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Balcony gardening a warm-weather paradise

Make your balcony a place to sit and enjoy life, not just a space to store things!
Flowers, vegetables, herbs--in containers of all sizes--can be part of your balcony (or patio) garden. Photo: Metro Creative Connection

Create a warm-weather paradise for you, your family and wildlife on your balcony. Grow food and flowers, drown out noise with a small fountain, and attract birds, bees, and butterflies. Just make sure your balcony can carry the load.

Balcony gardening is container gardening. Let your challenge be to create beautiful arrangements of flowers, grow tasty vegetables, and develop a pleasant place to sit. Get ideas from gardening books and magazines.

Containers range in size from coffee cups to half barrels. Make sure each container has holes in the bottom to release excess water. If you are just starting your balcony garden, start with a few small, medium, and large sizes. Be as fancy as you want. If you choose clay containers, make sure they are glazed on the inside to limit evaporation. As you gain experience, add to your collection. Hang them, stack them with smaller pots on larger pots, and place them on shelves or step ladders.

Tower gardens are vertical cylinders that grow plants with water and nutrients up to three times faster than a container garden and produce greater yields. Find information online for the many types available.

The growing medium should be equal parts of compost, vermiculite or peat, and potting soil, with some lime to keep the pH slightly alkaline. Vermiculite and peat are water holding substances.

Most flowers and vegetables can use specialized fertilizers designed for vegetables or flowers. Your local market garden can inform you on what brands to buy. Follow the Instructions on how much to apply, based on the size of the container and the specific plants. Vegetables may need some additional specialized fertilizers such as bone meal for root vegetables, tomatoes, and peppers, and blood meal for leafy vegetables.

Flowers and vegetables flourish in containers providing they have enough water. Check your containers daily; if the soil is dry two inches below the surface, water. Water until it starts to drip out of the bottom of the container. If your container sits in a shallow container, water from the bottom up to get water to the roots.

Because containers lose water faster than a traditional garden space, you may want to select flowers that are somewhat drought resistant. These include petunia, zinnia, cosmos, salvia, periwinkle, dwarf sunflower, begonia, and bachelor button. Other flowers, such as pansy, inpatients, forget-me-not, fuchsia, or lobelia do better in some shade, with moist soil.

Fuchsias make excellent hanging plants. On a new plant, pinch off the two end leaves on each branch. The result is a bushy plant with more flowers.

Geranium are tender perennials that grow well in containers. Take them in in the fall, cut them back, place in a cool area of 5 to 100C and water sparingly monthly. Bring them out in the spring.

Any vegetable can be grown in a container if the container is large enough. Direct sow seeds or transplant from seedlings. Grow lettuce, radish, Swiss chard, and herbs in containers at least 10 inches in diameter. Grow peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers in two gallon or 14x14x 12 inches containers. Grow larger vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and egg plant in 5-gallon pails. Half barrels are ideal for larger vegetables such as corn, or zucchini, as well as groups of smaller vegetables such as carrots, beets, or beans.

Choose seeds or seedlings designed for container gardening. Where possible, select dwarf type varieties, such as cherry tomato, or dwarf peas and beans. Others such as lettuce, Swiss chard, or spinach need not be a dwarf variety.

Herbs of all types grow well in containers. In the fall, bring the containers in and you will have fresh herbs in the winter months.

Strawberries and dwarf blueberries can be grown in large containers. To protect them in winter, move them into a cool area of about 50C and water sparingly each month.

Make your balcony a place to sit and enjoy life!

Charles Schroder gardens in the Edmonton area.