Rooftop and Balcony Gardening
Rooftop and Balcony Gardening
Summertime is upon us and you’re craving a backyard garden. But one small problem . . . you don’t have a backyard. If you are living in a condo or apartment, or even if you’re an urban homeowner with limited yard space, gardening may seem like a fantasy, but it doesn’t have to be that way if you have a rooftop or balcony at your disposal.
Rooftop and balcony gardening are nothing new, and they present a perfect way to indulge your green thumb without ample yard space. Planting a garden on your rooftop or balcony also provides a place to escape the hustle of urban living and relax. There are, however, a few things you should consider before you get started.
1. Are you allowed to grow on your balcony or rooftop?
Before you plant a garden on your rooftop or balcony, make sure to check the bylaws for your building. Some buildings don’t allow edible gardens on rooftops and balconies because they attract pests. If this prevents you from growing fruits and vegetables, you may still be allowed to grow flowers. On the flip side, your building may require that you have a garden. In the city, something like 40% of all flat roofs need to have something growing.
You also need to consider the structure of the balcony or rooftop you plan to plant on. Structurally, introducing wet soil and heavy pots like terra cotta to your balcony or rooftop adds a lot of extra weight, so you need to make sure it is built to handle that. If not, you may be able to get around this by using rice pots, plastic, or fibreglass containers filled with lightweight soil. Grow bags are another good option.
2. Do you have the right drainage?
When you’re watering up top with your headset on, it’s easy to forget what’s going on below you. Your neighbor could be down there reading a book minding their own business and, all of the sudden, it’s “raining” on them. Oops.
If you live in an apartment building that’s even two different levels, you need to think about the people living underneath you. Is your deck made of a solid concrete slab or is it a material that water can get down through? If it’s the latter, you should consider installing a waterproofing membrane with a respectful runoff area. There’s always something you can do so that the water doesn’t go down underneath you.
3. What is the air circulation like?
Unlike in a house where there’s little airflow, your outdoor plants are getting wind almost constantly. If you get a lot of air circulation on your rooftop or balcony, your plants are going to dry out more quickly, so you’ll need to water and fertilize more often. If you have little air circulation, you don’t have to worry as much.
For rooftops and balconies with a lot of air circulation, a water polymer can help hold the moisture in the soil. It’s a little bead that you mix up really, really well in your soil. When you water, it swells up and holds the water. When the soil dries out, it slowly releases water back into the soil. It can be a life saver, and I highly recommend giving it a try if you’re in a windy area.
4. Which side of the building are you on?
What you grow will depend on what side of the building you’re on. If you’re on the sunny side, I encourage you to try growing some tropicals like citrus and hibiscus. They love being out in the full sun. On the sunny side of the building, you can get all the beautiful bright colors and big blooms.
If you’re on the shady side of the building, it doesn’t mean you can’t grow. All of the greens like lettuce, kale, arugula, and mesclun require very little light. I always tell people there are just as many plants that you can grow in the shade as there are that you can grow in the sun. One perk of being on the shady side is that you don’t have to water as much because the water doesn’t evaporate as quickly.
On the shady side, the foliage acts as your flower. A lot of shade plants don’t have very large flowers, but their leaves can be very interesting. Heuchera, also called coral bells, is a really good choice because it comes with a variety of foliages. There are lime greens and ambers and oranges and reds and purples. Elephant ears (Colocasia), begonias, and impatiens also have nice leaves and may be worth planting in the shade.
5. Is vertical right for you?
Since you’re limited in space, you may want to think about planting a vertical garden. Vertical gardens also help create privacy. As long as your planter is at least 12 inches deep, you can grow things like pole beans, peas, morning glories, and climbing nasturtiums that will save space and provide a lush barrier between you and your neighbors. Even cucumbers can be grown vertically if you string them up.
Give It a Try!
Some fun things to try in your rooftop or balcony garden are ever-bearing strawberries and perpetual blueberries. These berries give you intermittent fruit throughout the whole season, so while you’re out there reading, you can just pick a berry all summer long and into the fall. You can find these and more in our store.
For all of your balcony and rooftop gardening needs, come visit us at Blomidon Nurseries. We can help you choose the right plants for your space and offer advice for best practices in your unique rooftop or balcony planting situation.