RIP Primulas
April 9, 2016 10:59 AM   Subscribe

Help me make my balcony feel like a welcoming outdoor space without any live plants.

I live on the top floor of an apartment building that has been dealing with a rat infestation for a couple of years now. Last summer, I put a beloved house plant out on my balcony to get some sunshine. I forgot it out there overnight and in the morning there was nothing left of it. The rats had eaten it right down to it's roots.

Since then, the building management has been making serious efforts to evict all the rats, but it's an uphill battle in this city. It's been weeks since I've seen any new droppings on my deck, so I thought perhaps I'd be able to put some plants in my planter this year, but no. The poor test primula I installed last weekend was eaten last night, and there are fresh droppings on my deck.

It's obvious that I can't have live plants on my balcony anymore, but they're what made me want to sit out there in the first place. It's a small balcony, and I've got a gate-leg table and two chairs from ikea out there already. But everything is beige and brown and it doesn't feel nearly as inviting without the planter overflowing with lush greenery.

I need ideas for how to make my limited outdoor space more lush and welcoming without also welcoming more rat visitors. I know that adding some lanterns or strings of lights could make it feel cozy at night, but what about the day time?
posted by burntflowers to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
What about a small fountain or a nice lush silk plant?
posted by crush-onastick at 11:28 AM on April 9, 2016

Textiles -- outdoor rugs, sturdy canvas hung up to curtain off a bit of the balcony, throw blankets for people to wrap up in on windy days...
posted by kmennie at 11:40 AM on April 9, 2016

Can you try plants that are poisonous to rats?
posted by dilettante at 11:43 AM on April 9, 2016

Rats on the top floor of an apartment building?? That is extreme. Could you and the other tenants/owners get a lawyer together? The management is not doing their job.
posted by mumimor at 11:59 AM on April 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

Here is a source for plants poisonous to rats. So yes. Sweet potato plants are really pretty all summer, the rats may dig out the potato, but there might be a soil additive that is also unpleasant to them.
posted by Oyéah at 12:14 PM on April 9, 2016

Non-plant stuff I have on my patio:

- string lights
- pretty fabric shower curtains
- decorative iron-type baskets (like this, but you can put or jars of shells or brightly colored vase filler or LED candles* in them instead of fruit/plants)
- table with nice outdoor tablecloth and centerpiece
- rugs (I have one of these poly rugs that doesn't absorb water)

*Rats will sometimes try to eat candlewax, including the stuff on some LED pillar candles, so put them inside jars.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:28 PM on April 9, 2016

Rather than getting plants that are poisonous to rats, maybe you could try out some plants that might keep the rats away? Mint in particular seems to come up on several sites after a quick googling. I found various other options here, here, and here. Of course, none of these are exactly scholarly sources, but it might be worth a shot.

Incidentally, the reason why you might want to avoid the "poisonous to rats" thing is that:

A) even if it kills them eventually, you may still find your plant gets eaten by the rats, and it sounds like there are enough rats around that it's not like this would really help as an extermination technique

B) There's "poisonous" and there's POISONOUS. By that I mean, some poisonous plants might just make the rats feel kind of sick. It won't necessarily kill them. Sort of like the dog I had who ate an entire pan of dark chocolate brownies with no noticeable ill effects.

C) So, let's say you get a plant that will actually kill the rats before they devour the rest of it. Well, then you may very well find dead rats on your porch, or worse, in some drain pipe or something near your apartment. There is nothing worse than dead rat stench.

Now, to more directly answer your question, I really like the fountain idea, but I would try to make sure you get something that doesn't turn in to the rats new favorite swimming spot, especially since this might lead to you finding a literal drowned rat in your nice fountain.

This is probably too pricy, but something like this could work.

