I have not always had a green thumb. I once killed a succulent by moving it from one room to another.
The light did not even change, and neither did the atmosphere. And yet it died within a week of its apparently catastrophic transplant. After that episode it took me a while to trust my nurturing skills, and myself, but I have now come to fully embrace planting season and the opportunity to decorate my own tiny outdoor space. Like many in Switzerland, I do not own a private garden or yard, but I do have a balcony and a few square meters just begging to be adorned. In short, I have a balcony garden!
After much asking around and several hours of research (which included simply wandering the neighborhood to see what everyone else was growing), I have compiled a list of some of the best plants for container gardening on a balcony.
All of these flowers and herbs are available at your local farmers market, garden center or neighborhood nursery. You will also find a few tips, such as preferred sunlight and watering measures, as well as whether you can plan on seeing them again next year...
Happy planting with these flowers and herbs for your balcony garden!
Light: Full sun
Water: About one inch of rain once a week
Flowering Season: Spring until first frost
Annual and Perennial
Available in a broad range of sizes and colors, verbena plants perform excellently in hanging baskets or on the edge of a container due to their trailing nature. They need full sunlight and will rarely bloom in the shade. It is a fairly drought-tolerant plant that can handle only sporadic watering.
Verbena do, however, benefit greatly from regular deadheading, which helps promote strong growth. Verbena flowers attract butterflies, so prepare to play host to many colorful guests!
Light: Shade, or partial sun
Water: Daily if in a container, two inches of rain if in the ground
Flowering Season: Spring until fall
Bright and cheery, impatiens are one of the easiest plants to grow in the shade. In fact, they will wilt and die quickly in full or aggressive sunlight. Plant them close together in a container for a full and lush look, or mix them with other shade tolerant plants for a diverse setting. Impatiens do not need to be deadheaded as they self clean their spent blooms. These plants will bloom heartily all season long.
Light: Full sun
Water: Daily if in a container, one inch of rain if in the ground
Flowering Season: Spring through fall
Often used in garden beds and vegetable gardens, marigolds are a hearty and nearly indestructible flower. They need very little care and prefer full sun and hot days. Because they are so low maintenance, they make great container plants and help keep pests away from neighboring plants. Deadhead regularly for a fuller, healthier plant.
Light: Full sun, some plants like afternoon shade
Water: Allow soil to dry between watering, about 2-3 times a week
Flowering Season: Late spring until early fall
Often referred to as geraniums, the plants most often adorning Swiss window boxes and containers are actually pelargonium. These might be the most traditional plants for window boxes, so stock up! They require good drainage, so choose a container with several holes at the bottom.
Pelargonium needs at least six hours of direct sun, though they do prefer afternoon shade so choose an eastern or southern facing spot. With proper deadheading, these plants will grow quickly and heartily through the end of summer.
Light: Partial shade
Water: Allow top inch of soil dry out between watering, do not mist
Flowering Season: Late spring through fall
Begonias come in several different varieties, including rex, wax, can-stemmed and tuberous (although they all require similar care). They like to be planted in partial shade, receiving filtered light. If planted in dense shade, they will fail to flower properly.
Begonias enjoy humid conditions which are uncommon for Switzerland, but you can mimic their preferred atmosphere: Water the area under begonias so that evaporating moisture creates humidity like that found in their natural habitat!
Light: Bright full sun (at least 5-6 hours)
Water: Sllow top inch of soil to dry out between watering, soak soil thoroughly
Flowering Season: Early summer until fall
Because of their sprawling tendencies and quick flowering, petunias do well in containers. They are relatively drought and heat tolerant, but containerized plants do dry quickly so be mindful about watering. As with many other plants, deadhead regularly to promote full and healthy blooms. Cut back potted petunias in midsummer when they can begin to wilt and look overgrown or leggy. Trailing petunias can be left to grow wildly.
Herbs and aromatics
Which herbs and aromatics you choose will vary based on appetite and preferred cuisine:
Basil is an excellent container plant that will grow profusely in a well-draining pot and with regular deadheading of its small white blooms. In late summer, you may be watering basil at least once a day.
Flat-leaf parsley is a great choice as well for its pleasant flavor and low maintenance care.
Thyme, rosemary, sage and chives are readily available at nurseries and garden centers and make great additions to both your garden and kitchen.
Aromatics like lavender and peppermint are also beautifully fragrant and pull double-duty as mosquito and insect repellents.
While planting one type of plant per container can create quite a visual impact, feel free to mix and match as your taste and aesthetic dictates. Impatiens and begonias both prefer partial shade, and as low-lying flowering plants they would look harmonious when planted together.
Similarly, pelargonium and trailing petunia would make a superior combination in a bright and sunny location. Trees and other large plants work very well in containers, also. Look for olive trees, rose bushes and hibiscuses to create a lush and well-rounded balcony. And with just the right garden hod, your balcony will soon look like a small paradise...