Lots of articles appear with information for proper big gardens, so this week here’s some information for those who live in apartments with maybe just a tiny outdoor space.
You don’t have to have a massive balcony to grow a few plants, and a balcony with plants looks good from both an outsider’s viewpoint looking up, or your own looking out, and perhaps might give you a bit of privacy screening. The beauty of plants on a balcony is that the area is pretty small, and nothing will get missed by your eagle eye when watering or tidying up!
A word of warning before loading up your balcony with plants - weight might be an issue, as a big terracotta pot can weigh heavy once you have added soil and a plant, so try to keep things light. There are some really good ‘fake’ terracotta pots or ‘fake’ granite pots available – and you would be hard-pressed to tell the difference, but they will be lighter, and even just moving them around when positioning them will be easier.
What you plant may be influenced by the direction of the sun – some plants will scorch and wilt in too much sunshine, others will thrive, but there is one choice that will surprise you – a miniature tree! The last thing you would expect for a balcony are trees, but there are quite a few dwarf or miniature trees that you can grow in a pot, and because oranges do so well in Portugal, you might like to try a miniature orange or lemon tree. These will stay fairly small and would provide some shade beneath for plants that need less sun. The fruit is not really edible as they will be bitter, so are really only for decoration! They won't need much pruning but might need some citrus plant fertilizer now and again. Water frequently, but not so much that the soil becomes soggy.
There are loads of plants that do well in pots – annuals always give a lovely splash of colour, and the good thing is that once they are finished blooming, you can empty them out and try something different for the autumn or the following spring – just remember to wash and disinfect the pot first. You could try your luck with bulbs – it’s fun to watch their growing progress and you can save the bulbs afterwards, but be careful that they are kept completely dry where you store them, as they will rot in high humidity. Daffodils, narcissus and freesias can be grown again, and with a bit of luck when you dig them out, the bulbs will have multiplied, so you can plant more the following year. When you replant, a bit of nourishment by way of a high potassium feed (tomato food) will promote good growth for the following year. Bulbs planted in rectangular troughs ‘end to end’ I always think look pretty spectacular
My old favourites, succulents and cacti, will always do well on a balcony, and are ideal as they are slow-growing and easy, although some aren’t great for flowers, and tend to be ‘low growers’ too, with cacti being a bit spiky if you have pets or young children sharing the outdoor space.
Climbing plants are another option for a balcony, and bougainvillaea comes in many colours that will last for months and will provide vertical interest if grown against a trellis - as will jasmine, with the added bonus of a lovely fragrance, but this needs a rich well drained soil, and will need pruning – pinch out dead shoots and cut away dead leaves and flowers, just don’t prune more than one-third of the plant at any one time. If it becomes pot-bound, transfer to a larger pot, but remove the unhealthy part of the sub root, and don’t remove more than 20%.
Herbs can be grown on your balcony too, and I have seen pots on a vertical frame, which would increase your selection upwards without compromising balcony space. Too many herbs? You can cut and freeze most, or dry them and keep them in sealed bags or pots until you need them.
Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man.