Do you have a tiny balcony space? Barely room to sit down? Overcome your small balcony garden space challenges to find room to grow some food in containers.
Not everyone has the luxury of having a large back yard and front yard. Young people usually rent or purchase a condo in the city when they are first starting out. Retirees also might downsize to a condo when they no longer need a large house. Or they might have physical limitations where they can’t garden anymore.
I started off on the first floor patio of my apartment suite. I tried growing tomatoes but didn’t have much luck due to the lack of sunlight. However I was able to grow some lettuce and flowers that could put up with the shade most of the day. And I found the space somehow even though I had a table and chairs, a barbecue and a small storage shed as well.
So what do you do when you only have a small postage stamp-sized balcony or patio off of your living space? Here are some ideas to maximize your small balcony garden space and create a relaxing outdoor space that can also be functional.
Note that while for the most part I mention “balcony gardening”, these techniques can be applied equally well to a ground-level patio or a small townhouse backyard.
Note: Be aware of your rental company or strata’s rules about gardening on a balcony or patio.
Plants generally grow up, so they are usually more than happy to have vertical space to stretch their branches and foliage.
- A simple trellis will allow a vining plant such as a climbing rose, clematis or peas to climb up and take up very little horizontal space
- The most portable and least obtrusive way to incorporate a trellis, is to attach it to the planter that the plant is in that you want to train up the trellis
- Don’t block all sunlight with the trellis if you have other plants that rely on sunshine and heat. However using the trellis as a privacy and/or shade screen is a good idea if you sit on your balcony and have other buildings’ balconies facing yours
- Secure the trellis well to avoid it falling over in high winds
Grow Dwarf or Compact Varieties
Some plants grew naturally big and don’t do well if you try and constrain them. So you want to look for dwarf varieties and plants that are compact but still productive (flowers, foliage and fruit/vegetables).
- You can actually have small trees, even fruit trees on a balcony
- You will want to pick dwarf varieties that do not grow too tall, although in general a tree in a container won’t grow as tall as if it is in the ground since the roots are constricted
- For fruit trees you can consider the cordon form. You train the tree to grow tall on a single stem, so this form takes up very little horizontal space
- Or you can espalier a fruit tree on a trellis like a fan
- There are also mini roses that will not only provide beautiful blooms but also beautiful scents
- There are vegetable plants that stay small such as lettuces, some greens and fruits such as strawberries that don’t take up much space in relation to what they are able to produce
- Consider creating a container salad garden consisting of a tomato or pepper plant surrounded by one or two lettuce plants and green onions
Get Rid Of The Clutter!
Balconies and patios are often the storage areas for bicycles, boxes of extra things, seasonal sporting equipment such as skis or snowboards and anything else that the renter or condo owner decides they don’t have space for indoors. This doesn’t leave much room to have a small balcony garden!
- Cull what you don’t need or find other storage areas in your building to store them
- Consider renting sports equipment that you only need a few short months of the year
- Find a friend with a house that can store them in their attic or garage for you
- Rent storage in a storage facility
Add Hanging Plants
- Hanging baskets are always popular for flowers
- They don’t take up any floor space, although you do want to avoid having people hit their head on them (don’t ask me how I know)
- They are also perfect to grow strawberries, tomatoes (dwarf varieties called tumblers) and herbs
- If you can’t or don’t want to hang the plants, you can also put up shelves or find other hangers that allow you to place containers on a wall or railing
Warning: hanging baskets and containers can be very heavy. Make sure you use an appropriate hanger and that it is screwed into sturdy framing. Also avoid overwatering to the point that water spills over onto your neighbour’s space below you. Use drip trays to contain the water that does drip out of the container.
Use Your Inside Space
If you have a very small balcony garden space or no balcony at all, you may have to think about having your garden indoors.
- All plants need light so position them in the sunniest windowsills and monitor their health carefully
- Consider citrus trees such as lemons, these benefit from the warmer temperatures inside, plus they have beautiful blooms and you can harvest lemons all year long
- Vegetables such as lettuces and other greens work well as they generally don’t need high light levels and tons of sunshine
- Regular houseplants are also great as most do not require as much light as outside plants
- Houseplants can also clean the indoor air of toxins and improve air quality
Small Scale Accessories
Think small scale.
You likely won’t have room for a three piece sofa/loveseat/table combination that you will find in a home centre or specialized patio furniture vendor. And even if you do the scale of it might look odd in your small balcony garden space
- if you want to sit on your balcony to enjoy the plants, consider the small bistro table sets with two chairs and a small table – they may not be that comfortable but at least you have somewhere to sit
- use foldable chairs that can be put away in a corner when you are done sitting
- open your patio doors and sit just inside of your apartment of condo
- have some houseplants just inside the patio doors to blurt the boundary between inside and outside
- add a small water feature in a waterproof container which will help mask road noise outside. Some even can hang from a wall or railing
For more inspiration for getting your balcony or patio growing food, check out Balcony Barbara – Balcony Gardening For Beginners – A Case Study
For more great ideas of how to maximize your balcony space, check out my Pinterest board on Balcony Gardening.
Here are also some other online articles I’ve found that provide some more detail:
- Balcony Gardening – Big Food Production in Small Spaces
- Tips for Starting a Balcony Garden
- DIY: How to Plant a Personal Garden In a Small Urban Space
I also found out about a book that goes more in depth about growing your own food on a balcony:
It is possible to have a small balcony garden even when you are as space-restricted as an apartment or condo dweller is. It just takes a bit of creative thinking and some compromises, but you can enjoy an apartment homestead and dream of a bigger one when you are able to afford it like I did.
If you enjoyed this article, have something to add or have any questions, please leave a comment below.
Wishing you all the best!
Tranquil Urban Homestead, Victoria, BC