Having an apartment with a balcony in London is a luxury any time. But for someone who has no idea about plants or gardening, how do you begin the process of making it a green oasis where you can enjoy spending time?
For my business, this has been a difficult time. Normally we’d be busy in and out of apartments in developments across London in areas like Greenwich, Docklands and Nine Elms, installing container planters on our customer’s balconies. As we can’t do that, here are some ideas for starting the process of creating a garden on your balcony on your own. I am breaking these posts down as much as possible to cover all aspects. In this article I deal with choosing and setting up the planters.
What are the best planters for my balcony?
Choosing the right planters for your balcony space is important. And of course, it depends on the size of your balcony or outdoor space. Customers always ask me about how much weight a balcony can take. Honestly you don’t need to worry too much, most balconies are designed to take 250 kilograms per square metre – way more than you will ever use.
My advice is still always to use lightweight planters so that you can move them around easily. We use zintec steel which is strong and lightweight and some amazing recycled plastic planters from Elho in the Netherlands, which have rollers on the base to make them really easy to manoeuvre. I wouldn’t recommend lead or terracotta planters for obvious reasons but there are all sorts of products made from resin, polystone and other materials. Most importantly your planters should have drainage holes and should be strong enough to lift when they are planted up.
What is the best compost to use in my balcony planters?
There is a big problem with the sustainability of peat moss, from which most commercially available peat products are made from. Very few garden centres offer alternatives. But peat bogs where peat is harvested take thousands of years to form and only a few decades to destroy. So the horticulture industry has been looking for alternative products.
For our balcony customers we use a lightweight product called Coir. It is made from coconut pith, a sustainable product which also supports much needed farming in Sri Lanka and India. It is mainly used for hydroponics in the UK and for growing seedlings in big plant nurseries.
The coir comes in compressed blocks which expand to 6 times their original size when soaked in water. And best of all it is super lightweight. While coir has plenty of nutrients, for plants to grow you will want to add fertilisers and other products to help maintain your plants over a longer period of time.
Setting up your balcony planters
The first thing you need to consider is where the water will go from the drainage holes in your planters. You will be regularly watering the compost damp to ensure that plants don’t dry out. I would recommend lining the bottom of your planter with an absorbent material so that as little water escapes as possible. Alternatively you could use a water tank inside your balcony planter. There are different manufacturers but they can hold up to 6 or 8 litres of water. The advantage is that they allow the compost to draw the water up rather than watering from above. Some planters like our Elho recycled plastic planters also have an inbuilt internal water reservoir tank. This means that the plants always have what they need to drink.
If I am using raised feet underneath the planter, I use a roll of coir and cut a piece to fit the bottom on the inside. If I am laying the planter directly on the balcony decking then I will rest them on a piece of absorbent matting or coir. This not only prevents water escaping but also stops the leach of compost as well. Some balconies have open decking which means you want to be careful about unsuspecting neighbours below you getting water on them!
Filling the planters with compost
If you are using coir blocks, then you need a big enough waterproof container to soak it in. I use a blue IKEA carrying bag in the bath. It doesn’t need to be waterproof as the coir soaks up the water immediately but good to be on the safe side. Leave the coir for 30 mins to soak up the water and you are ready to go. It’s also really easy to pour the coir out of the bag directly into the planter – which means less mess! If you are mixing in any dry fertilisers, like the slow releasing pellets, now is the time to mix them through the compost. If you are using a standard compost or other product which is already bagged, then this process is easy.
At this stage you are ready to plant! Read our next blog post to learn more about choosing plants and looking after them.