Some gardeners are blessed with an abundance of deep, fertile soil. Some have soil that needs attention before it will grow anything. Others have no soil at all. Those who have none can turn to balcony gardening, a popular activity of those who live in apartments and condominiums. A balcony garden has its limitations, but it is better than none.
Plants in containers, whether they be vegetables on the balcony or house plants in hanging baskets, are in constant danger of stress. Unlike plants in the ground, those in containers have a severely restricted root area with a limited supply of water. Missing only one watering can prove disastrous.
Shallow containers are the worst because they not only dry out quickly but drain poorly. Large barrels or boxes are ideal as long as they don’t have to be moved.
Many hanging baskets are too small for outdoor growing because the plants soon fill them with roots, leaving little space for water. With a little ingenuity it should be possible to devise better containers. Wood offers the greatest versatility. When stained, the planters have a natural look. You can also use pressure- treated wood; no staining is necessary.
Deep, round, plastic dishpans are easy to use and, if suspended with strong nylon twine, make excellent hanging pots for balcony gardening. Plastic pails and garbage cans are excellent for both flowers and vegetables. But don’t forget the drain holes.
To reduce the watering chore, some kind of wick and reservoir system can be established. Plastic chips which are used for packing fragile objects can be placed in the bottom to form a well. They are then covered with a piece of synthetic fabric and the potting mix is placed on top. The fabric wick will carry water from the well to the mix for a long period. A section of garden hose placed vertically inside the pot will allow you to use a dipstick to measure the depth of water in the well.
Pay close attention to the potting mix, making sure that it is rich in organic matter to hold water and has some porous material to provide aeration. Peat is the safest type of organic matter and perlite or vermiculite is a good aerator because of its light weight. Sand is not a good choice, mainly because it is heavy.
Because frequent watering leaches out nutrients, fertilizer must be added regularly. A soluble fertilizer works well but, even safer and surer, is the slow-release fertilizer sold in many garden stores. It ensures a constant supply without burning the roots.
Balcony gardening is a great alternative for those not lucky enough to have land to plant a garden on. With the right containers, soil and watering you can grow a garden that even the most seasoned garden owners would be proud of.