How to garden cheaply on my balcony?
May 4, 2011 6:36 PM   Subscribe

So my Utah apartment I'm staying at over the summer has a decent-sized balcony, and I want to grow things on it. How can I do it, what should I grow, and what do I need?

I've only gardened a little in the past, but never here in Utah. What could I grow that would be inexpensive and manageable for a rookie? Do I get a big wooden box, a planter, pots, or what to put them in? Anything I'm not thinking of asking that I should know for beginning this? I'm only looking at doing a couple of plants. Edible or non-edible is fine-- some of both would be great.
posted by dubadubowbow to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Choosing between edible and ornamental would depend on if and what fresh things you like to eat.

The next thing to figure out is how much sunlight will receive--the best case scenario would be south-facing of course. Try to monitor how many hours of sunlight it receives. That will be a factor to consider whether you're growing flowers, vegetables or herbs.

In your situation, I might try a tomato plant, assuming good sun and heat and space and an herb planter, since herbs are expensive to buy and I cook frequently. I mostly garden outside, but there are several sites with creative ways to grow tomatoes in tight quarters.

I guess one practical consideration will be that you will need to water--probably pretty frequently--so check to see where that water will come from and where it will drain.
posted by SpicyMustard at 6:44 PM on May 4, 2011


i think there's nothing more satisfying than growing basil. thrives on a ton of light, and you can make all of your pasta dishes more delicious.
posted by entropone at 8:00 PM on May 4, 2011


How often do you cook? How often can you water? What's your budget?
I would grow basil and a container-friendly tomato, both bought as 4"+ starter plants, assuming I had full sun.
posted by deludingmyself at 8:17 PM on May 4, 2011


The forums at You Grow Girl (even if you're not a girl) have a lot of balcony gardeners.

I'm a renter again, though with a yard (but dogs, so...) and am going pot-only. I know how to build and hack larger containers, but the truth is they're heavy and awkward if you find you need to rearrange for light, etc. If you want to maximize space, use square planters (see any garden store, but Home Depot has several flavors in plastic that I like and find attractive) and pick up a Square Foot Gardening book or google the phrase. There are very few things you can't grow in a 1 square foot (or 10" square) pot, and anything too big for that is too big for a balcony anyway.

Tip from someone who keeps making this mistake: make sure the pot-filling-substance you buy is *for containers*. I have screwed up AGAIN and bought "garden soil" which is meant to be mixed with topsoil or tilled into a bed, and it's got too much fertilizer in it and I'm going to lose some stuff.

Also investigate vertical gardening. You can absolutely grow anything that climbs with the use of trellis or twine and supports. You can grow staked/caged tomatoes (I'd advise staying small, though, with cherry/grape or tiny full tomatoes), cucumbers, beans, eggplants (again, skew to the smaller asian ones rather than giant Black Beautys), just about anything except corn as long as you have good exposure. Hanging planters are good for most herbs.

Look up your local county extension office and any nearby universities for your best references for planting times, and just to find out what grows well where you are.

My experience is edible-centric, I don't know much about flowers.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:42 PM on May 4, 2011


If you're in to cooking, I would suggest herbs. Basil, thyme, mint, marjoram, and/or oregano will all do well this time of year. You don't mention your amount of sun, but these will all require a good six hours of full sun (except the basil, which might scorch in Utah).
Get in touch with your local extension office. This is their job, and they can give you lots of good advice on what you should (and should not) be growing.
posted by Gilbert at 9:56 PM on May 4, 2011


Adding... I have successfully grown plants in soda crates that were acquired from behind convenience stores and then lined with plastic bags. I'm also told that fast-food joints are required to throw out their pickle buckets (think 5 gallon paint buckets, but food grade), and if you ask nicely, they can put a few aside for you. Good luck!
posted by Gilbert at 10:01 PM on May 4, 2011


If you have any kind of overhang that gets adequate light, you might also consider an upside-down tomato planter. These take up little space (freeing up the deck for other activities) and are easy to maintain. The hanging planter has the benefit of having space for you to grow something on top, too, meaning you can have tomatoes and perennials giving character to your space without interfering with the balcony's usability.
posted by Graygorey at 10:03 PM on May 4, 2011


Cacti! They're easy. You can buy them at supermarkets already in a pot for cheap. They need only a little water (only water again when the soil has completely dried out again) and they will like the dry Utah heat. If you get non-desert plants for your balcony--particularly if it gets full mid-day sun--you're going to have to keep a really close eye on the soil to make sure they don't get dried out.
posted by colfax at 2:48 AM on May 5, 2011


I had excellent luck with Roma tomatoes in a container (until the squirrels moved in)...
posted by JoanArkham at 6:41 AM on May 5, 2011


Utah is great for growing things!

You really just need to figure out how much sunlight you'll be getting and make your decisions based on that. Just about anything will grow here in the summer.

Tomatoes are a popular favorite, but herbs of all kinds are great too. Most flowers are done blooming by the summertime here, so I'd go for plants that have really great greenery instead of looking for pretty blossoms. Hosta plants grow happily around here and have a huge variety of big leaves, so they really make a statement. I think they do well in partial shade too.

Here's a list of Utah specific gardening help.
posted by TooFewShoes at 6:43 AM on May 5, 2011


Basil, thyme, mint, marjoram, and/or oregano will all do well this time of year.

Just a pointer here - I have recently learned that mint is hard to grow from seeds. If you want to grow mint, do it from a cutting.
posted by wondermouse at 6:48 AM on May 5, 2011


Okay, lots of great suggestions. Thanks all!
posted by dubadubowbow at 3:39 PM on May 6, 2011


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