I speak with people living in apartments every day and one of the questions I get is how do I created a "yard" on my balcony. The use of freestanding planters or planters on a railing are two of the easiest ways to garden or add curb appeal to your balcony.
Adding trees to your balcony
Trees grow the largest and are great for helping clean the air and even fighting pollution. They are also easier to upkeep than many flowers. There are dozens of trees that don't grow too large and actually work well in containers. You'll want to check with your nursery that you are buying your trees from to determine the size of the root ball the trees will achieve. Once you know this then it's important to get a planter that meets this size with it's "inside dimensions," not outside dimensions. Make sure your planters have drain holes for good drainage and start by laying down a strip of black landscape fabric on the bottom of the pot or planter to cover up the drain hole. Next fill them with a thin 1-2" layer of pea gravel to help filter water and soil out. These two techniques will help cleanse your drainage water and clear it out as it drains out the bottom.
1. Boxwoods. Some trees are great for privacy, namely boxwood shrubs. These trees like to grow very wide so are best for long rectangular planters, rather than square shapes. They also work well in planters that are up against a long wall making it easy to turn that well into a less attractive sight.
2. Dwarf Conifers. These small trees can transform an outdoor seating area, especially in the city. Some are even small enough to share a pot with other plantings since they tend to grow upwards more instead of outward like boxwoods. Nowadays they come in many shapes as well from tall triangles to short balls. You can mix several of the varieties all in one large planter to get a versatile look and feel. Fill your pots to the top and cover the top with a thing layer of mulch or pea gravel to help keep the soil from drying out in the sun.
3. Japanese Maples. Planting Japanese maples in planters is fairly easy. These attractive red leaf trees rarely if ever outgrow their containers making them a perfect, permanent solution for you and a great way to decorate your space. They are slow growing and don't get too large so you can start them out in smaller pots and re-pot them as they get bigger.
Adding curb appeal and Privacy to your balcony
Depending on the size of your balcony you may have enough room for just one pot in a corner or you may have a large space where you can walk around and maybe even host parties. If you're space is larger then consider fitting it with a series of long, rectangular planters that you can fill with various shrubs and flowers. To do this you will want to set up a boundary of where these planters will go. To help consider the location of the planter you can lay down a footprint on the ground using a roll of paper towels. Roll out long rectangles and cut and place on the ground to get a feel for the planters footprint.
Consider each planters needs. Outward boundary planters for privacy may need taller plants like boxwood shrubs whereas boundary planters that have a great city overlook may be better suited with shorter plants and colorful flowers that draw people in to the area.
If you have railings on the outer boundary of your balcony you can even utilize planters that hang or sit atop the railing to achieve your goal, however, make sure a professional handyman helps you install them permanently so that they cannot fall and hurt anybody. I would recommend against a wooden rail planter for rot reasons and ideally these planters would face inward so that you can enjoy them. Place tall plants in them so that they grow over the rail and using long vines like sweet potato work great because they can flow over the edge of the railing and trail for several feet making your railing look like a living wall.
Gardening on your balcony
If gardening is your thing then railing planters for balconies are a good way to add herbs that you can harvest for each meal. Many herb leafs are edible and a few leaves can be trimmed and added to your foods as toppings and flavorings.
1. Mint. This herb is great for making teas or you can chop the leaves and put them in pastas, salads, smoothies, or on meat for flavor.
2. Parsley. This herb is slightly more bitter but is perfect for soups and sauces and packed full of antioxidants.
3. Lavender. These tall bluish hue plants and flowers are great for combining privacy, curb appeal, and aroma. They smell great and can help offset the smell of smog and pollution in a city. Lavender oil can also be extracted for many home remedies.
About the Author
Matthew Buquoi is the owner of Flower Window Boxes, a no rot PVC planter and railing planter company that specializes in high quality, custom planter products.