If all else fails, how do you feel about a cactus garden? Make sure you get cacti with the really sharp spines.
posted by litera scripta manet at 2:36 PM on April 9, 2016

Birch poles or branches in a planter like this or this maybe with river stones
posted by evilmomlady at 6:26 PM on April 9, 2016

mumimor: They're trying very hard to get rid of the rats. It's a three-story building in a city with a major rat problem. Suing them isn't going to make it better. They're already doing everything they can without potentially poisoning everyone in the building plus everyone's pets.

litera scripta manet: oooh, yes, I could certainly have a cactus garden in a terracotta pot on my table. I live in a coastal rain forest, so I wouldn't want to put them in my planter where they'd drown, but at least I could have something green on my balcony. I love this idea!

Great ideas so far, folks. Keep 'em coming! :)
posted by burntflowers at 7:14 PM on April 9, 2016

This balcony is a favorite on Pinterest. It's from this article full of balcony ideas.
posted by MexicanYenta at 10:18 PM on April 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Wind chimes. A bowl full of cool rocks or sea shells. Color in the form of textiles or plastic outdoor furniture. Hell, maybe even plastic/fake flowers?
posted by Brittanie at 2:22 AM on April 10, 2016

Assuming you're still open to plants as an option, I came up with four plants that 1) I have actually grown, 2) could live on a balcony during a summer, 3) would adjust fairly easily to life as a houseplant between fall and spring, 4) are generally for sale, and 5) would be at least difficult for a rat to eat, if not fatal.

Dieffenbachia (dumb cane).
Hazard: causes painful swelling of mouth and throat when chewed and is said to be very painful for humans (and occasionally fatal, if swelling obstructs the airway). A rat might still try it, but I imagine any individual rat would only try once.
Problem: not very drought-tolerant (but that might not be a problem in a coastal rain forest!); likely to sunburn if exposed to direct sun. Some varieties are prone to spider mites. Some varieties have a slight skunky smell to them.
Bright side: very lush and tropical-looking; larger varieties like 'Tropic Snow' and 'Tropic Rain' are easy to grow and can look good for years.

Euphorbia tirucalli (pencil cactus).
Hazard: really toxic sap, which is very painful if gotten in an eye (and can cause permanent damage if allowed to sit there long enough), toxic if swallowed, and causes varying degrees of skin irritation depending on the person, ranging from redness to mild pain to (rarely) blistering. And it doesn't take much to get the plant to bleed a little sap.
Problem: Kinda obvious.
Bright side: unbelievably easy to grow, drought-tolerant, rats are almost guaranteed to leave it alone, very resistant to insect pests, there is a very colorful cultivar called 'Firesticks' or 'Sticks on Fire' or etc., which is red and yellow when grown in very bright light, and the danger to humans isn't really that huge if you treat it with respect. I have two, one for 15 years and one for 6 years, and in the combined 21 plant-years I've gotten a fleck of dried sap in my eye once. Which hurt for about 2 hours, but that's it.

Euphorbia milii (crown of thorns).
Hazard: poisonous sap (though I think not as bad as E. tirucalli's), stem completely covered in outward-pointing thorns.
Problem: A tendency to top-heaviness; often partly defoliates when brought in for winter. I've had problems with fungus on the leaves. May rot if wet and cold simultaneously.
Bright side: blooms continuously as long as it's in bright light; flowers are usually pink or red, numerous, and fairly small. Easy; drought-tolerant.

Pachypodium geayi or lamerei (Madagascar palm).
Hazard: poisonous sap (it's allegedly used as an arrow poison in its native habitat), which supposedly also tastes very bad; trunk covered in sharp thorns pointing every which way.
Problem: gets top-heavy; will sometimes defoliate in winter and then regrow leaves in spring, leaving you looking at a very pointy stick all winter. Sometimes buggy (spider mites). Prone to rot if too wet, especially when both cold and wet.
Bright side: Could eventually produce scented white flowers though don't hold your breath waiting. Drought-tolerant. Unusual.
posted by Spathe Cadet at 9:53 AM on April 10, 2016

There are also artificial plants that are specifically made for outdoor use - they can be a little pricey, but if you're looking for the visual feel of a lush garden without being a food source, it might be worth the investment.
posted by clerestory at 10:42 AM on April 10, 2016

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