How can I create a lush, green balcony?
April 15, 2016 3:19 PM   Subscribe

I have a small apartment balcony and I hope to be able to have all the walls covered in green this summer. I feel like there is a lot of potential for it to go well, maybe, but I just have no idea what to do! I've been researching, but I could really use some help in weighing my options. Gardeners, plant lovers, apartment dwellers, please help with your insights!

My balcony is about 8 by 12 feet, no roof, and juts straight out, with three railings. Last year we turned it into a "catio" by covering below the railing with (taut, well-secured) chicken wire, and adding lattice around the top. The setup looks perfect for beautiful green plants to grow upon. It gets a lot of sun, and we should have a warm spring and summer (Southern Ontario).

I'm overwhelmed by the possibilities here. I want climbing plants, but more specifically, I want really lush vines. I worry that I'll choose the wrong plants and have a scraggly effect. Do I need to buy mature plants? Or can I find little baby plants that will explode with greenery throughout the season? I think perennials would be the best type to get, but annuals could work too.

As far as planters are concerned, I would ideally be hanging planters on the walls themselves (from the chicken wire or else secured to the railing posts), rather than starting from planters on the ground. This is because space on my balcony is limited for seating. If this is not the right way to go about it though, please let me know! Perhaps I'd do small planters dotted around vertically sort of like this. The only way this would end of looking good though is if they fill in really well. With small planters, is it possible for the plants to spread all over the place? Another idea that I found in my search is this type of moss-filled chicken wire planter. I like that there is added green from the moss. I'm not sure if this is over-ambitious for what I'm going for though, or if it would look like too much to have several of these all over.

There are a few things I've seen that I know won't work. For instance, even though while I love how living succulent walls look, and they seem DIY-able enough, I wouldn't be able to afford that many plants to fill it out. One thing I've seen that I dislike is the canvas shoe-holder look. Just a personal preference.

Finally, we don't have lots of money. Budget, maybe 100, tops. Would prefer to spend far less though. Oh, and we have a kitty who goes out there, and while she never eats plants, I want to stay away from mega poisonous stuff like morning glory.

Thanks so much!
posted by to recite so charmingly to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
A passionflower in a decent-sized container might be an option. They grow very quickly, produce lots and lots of glossy green leaves and flowers, and some even give you edible fruit. They tend to stay pretty green all year round, too.

Ours tends to need lots of regular pruning though, because if we don't it'll bury our house in a few years.
posted by pipeski at 3:41 PM on April 15, 2016

Nasturtiums are lush, foolproof, and dead easy to grow from seed. Just make sure the packet says it's a climbing not a bushy variety
sweet peas also give a gorgeous effect but are a little harder to establish.

train up stakes, trellises or string wires between/ amongst your railings
posted by runincircles at 4:27 PM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you are patient you can affordably grow sempervivem in Southern Ontario. They look excellent in wall type setups. They fill and overflow pots in about three years and can withstand frost and snow as long as they don't sit in dampness.
posted by srboisvert at 5:25 PM on April 15, 2016

I'm about to experiment with this myself in Chicago, but get a packet of Cup and Saucer vine seeds and see what they can do in Ontario. They reportedly grow like beasts and are non-toxic.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 7:10 PM on April 15, 2016

Morning glories and moonflowers grow at astonishing, even alarming, rates. They will cover a small wall in a matter of months. Plus the flowers are pretty, and you get morning and evening blooms. They are dead easy to grow from seed, just start them inside then move the containers outside once they're established and ready to grab onto something.

Tidal Wave petunias grow just as quick, but are more drape-y. I hung a bunch of those and planted morning glories and moonflowers in pots on the balcony floor and they met in the middle within a couple months -- I had a wall of green vines I could tie back like a curtain. Pretty neat :)
posted by ananci at 12:55 AM on April 16, 2016

If you can handle really large plants, I've seen hops use to great effect in spaces like this, and they grow fairly quickly. Also wisteria, which is very, very strong and heavy when it grows full, and needs very strong supports.

The book square-foot-gardening provides good information on how to make a vertical vegetable garden with vine plants, giving you a green look and veggies at the same time. The website doesn't say much about it, but the book does, and to my surprise you can even grow things like watermelons and pumpkins vertically. For your space, I'd consider building waist-high beds for all the plants and letting them grow up the walls. The advice in here about how to actually plant and protect the plants is excellent.

This website has lots of good illustrations. My favorite is the gutter garden about half of the way down. It looks very inexpensive, and you can plant a nice mixture of small vegetables (greens probably) and flowers (nasturtiums grow quickly and are both pretty and delicious). To save money you can grow them from seed, starting now indoors, and moving them outdoors in a few weeks.
posted by Capri at 9:16 AM on April 16, 2016

A word of caution about morning glories, they are incredibly difficult to eradicate, I've been working on getting them out of my yard for years and it's just a huge pain. So if there's any risk of seeds ending up in a neighbor's area you might want to consider something that's a little less invasive (they're not native to North America).
posted by tivalasvegas at 10:12 AM on April 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

I like black eyed susan vines. I grow mine from hanging planters and they grow very quickly and have great flowers.

Seconding nasturtiums- they're gorgeous and the leaves, flowers, and baby seed pods are all edible!
posted by mollywas at 11:19 AM on April 16, 2016

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