Balcony Garden Design Basics

Balcony container garden design

Maybe you’ve just moved into your first apartment with a balcony. Maybe you don’t like the way your current balcony setup looks. Maybe you’re looking to spruce up your current balcony garden. Either way, you’re looking at your outdoor space and asking, “Where do I start?”

Creating a beautiful balcony garden or comfortable outdoor sitting space can be tough. There’s not much space to work with, and more than likely you are restricted due to apartment management rules. Here are some suggestions for balcony garden design that won’t make your apartment management mad!  

Theme. First decide if you want a theme for your balcony garden. You can have a zen garden, a southwest garden, hummingbird and butterfly garden, recycled and repurposed garden, a kitchen garden, modern garden, and the list goes on. Decide your style, and get inspiration by looking through images on the web and in garden design books. This will help you decide what furniture, plant containers and plants to purchase later on.

Intentions. Before purchasing anything from your local garden shop, think about what you want out of your balcony garden. Do you just want to fill the space? Do you want to use the space for seating and enjoying the outdoors? Do you want to grow and care for plants? Do you want to grow your own food? Once you decide what you want to do with your garden, you can decide whether or not you want to keep a lot of plants, what types of plants and plan on how you are going to care for (or not care for) your outdoor garden space.

Space. You may want a large seating set outside and a lot of different kinds of container plants, but be realistic, and think about your space before you start putting furniture and plants outside. Draw your balcony to scale on a piece of paper, and then draw any furniture you want to put outside (again to scale). You may also want to put down a length of yarn, string or even sticks that will show you how large a piece of furniture is on your balcony. Will it be too big? Will you be able to keep container plants as well as a piece of furniture? If you have a very small balcony, you will probably not want to put furniture outside, as it will limit the amount of plants you can keep in the garden, and it won’t be comfortable sitting outside in a cramped area.

It’s always better to add more later than to have to get rid of things you’ve already purchased, so think about what will fit in your balcony garden without looking cramped or cluttered.

Seating. If you decide to keep seating in the balcony garden, purchase furniture that is made to withstand the outdoor elements. Indoor furniture will fade, warp and degrade quickly in hot, cold and wet conditions. Also remember that furniture will need to be cleaned regularly if you want to sit on it.

Also think about how much privacy you will have outside. Do you want your neighbors looking at you while you’re curling up with a good book in your balcony garden? Will you talking with a friend or family member annoy neighbors? Most people never sit on their balconies for any length of time, but you may still want a seat, or an outdoor couch and coffee table purely for aesthetics.

Lighting. A lit balcony garden at night is a beautiful sight. Many balconies do not have electrical outlets outside, so you may need to invest in solar or battery-powered lights. Candles will most likely not be allowed by apartment management. For more information about balcony garden lighting, read “Apartment Garden Lighting Solutions.”

Storage. You may need to store a bicycle or other items in your balcony garden. Make sure that your storage is okay with your apartment management, and then work hard to hide any ugly storage you keep outside. Storage bins and bicycles can be hidden behind tall plants or plants vining up trellises. Read “Clearing out the Clutter on the Balcony” for more about cleaning out what you don’t need.

Gardening. Especially if you live in the city, keeping a garden your balcony will bring a little bit of nature into your life. Gardens bring calm to your life, and it will even be a small oasis for wildlife in your area. It’s always a great sight to see a wild bird at your birdfeeder or a butterfly land on one of your flowers.

Even if you have a “black thumb” or don’t want to take care of plants, you can still keep several plants outside to brighten up your balcony garden space. You may want to set up a low-maintenance balcony garden or a large garden that you must tend to every day. If you like plants and are willing to spend some time outdoors, you may want to devote more balcony garden space to plants than seating or other decor.

Read “Starting a Garden” for more information on getting started with planting. Also browse through our Plant Fact Sheets for great container plant information.

Winter. When winter rolls around, be prepared to bring container plants inside, protect plant containers and hardy plants from freezing temperatures and any other chores that need to be done. If you live in an area with harsh winters, plan your balcony garden accordingly. You don’t want to be overwhelmed with too many indoor plants that might die during the winter.

Keeping the Landlord Happy. Finally, whatever you do with your balcony garden, make sure your landlord approves. You may think something setting up a bamboo screen wouldn’t be a problem, but it often isn’t allowed on apartment balconies. Some complexes don’t even allow black nursery containers on balconies – terra cotta only! You may not be allowed to make holes, put out carpet, place containers on railings, have too many heavy containers, keep storage or put up privacy screens. Don’t do anything that may damage the balcony (you do want that deposit back, right?), so keep container plants off the floor and utilize plant contrainer trays. If your plant containers sit directly on the balcony floor, it will be constantly wet, and this will damage the floor surface. Be smart about your balcony garden design and don’t get in trouble!

Even though you will have to compromise on certain things, you should be able to create a unique space for yourself. Just know what you want and what you are allowed to do before jumping in. Good luck with creating a beautiful balcony garden space!

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