Small space gardener Rachelle Mulraney from Rocky Point Mulching shares her tips on building a balcony garden.

Live in an apartment, townhouse or small housing block? No matter how small your space, a thriving balcony garden can be low cost and have multiple benefits, not least the increased levels of relaxation and a greater appreciation for our natural world.

Here are some tips for your journey to a greener balcony.

Chase the sun

Before you even go out and buy plants, it’s important to understand the levels of sunlight your balcony is getting and at which time of day. Once you understand this you’ll be able to pick plants that suit, i.e. those which tolerate full sun, part sun or love being in the shade.

Don’t get weighed down

Remember that there is a maximum weight-bearing load that your balcony can handle. Ensure you’re not buying heaving concrete pots – stick with lightweight plastic or fibreglass options. Try upcycling some lightweight containers you have around the house. As long as there is adequate draining, pretty much anything can become a pot! Start seeds in old butter or yoghurt containers. Pre-loved jars, buckets, old drink contains and tin cans work well, too.

Explore vertical gardening

Some balconies can be extremely small, which makes it difficult to build up a collection of potted plants. That’s where vertical gardening can help. There are wall-mountable systems available on the market to help you make vertical gardens for your space. Check your local garden centre or hardware store. Alternatively you could also upcycle an old pallet into a garden to lean against a balcony wall. Make sure the pallet is well secured. Try this guide to using pallets.

Start small

Small space gardening can become time-consuming if you get carried away, so it’s best to start small and with a few generally hardy plants. Consider some pots of herbs like rosemary, mint, oregano and sage. The are easy to grow and a low cost way to spice up your cooking. Also consider some tomato varieties like cherry tomatoes, or greens like spinach and small lettuces. If you’re not after edibles try some succulents  or potted colour like Alyssum, Begonia, Geranium, Impatiens, or Pansy. Dwarf shrubs and small trees like Bougainvillea, Azalea, Buxus or Clivia can also do well on balconies.

Potting plants

Often people will spend big money on beautiful plants, only to plant them into cheap potting mixes which are lacking in nutrients and essential ingredients needed. Visit your local nursery or garden centre and have a chat with staff about which premium quality potting mixes are best for your pots. Look for the Australian Standards 3743 ‘5 ticks’ logo on packs, as this means the potting mix has undergone strict quality testing measures. Also check for the packing date to ensure you’re getting the freshest mix.

Learn to love repotting

Repotting is important to do a couple of times a year, but at least once in a 12 month period. This is because potting mixes are predominately made up of organic matter which continues to break down while in your pots. As it breaks down it lessens the pore space in the mix, giving your plants less breathing room for the roots to move, or for water to get through. Repotting with fresh mix opens up this pore space again (also known as air-filled porosity) giving your plants the best chance to keep flourishing.

Repotting in 5 steps

  1. First give your plant a thorough wetting down and choose a bigger pot – at least one third bigger than the initial pot.
  2. Place a small amount of your selected potting mix in the base of the pot.
  3. Position the plant in the centre of the pot.
  4. Fill around the edges with your potting mix to within 20 mm of the top of the pot.
  5. Press down gently and water in well.

Ask questions!

Remember that the staff at your local independent nursery or garden centre can be an invaluable source of advice. They’ll be able to help you out with selecting the right pots, plants and potting mix to help your balcony garden bloom.