Before you get started on planning what garden supplies you need to buy and what you want to plant in your balcony container garden, think about what you ultimately want from your balcony garden. Determine what you really want, and then decide if it’s do-able with your balcony conditions. You may love to grow food and want a kitchen garden, but other people have flower gardens, modern topiary gardens, Asian-themed gardens or whatever other styles and themes the imagination allows.
Think about what you really want for your garden and think realistically. Try to get as close to your dream garden as possible, but remember that you can’t keep container plants that just won’t grow in your climate, those that are too big for containers, or plants that need light that you can’t provide.
There are a lot of different kinds of plant containers available. Plastic containers are often best because they're cheap, light-weight, durable and attractive. You can get creative with the plant containers you use - they don't need to come from a garden center. You can use anything, even recycled plant containers, that holds potting soil and can have drainage holes drilled into it.
Keep in mind that black pots, terra cotta pots and metal containers may not be the best candidates for your balcony garden. Black plant containers attract heat, and plant roots can get too warm. Metal containers may leave rust stains on balcony surfaces, and terra cotta pots are heavy and can crack easily. Read more about "How to Choose a Plant Container."
Layout and Space
Balconies usually don’t have a lot of space, so it is necessary to maximize the space you have. You are lucky if you have a rather large balcony – otherwise you may only be able to keep a few container plants. Think about if you really want a bench or chairs or any other unnecessary decor. Balconies are usually not very inviting places, so you may want to get rid of any seating unless your area is quiet and peaceful.
A big problem with balcony gardens is putting too many small plant containers in once place. Balcony garden clutter is difficult to avoid, so think about clutter before you buy. Vary the size of the containers, and only buy what you think is necessary. Keep a nice basket, bin or extra container to hide any equipment, extra pots or extra potting soil.
To minimize clutter and maximize your space, use vertical space to your benefit. Attract wild birds with a birdhouse or birdfeeder, and hang a plant container or two. Use an etagere or plant shelf (like the homemade plant shelf to the right) to maximize your space, and use railings to your benefit by hanging windowboxes from them.
How Much Light?
If your balcony garden faces south, consider yourself lucky because in the northern hemisphere, southern sun exposure is best for growing container plants. To find out your sun exposure, grab a compass or find your apartment complex on Google maps.
Even if your garden have southern exposure, it’s still a good idea to find the sunny and shady spots of your balcony. You may have a wall or a tree that may block light from hitting certain areas. On a day off, take a picture every hour or so to see exactly how much light you get and where the light and dark spots on your balcony are. The length of time the sun is out and direction the sun is coming from depends on the time of year, but keeping track now will give you a general idea of where the bright and shady spots are.
After you’ve assessed the amount of light in your balcony garden, you may want to buy container plants based on the label (where it says “Full Sun” or “Part Shade,” for example). Many gardeners don't adhere to these rules and want to try whatever they can get their hands on. It’s fun to experiment. You could always grow everything from seed (it's always so exciting when they sprout), and it’s not too expensive to experiment with seeds. It is not recommended to experiment with an expensive flower that you can’t provide for.
After you’ve planted everything, pay attention to the container plants, and move them around if needed. (There’s a benefit of balcony container gardening – plants are easy to move!) If you notice a plant is getting scorched from the sun, or if one is withering because it isn’t getting enough sun, move it to more appropriate lighting conditions if possible. If you have light all day and want to keep plants that do well in shade, you can create shade by planting taller plants, and then putting lower-light plants underneath them.
Good luck with your balcony garden, and check back often with BalconyContainerGardening.com to learn more about gardening in your small space.