Balcony improvements
May 15, 2022 11:22 AM   Subscribe

I am fortunate to live in an apartment that has a balcony. I've gotten a set of two wooden folding chairs and a folding table to sit out on the balcony, but haven't really done much else with it. I know I want to get an umbrella so I can sit out there more, but am also looking for other ideas. How can I improve my balcony experience?

Said balcony measures 4.5ft x 11ft with concrete type floor and metal railing. I'd rather items that will either weather well (including high winds) or that I can bring in relatively easily in nasty weather. The balcony is off the kitchen with a non-sliding door and large window. Since it's a rental, I want to avoid any permanent changes. Budget is $200 total.

Ideas so far:
+ Umbrella: I have no balconies above me, so an umbrella for shade would be helpful. Any recommendations?
+ Gardening: I have many houseplants and would love to do some balcony gardening, especially herbs or veggies. Tomatoes and zucchini are out, but I'd love other ideas. The balcony faces west and gets full sun in the afternoon.
+ LED lights: I'm not particularly drawn to these, but generally like the look on other's balconies.
+ Seating: Along with the 2 chairs & table that I can put out or bring in, I have an anti-gravity chair which I pull out when I'll be reading for a while.

posted by wiskunde to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Similar situation to you! During the peak of lockdowns a couple of years ago, we made frequent use of our balcony. We got a couple of those anti-gravity chairs you mention, but the real key was bringing a fan out there, because it made sitting outside in hot weather much more pleasant. Do you have an outlet on your balcony? If so, I'd definitely recommend. We also would take a cheapo little Bluetooth speaker out there, too. Honestly, once you get that umbrella, that's probably all you need!

As for gardening, we've had the most success with herbs—specifically basil and mint. Cilantro seems to be less hardy. We got some boxes that hang on the railing that work decently well.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 11:43 AM on May 15, 2022

Here is a relevant Pinterest board: link.
posted by mai at 12:01 PM on May 15, 2022

Depending on the details you might be able to put up a shade sail instead of an umbrella. If you can attach a pole at the corners and there is something to tie it to on the building wall you can get three or four points of attachment. Then you don’t need to deal with the umbrella pole taking up balcony space or storing something bulky when it’s time to bring it in.

Definitely get an led lantern for sunset and evening use. There are some really lovely ones available now in a variety of aesthetics. A lot of them can rest on a charging plate indoors and look like a modern table lamp and then you just pick it up and use it like a lantern. Others can give an old timey camp out feel without the risks of gas or flame.

Since you mention high winds, look into container plants that originate from coastal areas. These regions have plants that can handle tidal winds. For herbs go for rosemary and sage.
posted by Mizu at 12:05 PM on May 15, 2022 [3 favorites]

I prefer growing flowers to herbs on my balcony because they're prettier, they attract birds & bees, and they change themselves more frequently. In addition the "crops" I harvested from my little herb plants tended to be pretty pathetic & I still had to buy anything I wanted to use in the kitchen anyway. When you're sitting out there it's nicer to have something interesting to look at.
posted by bleep at 12:07 PM on May 15, 2022 [1 favorite]
I have artficial lawn grass and Love it.
posted by 15L06 at 12:11 PM on May 15, 2022 [1 favorite]

Laying down a artficial lawn grass carpet has improved my previously unattractive terrace /tiny urban yard so much.
The trick ist to get the kind that is composed of multiple coloured and soft fibres, and not the kind for indoor sports venues, which is rough and only one shade of green . Mine has drainage holes, so no puddles form. Otherwise i treat it like carpet vaccuming as needed.
I did not glue it down only weigh it down with potted plants in the corners.
posted by 15L06 at 12:15 PM on May 15, 2022 [1 favorite]

I have this on my balcony: It comes included with straps on both ends, and I'm fortunate to have a balcony that has railings on three sides (both sides and the front), so it was pretty easy to hook up and make it work. You can also buy a strap extender from REI if that's necessary, as well. I got the Double Nest because it's much more roomier and very comfortable. It also has held up to quite a lot of rain.
posted by dubious_dude at 12:40 PM on May 15, 2022

Scented herbs and flowers are a good upgrade if scents don't bother you. I have mint, lemon balm and petunias currently, and it's like going out into a spa. Get flower pots that hang over the railing to free up floor space.

