60 per cent of Australians believe getting outside and connecting with nature is more important to them now than before the pandemic struck.
Studies have shown that plants can lower stress, improve your immune system, optimise mental alertness, wellbeing, and productivity
For many strata dwellers, balconies or terraces are the ideal place to start a garden to bring a bit of nature into their homes.
We’ve put together a guide to work around the challenges and turn a boxed-in balcony into a green and peaceful escape from the surrounding urban landscape.
Firstly, check balcony gardens are allowed if your scheme and if there are any restrictions.
Owners or occupiers considering a balcony garden should review their scheme’s by-laws to check what kind of expectations the scheme has on the use of balconies.
Restrictions on balcony gardens could include what type of plants can be used, that the plants be under a certain height, restrictions on planter boxes and requirements for watering. In some instances, balcony gardens may not be permitted at all.
Creating Balcony By-Laws
Bodies corporate that are supportive of balcony gardens should consider appropriate drainage, weight and visibility restrictions.
A by-law setting out the general rules for gardens on lot property can inform lot owners about the limitations and possibilities of outdoor lot areas and limit disputes between neighbours.
Things to Consider
Once you know what you can and can’t do on your balcony it’s time to get started. However, there are a few more things to investigate and take care of so that you don’t upset anyone or cause any property damage.
Type of plants
The best plants for balconies are long lived, don’t drop leaves, and thrive with limited care.
Additionally, you should choose plants that can be pruned and shaped to allow you to control their size and shape.
Pet owners should be careful as plants can be toxic to animals if digested. Use caution when selecting plant species and always consult a veterinary professional if unsure.
Do you know your balcony’s structural load capacity? It’s important to ensure your building can withstand the weight of any pots or materials you plan to use. Choose pots that won’t blow over from the wind but are not too heavy for your balcony structure.
Look for lightweight pots – fiberglass rather than solid terracotta – as these will be easier to get into the apartment, for a start, and will get around any weight restrictions on the balcony.
Instead of oversized planters, you can use lightweight alternatives such as polyresin fiberglass, which will look and feel like concrete but at half the weight.
Are they the right sized pots for the plants you choose?
The roots of plants are usually the width of the plant, so choose pots big enough for the roots to grow, but not too big. Too big is known as ‘over-potting’ – and can cause a loose and unstable root ball.
The most common issue with body corporate balconies is water ingress.
Consider where the water from your plants will go.
Do you have self-watering pots, or will they to sit on saucers so the water does not damage the balcony floor?
If you do not have sufficient drainage, irrigation systems are out and you might have to restrict your plants to succulents to avoid the annoying your neighbours every time the saucers on the pots overflow.
If you can’t run an irrigation system (and with most balconies you can’t), you’re limited by the amount of water you’re willing to carry in a watering can from the kitchen or nearest tap.
You should have your pots elevated on bricks or pot feet. This allows potting mix to drain and also lets you keep an eye out for unwanted roots.
Make sure all pots include drainage holes in their bases. If run-off and drips are a problem, catch water in a tray under the pot but empty it frequently. If a pot doesn’t have adequate drainage, use it as a cover pot for one that does.
Terracotta pots and hanging baskets may need sealing or lining with black plastic to help prevent water loss. Ceramic and plastic, including self-watering pots, are good choices.
If your balcony is rather windy, your plant choices will be more limited, and you may need to install a wind break (if permitted),
Choose plants that don’t have large leaves, because these can shred easily in the wind and use heavy pots that won’t blow over.
Cover soil surfaces with a mulch of pebbles and do not use hanging baskets on a windy balcony!
Just because you’re off the ground, it doesn’t mean your plants will be pest free.
Pests find their way to plants and can also be introduced with new plant material. Control pest outbreaks by hand or use low-toxicity sprays. You can also utilise netting as a solution for keeping the pests at bay.
Be conscious of your neighbours. Particularly if what you’re planning on growing gives off a distinct odour (even if it’s pleasant for you) or could potentially incites allergies.
What plants are important to mental health.
Simply spending time around our plants is proven to improve our wellbeing. Our brains evolved in nature, so when we are surrounded by greenery, the fight or flight and emotional parts of the brain are less on edge – an innate affinity to nature called biophilia
Whether you are a plant enthusiast or just want a bit of nature in your home there are some fantastic plants for apartment and townhouse living. Check out this article for more helpful balcony gardening tips.
Best plants for balconies
Our top four plant picks for balconies are:
- Epiphytic cacti
These plants are all tough, wind-resistant, relatively low-maintenance and have low water requirements.