Gardening is the gift that keeps on giving. Maybe you're toying with the idea of trying to live in a more sustainable way and reduce the footprint of your overall energy consumption, or perhaps sprucing up your balcony is a key pillar in your spring cleaning plan. Regardless of your motivations, cultivating an urban garden is a fulfilling hobby that has proven to be beneficial for the environment and the mental health of those who pursue it.
Canadians have continually chosen to garden as a form of resistance in difficult times, such as with the planting of "victory gardens" during the Second World War. If you're one of the many Torontonians who panic-bought bagfuls of seeds but haven't yet taken the plunge to try planting them, here's a straightforward guide of all of the things you need to take into account before planning future dinners around your temperamental tomato plant.
Consider Your Environment
Sun: According to the Spruce, most people tend to drastically overestimate how much direct sun their space actually gets. Start by figuring out how much full sun, partial shade, and dappled light your balcony gets throughout the day. Be sure to research the light conditions your plant does best in before purchasing it in order to prevent unexpected failures from thriving.
Heat: Be realistic about how hot your balcony gets, especially in Toronto's searing summer months. Plants like succulents, as well as herbs such as rosemary and thyme, will be thrilled to sit in the heat all day, whereas lettuce and hydrangeas will wilt from the stress.
Wind: Just like sun and heat, the amount of wind your balcony gets is a key factor in determining which plants will be likely to flourish. Wind tends to dry out stems and foliage, so be sure to compensate for high levels of wind with an additional watering practice, or even investigate self-watering planters.
Consider Your Commitment Level
Gardening is a deeply fulfilling hobby, however, it can take some work to keep an array of plants, herbs, and vegetables alive. Be honest with yourself about how much time you're willing to commit to repotting, pruning, fertilizing, and watering a family of plants, and scale your garden accordingly. Be sure to start small in order to avoid overwhelming yourself too early on and to avoid overcrowding your garden, which can stunt plant growth.
Keep yourself from spending a small fortune by creating a realistic budget for how much you're willing to spend, before you even think about stepping foot in a garden centre. Try to shop for secondhand pots over new ones, or even better, look in your own recycling or garbage bins to find new homes for your plants. You'll find that lots of trash — like egg cartons, wine bottles, coffee grounds, and old yoghurt containers — can be utilized in home gardening.
Pick Your Plants: Flowers, Herbs, and Food (Oh My!)
Flowers: If you're interested in transforming your balcony into a beautiful sight to be seen, pick your flowers carefully: flowers that thrive in the ground don't always thrive in a balcony environment, which can be harsher in terms of sun and wind. If you're worried that your conditions may be too harsh, try to pick plants that thrive in alpine or rock environments in the wild, as they will be more acclimated to unbuffered wind.
Herbs: Growing herbs is a wonderful practice for city balcony gardeners, as most don't need too much space to thrive. They're also fairly versatile in terms of light exposure, flourishing in both full sun and partial shade. Start with basil, parsley, rosemary, and mint. Your kitchen will thank you!
Vegetables: Homegrown food is both nutritious and delicious, but if you plan on growing vegetables, most require six to eight hours of direct sunlight. However, just like most herbs, many leafy greens will thrive with less sun. If your balcony receives high amounts of wind, it's probably better to opt for herbs or flowers over vegetables.
Be a Cautious and Conscientious Gardener
Once you get started with building your garden, it can be tempting to go all in, overstuffing your space with any and every plant you can get your hands on. However, plants thrive with space to grow, and tons of clay containers full of wet soil can become very heavy for your balcony very quickly. After all, a smaller but well-maintained garden is far nicer to look at and easier to care for than an out-of-control balcony forest.
Unlike traditional gardens, for balcony gardens it's critical to ensure that your plants are sturdy and secure. Avoid all hanging plants and abstain from dangling plants off of your railing, as this creates a significant risk of objects accidentally falling. Furthermore, be cognizant of the consequences of overwatering — not only does this harm your plants, but it can create leaking onto unsuspecting passersby or your neighbours' space.