For the floor, I prefer a weather-proof carpet. Ikea does some nice jute ones.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 12:44 PM on May 15, 2022

Response by poster: Ooooh, such wonderful ideas! Thank you and please keep them coming!

If anyone has specific recommendations for an umbrella, please let me know. I have railings on 3 sides and don't have a way to tie or otherwise fix anything to the building wall. I'm hoping to clamp an umbrella to the railing.
posted by wiskunde at 12:52 PM on May 15, 2022

Another option besides clamping an umbrella is to get a base. This one from Ikea looks nice because it's only a half moon shape, so it takes up less room than a large round one. I haven't used that one, but with umbrella bases, the heavier the better, and that one is 33 lbs, which is a good start!
posted by hydra77 at 1:16 PM on May 15, 2022

I really like to add flowing water of some kind; a birdbath with a solar bubbler, a freestanding fountain, whatever. It looks and sounds pretty, and birds and bees etc like to drink from them.
posted by The otter lady at 1:36 PM on May 15, 2022 [2 favorites]

I have a small apartment deck and have learned a lot about small area gardening via trial-and-error. Peppers love full sun and grow well in containers - if you use hot peppers in cooking, definitely try a plant of whatever variety you like. To maximize your space, look at railing planters - I have several of these from Gardener's Supply and they've held up to mild tropical storm-force winds when one came through while we were away.

Look into a plant stand to give you more room for pots without necessarily taking up more ground space. I like to put veggies and herbs that grow vertically and need support on the ground and save railing space for flowers and other pretty ornamentals that spread or trail. If you want to focus on one or two plants only, you might like a trellis planter box.

For herbs, basil and rosemary will be happy with your exposure. Mint is the perfect small space herb because it will grow anywhere and you actually want to keep it contained in a pot of its own, or it'll choke out whatever else it's planted with. I've never had any luck at all with cilantro in super sunny conditions.
posted by superfluousm at 2:08 PM on May 15, 2022 [1 favorite]

If you don't have an outlet then apparently "This Exorbitant Cordless Geek Aire Fan Is Worth Every Penny".
posted by caek at 4:45 PM on May 15, 2022

Solar string lights, triangle sail awning. I bought an 11 foot one. I cut off the front of the triangle to make it the right width. I used the left over to make a smaller awning for a kitchen window. I bought some grommets to make the extra holes I needed. I had light rope. They make taller wrought iron stands for stuff, (trellis, plant stands, tiki torch stands,) that could be tie downs for awning strings. Black annealed wire is good for attaching this sort of item to the balcony railing. Those sail awnings are airy, and let air pass, less tendancy to blow away. They sell heavy duty hand clamps that would securely hold the broad side of a sail awning to a rain gutter. If you put them up top, you wouldn't see them, until you want to, like before the snow. Those awnings revert to a one foot by one foot package, 6 inches deep, for winter storage.

Baker's racks are also good for balcony spaces. They handily hold plants, or a small grill on the bottom for narrow storage. They can be backed up to the outside railing on either end of your balcony if you want to screen out a neighbor on either side. A curtain or bushy plants make a good screen. You can often pick up metal bakers racks at yard sales. Don't be dismayed if they are missing wood shelves. Home Depot will let you cut board to length.
posted by Oyéah at 5:48 PM on May 15, 2022

If your space is big enough and you can find one within budget get a small lawn swing.

Pinwheels that turn when the wind is blowing.

Wind chimes if the noise will not bother you, or the neighbours. Consider a bamboo one that rattles instead of a metal one that dings.

Weather station

Out door rug/artificial grass/ foam pad for lying down out there.


Those little solar powered figures that people sometimes put in their cars, only something artistic and interesting, not something tacky.

UV or temperature sensitive decorations that change colour as the environment changes. If you are artistic you can make it yourself sunlight reactive adhesive vinyl.

Waterproof deck box/seat for storing stuff out there.

Decorative table fountain. It can go on the ground surrounded by pots of plants.

Little hibatchi/burner/chiminea/lantern for having a little fire out there. You can put candles in something like that instead of needing wood/charcoal/gas and get the same effect.

Sidewalk chalk to do murals that you can scrub off if they are still visible when it's time for you to move.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:03 PM on May 15, 2022

I bought a metal shelving unit to put plants on.
posted by ellieBOA at 3:13 AM on May 16, 2022

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