, perhaps the pots themselves which can be any container with a hole.
  • Avoid heavy containers that would strain your back to move.
  • Use only organic pesticides made from a simple solution of water, crushed chilli or cayenne powder/sauce, crushed garlic and fat-derived natural soap (look up net for more detail and different ideas).


  • Do not use dishes under the containers to trap leaking water. It will accumulate day after day and before you know it, there will be stinking pools under your pots, which would have become a medium for mould and fungus to grow as well as a nursery for larvae of mosquitoes, fungus gnats, fruit flies, etc. These can then swarm into the house at the barest opportunity to feed on fruit and scraps and can prove very difficult to get rid of.
  • Avoid putting kitchen wastes directly into the pots.These will start rotting on the surface and attract the above-mentioned and other vermin like cockroaches. If there is space inside the pots surrounding the plant stems, the potting mix can be carefully moved, taking care not to hurt the surface roots, and beneficial scraps like banana peel or rotting fruit can be buried in the soil, making sure that it remains fully buried and completely covered by the top soil.
    • If using eggshells to provide calcium, make sure that the shells are washed, dried, coarsely powdered or just crushed by hand and scattered in a small area around the plant. This is because soft-bodied beneficial insects or worms can get cut by the sharp edges of shell. Powdering it fine and incorporating it into the soil will also likely cause injuries to delicate worm bodies much like diatomaceous earth which is used as a natural pesticide against certain pests like bedbugs. Also, any trace of egg sticking to the shells can attract vermin. Hence calcium for the plants by some other means may be preferable if one wants to preserve beneficial fauna in the soil.

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