Design Layout #1: A Southwest-Inspired Garden

Southwest balcony garden designIf you live in the Southwest, especially if your building’s architecture reflects a Southwestern theme (such as stucco and tile roofing), you may want to consider a Desert Southwest garden for your balcony container garden.

Desert gardens are beautiful and low-maintenance. There are many container plant choices, and you can get really creative with your garden design. When planning your balcony desert garden, you may want to incorporate some of the following desert themes: 

  • Southwest plant containers: Glazed blue containers, galvanized metal (do not place metal directly on the balcony floor, as will leave rust stains underneath), terra cotta or faux stone containers made of hypertufa
  • Cacti and succulents
  • Rocks, pebbles and sand
  • Southwest colors (blues, oranges and browns)
  • Wood (unfinished wooden furniture)
  • Native or drought-tolerant container plants: Geraniums, coral bells, violets, the waxflower, lavender, the azalea flower and many more. Just make sure you are not buying a plant that will get much too large for your garden. Many cacti, such as barrel or paddle cactus, grow quite large and may not be appropriate after they grow for some time. Stick to smaller succulents that you can propagate (just pull aloe vera offsets off your plants and give them to friends), or keep plants that you can prune to a smaller size. Many desert plants have fantastic flowers, so when researching the types of succulents or cacti that you want for your garden, see what its blooms will look like. A beautiful bloom may convince you to buy a specific plant species.


As pictured in the desert garden design sketch above, place a tall terra cotta strawberry pot in each corner of the outer edge of the balcony garden. In the top of the container, plant a tall-growing succulent, such as aloe vera or jade (Crassula ovata), and plant either cascading succulents (such as the string of beads plant) or low-growing succulents in the smaller openings around the strawberry pots. Several smaller containers can be placed around the two strawberry plants, containing various succulents. Rock or hypertufa containers will create a more natural desert feel, but blue pots will make your garden pop with color.

Incorporate some low-growing succulents in a short, wide container placed on a light-colored, unfinished wood table in the middle of the baclony garden, or create a rock and pebble garden in a short, wide container with just several succulents (or no plants at all).

Next to the wood table, place one or two rustic wooden chairs set at angles facing the outside of the apartment balcony (hopefully you will have a nice view). Because privacy is scarce on most apartment balconies, you may want to use these chairs as decor rather than a place to sit. Place a galvanized metal watering can on one chair and plant it with your choice of succulent plants. The other chair can have a bright pillow on it, a rock, empty plant containers or more plants placed on it.

Depending on how large your apartment balcony is, you may have more space on the sides of the balcony for more container plants. You may also want to place a piece or two of petrified cactus wood around, a fake cow skull, empty but interesting pieces of pottery or metal statues around your balcony garden (just don’t go overboard with these extras – less is more with small garden spaces). If you have a place to plug in a power cord or if you want to use a solar-powered pump, a small fountain can bubble away in a terra cotta pot or in a container with pebbles in it.

Don’t forget to leave space for any storage you may need (i.e., bicycles) or for a worm composting bin.

A Note About Cacti: If you are keeping any cactus with sharp thorns, keep it in an out-of-the-way area in the balcony garden. You don’t want to always have to avoid your cactus thorns every time you go out in your garden!

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