Balcony Gardening Steps for Beginners

Hello everyone,

I have posted about my black thumb and failed gardening attempts several times in the past.  After approximately 5 batches of failed herbs last summer, I gave up and started buying adult basil plants to graze off of and eventually kill with my black thumb.

I could not bear the thought of killing more seedlings this year, so I set out to do some research on balcony gardening before I planted my newest experiments.  I’m still learning, so please feel free to correct me (nicely) in the comments section, but this is what I’ve found from my research:

1) Buy big containers with plenty of aeration.  One issue I ran into last year was buying a small (adorable) window box for 3 kinds of herbs, which didn’t allow for the roots to stretch out and grow strong.  I found these great planters and used 12″ for cilantro, 15″ for basil and bell pepper, and 18″ for tomatoes.

Josie looks on approvingly at Home Depot

Josie contemplates the aeration quality of the larger planters at Home Depot.

These little guys have pockets at the bottom to allow for air flow and moisture control.

These little guys have pockets at the bottom to allow for air flow and moisture control.

2) Use moisture-control soil.  This type of soil might not be necessary if you live in a fairly temperate climes.  Since I live in a place where scorching sun beats down in the afternoon, I need a soil that contains moisture throughout the day.  I used the Miracle-Gro brand.

3) Give your plants 6 hours of sunlight per day.  I had to rearrange my balcony to ensure my babies were getting enough sunlight.  Some corners of our small space only see about 2 hours per day, so keep an eye on where the sun hits and when.

4) Be careful when replanting into the planters.  Break up any clumps in the potting soil with your hands, dig a hole for the plant to rest in, loosen up the plant soil without damaging the roots, and gently tamp down the potting soil (not too firmly) around the plant.

5) Use plant stakes.  If you’re growing something like tomatoes, you need plant stakes to prevent the plant from flopping all over the place with the weight of the fruit.  I had no idea this was a thing.
This is a simple wire plant stake used for tomatoes.

This is a simple wire plant stake used for tomatoes.

6) Test the soil for moisture before watering.  One of the most frequent errors I made last year was letting my plants dry up and then over-watering them.  To see if your plants need water, just dunk your finger about 1 inch into the soil.  If it feels a little dry, give the plant a good drink of water.  Most of my plants need daily watering, but they will probably require twice daily watering in the heat of the summer.

7) Fertilizer?  I’ve read a thousand different opinions regarding fertilizer.  Apparently this topic is highly controversial.  I bought fertilizer, but I’m going to see how well my plants grow on their own before I decide to use it.  It’s ultimately up to you about whether or not it’s safe for consumption or healthy for the plants.

8) Pray to all of the spirits that your shiz grows. 

9) Prune (trim) your herbs every other week or so.  Some herbs (e.g., basil) will stop growing once they sprout their little flowers.  To stimulate growth, trim back the plant by cutting just above the bottom leaf sprouts.  This youtube video does a great job of explaining how to prune.

10) Enjoy the fruits of your labor! 

This basil looks like it's ready to turn into pesto!  I can practically taste dinner already.

This basil looks like it’s ready to turn into pesto! I can practically taste dinner already.

My plants are already adjusting to their new lifestyle after a week in the sun!  I’m hoping I can keep this up for the duration of summer, but I will not give up!  After all, the Californian sun isn’t always very forgiving.  If I’m successful, I might add some other fruits and veggies to the collection, but I might need a bigger balcony.  😉

Do you have a balcony garden?  What are some useful things you’ve learned over time?  


2 thoughts on “Balcony Gardening Steps for Beginners

  1. You need a baby pineapple!
    Your post is awesome, Mads. So well done, in fact, it makes me think I could grow my own herbs, even though I have tried many times and killed them all. Given the amount of cilantro and parsley we go through, I should really give it another try. If Josie gave your pots two paws up, that’s good enough for me. I need to hit Home Depot!

  2. I’ve just about given up on trying to grow anything in the steep sand dune that I call my yard. I’m thinking container gardens are the way to go. This is a very helpful post! I had no idea that the plants needed air circulation.

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