When first thinking about how to make a balcony garden you can escape to – a few important points should be top of mind.
- Balcony weight limit
- Strata rules / limitations – for things like pot size, outdoor furniture, what can go in the rubbish chute etc.
- Council rules and regulations
- How much space you have to work with
- Hours of sunlight on the balcony each day
- Type of balcony environment
- Time you will commit to gardening.
There will always be other things unique to each apartment too, of course. However, these points are the basics that will really help you plan out your space.
Perhaps one of the most important things to note too – is not to start too big too quickly. Particularly if you’re a novice gardener because it can become overwhelming. Ask me how I know….
When we were considering how to make a balcony garden suitable to our space, we made a list of everything that was important for us. We’ve been blessed with quite a sizeable terrace – so we wanted to use the space well.
We listed an abundance of edible plants, an outdoor lounging area, outdoor entertaining area + BBQ and a compost area too. Plus lots of flowers! So, all of that was incorporated in our planning.
I’m assuming you’re also ready to start making plans to create your own balcony garden. So, let’s go through each of the points I listed above here one by one. I’ve grouped them in sections to make it a little easier.
Important structural/strata points
POINT ONE – Balcony weight limit
This was so difficult to find out! Neither our strata nor building manager held this information for some reason. Nor did the original developer. It’s important to know or have someone assess for you though, to ensure you won’t cause damage (or worse!) to your balcony. In the end we worked with an engineer to determine the weight limit. It’s not such an issue for just a few small pots but we were putting in big garden beds.
Remember you’re not only considering the weight of pots or other structures. You will also need to consider:
- Soil and how much heavier everything is when wet
- Furniture weight
- Weight of any other additions on the balcony like the composter etc.
POINT TWO – Strata rules and limitations (Sydney)
Each building will note in its by-laws things you can or can’t do on your balcony. As an example – we can’t attach permanent fixtures to external walls without special permission. We also can’t throw excessive amounts of green waste down the rubbish chute.
If you don’t first look at your by-laws – you might find yourself having to undo all your handy work.
Don’t be disheartened if you find something you want to do isn’t possible. There’s always a way! Take my vertical herb garden as proof of that. It looks like its attached to the wall, but it’s not.
POINT THREE – Council regulations (Sydney)
In my council area, there is a minimum height requirement of 90cm for structures on the ground. Largely so if they’re close to the balcony ledge. This is so children can’t climb on them and fall over the balcony. Each council is likely to be different so be sure to check in with yours.
Points to consider when designing your balcony garden
POINT FOUR – How much space do you have to work with?
Outlining what’s most important to you will help you create your space. Is it only plants you’d like? Will you have a tumbling composter? Perhaps some furniture too? If you do want furniture, I suggest starting with that and working around it.
Don’t forget to go up! Using vertical space can give you so much more room to work with.
POINT FIVE – How many hours of sunlight do you get each day?
When working out your sun exposure consider that:
- Full sun – Receives full sun for six or more hours a day
- Partial sun – Receives three to six hours of sun a day
- Full shade – Receives no direct sun at all but may receive reflected light.
Generally, most edible plants will do well when bathed in six to eight hours of sunlight each day. However, there are also many that can manage on three hours or less. Knowing exactly how many hours of direct sunlight you receive each day will help you choose the plants best suited to your balcony.
POINT SIX – What kind of balcony environment do you have?
Our balcony is in a bit of a wind tunnel, which has caused all kinds of havoc…. Including losing Vegepod lids over the edge! Depending on the season – we’re also affected by a lack of sun.
These are the kinds of things you need to consider too. I’ve tried several plants / structures that have failed but have learnt as we’ve gone along. The more we see what works in our space the more our garden continues to grow and evolve. Yours will be the same too. My advice is to keep a garden diary so you know what is and isn’t working.
Logistical points to consider for your balcony garden
POINT SEVEN – Watering
This one can be so easy to overlook! However, if you’re filling your balcony with plants, you need to be able to water them. And to do so easily or it can quickly become a chore. We only have one outdoor tap on our balcony. As a result – the majority of our plants are on the section where the tap resides. We do have others down the other end. Though just those that can be watered in a one, sometimes two, watering can trip.
POINT EIGHT – How much time do you want to commit each day?
This is very important to think on. Our balcony garden was a lot of things for me…. but a place to relax and be with nature was top of the list. I needed something I could get really involved in. Something that forced me into the great outdoors daily. With that in mind – we went with a full garden from the outset. If you think you just want to dabble to start with it can be good to begin with one or two pots at a time. I spend roughly an hour a day in our balcony garden. A little less in Autumn and Winter but that’s about average.
BONUS POINT – Consider having things on wheels!
When working with less than optimal sunlight hours you want to maximise it. I made certain every single one of our large pots was on wheels. It’s also why I decided to buy Vegepods for my large garden beds. It means we can move everything around the balcony to either catch extra sun or avoid severe winds. Definitely worth your consideration.
Don’t forget to welcome wildlife
The bonus of our garden for us has been welcoming an array of wildlife to it. So don’t forget to add things like:
- Bird feeder
- Bird bath
- Bee drinking stations etc,
Every single day we’re treated to birds, bees, dragonflies, ladybugs and more. Our absolute oasis in the city.
Balcony gardening can be so rewarding, it just takes a little planning. When thinking about how to start a garden from scratch, you’ll be well on your way to success if you can tick off all the points above. Happy balcony garden planning!