The truth is that you don’t need ample open space to grow a garden. If you plant varieties made to grow in pots, you can get the benefits even if you don’t have any garden ground.
You can produce a lot of different vegetables in pots on your balcony or patio and still get a good harvest. But let’s start with just five favorites to make things easier.
Container Gardening: Pros and Cons
Many problems can be solved or at least worked around by gardening in containers:
- If your body makes it hard for you to bend or kneel on the ground, containers can make it easier for you to get to your plants.
- The soil in pots warms up before the soil in the ground does. This gives seeds and seedlings that like heat a head start on growing.
- Containers can add color, style, and mobility to your balcony or patio while giving your plants more room to grow.
But let’s also talk about some of the problems with gardening in containers:
- Container plants need to be watered more often and can suffer greatly from high temperatures or strong winds.
- Salts build up in potted soils over time and must be flushed out of the pots every so often, so they don’t hurt salt-sensitive plants like citrus.
- To keep the root system healthy and the trees from getting root-bound, potted trees need to be taken out of their pots every three or four years and replanted in new soil.
What Containers Should I Use?
Containers can be made of almost anything big enough to hold the mature root system of the plant. They can be made of clay, wood, plastic, fiberglass, or other materials, but it’s probably best to stick to the lighter-weight containers for use on a balcony.
A fabric grows bag is also a good choice. They come in different sizes, are strong, and let the roots drain and breathe well. They can be used for at least a few seasons and are easy to clean and store when not in use.
The most important thing about your containers is that they have holes for drainage. And since you probably don’t want water to run all over your balcony, you should put saucers under the containers to catch the water that runs out.
For bigger plants, you might want to use lighter pots in case you need to move them. Putting large containers on caddies with wheels makes moving easier is another good idea. You could also put several containers on display shelves with wheels.
Choosing the Best Soil
Getting good-quality potting soil for the plants you grow in pots is essential. Don’t put soil from your garden in containers. It might be too heavy for plants in containers, and you might bring pests or diseases into your balcony garden.
I’ve been happy with Kellogg Patio Plus organic potting mix, but many companies make good potting mixes. I often add some perlite to make it lighter and help it drain better, but I may switch to rice hulls for this purpose since perlite is not a sustainable product.
Choosing the Right Plants
Your best bet is to pick varieties that have been bred to grow well in containers. Growers have been working hard to find and create varieties of plants that are small but still produce a lot. Plan to grow edible plants from seeds for the best selection.
Most garden centers will only have a few vegetable plants that can be grown in containers, and they will likely sell out quickly.
Here are five vegetables that do well in a garden on a balcony or patio:
When they are determinate varieties made for containers, more petite tomatoes that do well in the sun can be grown on a sunny balcony or patio. Renee’s Garden Seeds has “Little Bites,” which is a cherry tomato, “Inca Jewels,” which is a Roma tomato, and “Tasmanian Chocolate,” which is a slicing tomato.
Make sure to plant them in a big pot—5 gallons should be the minimum to give the plant enough room to grow a good root system—and put them in a very sunny place.
2. Bok Choy
Even though they are small, these cabbages are full of flavor and good for you. Botanical Interests has Baby Choi, Toy Choy, and Rosette Tatsoi that you can try. Most of the time, they don’t mind the cold and can grow in some shade.
Try to find varieties that make a lot of small eggplants instead of a few big ones. Try “Patio Baby” from Burpee or “Little Prince” from Renee’s Garden. Eggplants need some direct sun, but because these fruits are smaller than most, they can get by with less than full sun.
Lettuce is a great vegetable to grow on a balcony because it is so easy to care for. The cut-and-come-again varieties are excellent because you can start harvesting them in just a few weeks and keep them going for many more weeks. Renee’s garden has an “Heirloom Cutting Mix” and a “Baby Mesclun” mix. Try “Little Gem Romaine” from Botanical Interests or “Tom Thumb,” small butterhead lettuce from Territorial Seed, for head lettuce. Light shade is good for lettuce.
Chard is another healthy, easy-to-grow green, and there are so many different colors to choose from now. Territorial has “Electric Neon Blend,” Renee’s Garden has “Pot of Gold,” and Botanical Interests has “Five Color Silverbeet.” Chard can also be bought as a mix of baby leaves that can be cut and used again.
Chard can grow in almost any amount, from full sun to light shade.