How can a condo building be a net contributor to our urban green space?
When residents maximize the green-value of their balconies. The greening-possibilities can only be realised when residents embrace the potential to grow plants on their balcony. Note that plants that thrive on a balcony enjoy wind and harsh sunlight, especially with a south and west exposure. Not all plants fit this bill.
Here are our tips to make the most of your balcony garden experience:
- Hanging baskets and planters are a wonderful place to start as they don’t take precious floorspace. Plant selection is important. For sunny locations, we recommend nasturtium, dwarf nicotiana, petunias, calibrachoa, short zinnias, marigolds, geraniums and pansie. In part shade, like a north or east-facing balcony, plant Wax begonia, Sweet alyssum, Coleus, Sunshine impatiens and lobelia.
Ben always has an eye for growing food. He uses hanging baskets filled with strawberries and leaf lettuce, arugula or mesclun mix in sunny locations. Plant three to six plants per basket and water frequently. An ever-bearing variety strawberry will provide you with a longer harvest season. With less soil mass in containers versus growing in the ground, be sure to add a generous amount of compost and fertilize once per month, all season. Pro Mix makes two excellent new organic-based plant foods: liquid concentrate and water soluble powder.
- Window boxes. Always place on the inside of the railing for safety. A window box is a perfect place for fresh herbs – meal prep does not get simpler than stepping out onto the balcony to cut a few fresh sprigs of basil, thyme or oregano. Dry your excess herb crop in the oven (with the door open, 150 degrees F until crispy). Store dried herbs in air-tight mason jars and enjoy the garden fresh flavour all year round. Allow the scent of home-grown herbs from the mason jar to take you back to the warm evenings in July when you enjoyed your premium condo views from the outdoor balcony-farm.
- Raised beds continue to grow in popularity. A great reference book is Tara Nolan’s 2016, Raised Bed Revolution (http://www.taranolan.com/category/raised-bed-revolution/). You can build a raised bed to suit your exact needs or opt for one of the many pre-fabricated models. Raised beds warm up quickly in the spring, produce fewer weeds than growing in-ground, and can be raised to whatever height for accessibility. This is particularly useful for gardeners in wheel chairs, or people who simply enjoy the luxury of not having to bend over. Tomatoes and peppers are the #1 and #2 most popular container grown vegetables. Be sure to check with your building management regarding weight restrictions.
- Build a flower tower or green wall to maximize vertical space. This can be built by stacking pots and planting them with colourful annuals. There is an ever-growing number of specialized wall-hanging pots to construct green walls which are a very space-efficient way to squeeze in plant material and improve privacy. Check out your options at local retailers.
- A vine cools and encloses. Plant a vine for fast growth up a wall, with the support of a trellis. Annual hyacinth bean, morning glories and runner beans all work well. For a permanent solution, plant a winter hardy vine like Virginia creeper, honeysuckle, bittersweet or clematis in a deep container with lots of soil to insulate the roots through the winter.
With a bit of imagination, it’s not hard to see the growing opportunities for above ground gardeners. Pun intended.
Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster, tree advocate and holds the Order of Canada. His son Ben is a fourth-generation urban gardener and graduate of University of Guelph and Dalhousie University in Halifax. Follow them at markcullen.com, @markcullengardening, on Facebook and bi-weekly on Global TV’s National Morning Show.