We recently received the following question about whether it was safe to have hanging plants on a balcony in a strata-titled property. As a subset to this, we also considered balcony gardens and what’s necessary to ensure they’re safe, legal and appealing.
Over the past decade the number of families living in strata titled property has more than doubled, an analysis of census data shows.
And experts say this trend will accelerate, meaning more and more families will be living their lives in strata titled properties.
Balconies have fast become the new Aussie backyard!
With a little imagination, a concrete jungle can be easily transformed into a lush and versatile green space.
Let’s look at what to consider when contemplating a balcony garden of your own.
Are there restrictions on balcony gardens, are they allowed?
In some cases, there are restrictions, but generally balcony gardens are allowed.
Firstly, you will need to refer to you scheme to determine if there are any by-laws (rules) regarding plants on balconies.
- Do plants need to be under a certain height?
- Are there restrictions on types of plants I can keep?
- Can they hang over the edge?
- Are you allowed planter boxes – and if so are there colour and design restrictions?
- What about requirements for watering?
- Or, are they banned all together?
Secondly, you need to consider you neighbours. Particularly if what you’re planning on growing gives off a distinct odor, disrupts the peace or incites allergies. Be conscious of your neighbours.
Once you’ve determined the allowances for your balcony, it’s time to start planning.
Making the most of small spaces:
Firstly, think about where to put your plants.
Will your plants like moist and shady or sunny and dry conditions?
In Sydney, north-facing windows and balconies will get the most sun in winter. East-facing areas enjoy gentle morning sun, and west-facing positions get the harsher afternoon sun.
Balconies are typically hotter, drier and windier than the conditions found on the ground level. Balconies and rooftop gardens have their own unique microclimates and plants that thrive on the ground level may do the opposite once elevated.
You’ll need to take into account your apartment’s aspect, sunlight levels and the volume of wind it receives.
Most balcony gardens fail because the gardener doesn’t anticipate the high-rise challenges of wind, light and access. Recognising them and meeting them head-on are what make a great balcony garden achievable.
Make your choices matter:
- Choose pots that won’t blow over but are not too heavy for your balcony structure.
- Consider where the water will go. Are the pots self-watering, or will they need to sit on saucers, so the water won’t destroy the balcony floor?
- Are they the right sized pots for the plants you choose? The roots of plants are usually the width of the plant, so choose pots big enough for the roots to grow, but not too big. Too big is known as ‘over-potting’ – and can cause a loose and unstable root ball.
- Terracotta pots and hanging baskets may need sealing or lining with black plastic to help prevent water loss. Ceramic and plastic, including self-watering pots, are good choices. Do not use hanging baskets on a windy balcony!
- Consider a vertical garden too if you’re allowed to. These are ideal for growing herbs in sunny spot, or lush ferns and “indoor” plants on a shady wall.
Do you know your balcony’s structural load capacity?
It’s important to ensure your building can withstand the weight of the materials you plan to use. If you like the look of oversized planters, try lightweight alternatives such as polyresin fiberglass, which will give you the look and feel of concrete at half the weight.
What to plant?
These wind-resistant plants grow on exposed sunny or partly shaded balconies. Where available, select variegated or coloured leaf forms to add variety. For added interest include foliage contrasts from succulents, ornamental grasses or liriope.
- Agave (Agave attenuata)
- Coastal rosemary (Westringia fruticosa)
- Coral plant (Russelia equisetiformis)
- Cumquat (Citrus japonica)
- Indian hawthorn (Raphiolepis indica)
- Japanese pittosporum (Pittosporum tobira)
- Looking-glass plant (Coprosma repens)
- Dwarf oleander (Nerium oleander)
Tall or feature plants:
If you want a tree or a tall shrub for shade, privacy or to make a bold statement, make sure you’ve got room both to house a tall plant and the large pot it will require, and to get it there in the first place.
Most trees need pots that hold at least 75 litres of potting mix and need an area that’s three metres high and wide to accommodate their height and spread.
- Agonis (Agonis flexuosa ‘After Dark’)
- Aralia (Schefflera elegantissima)
- Camellia (Camellia sasanqua)
- China doll (Radermachera sinica)
- Frangipani (Plumeria rubrum)
- Screw pine (Pandanus tectorius)
- Weeping maple (Acer palmatum) (sheltered only)
Growing plants in pots is a little different to growing in garden beds.
Always choose a good quality potting mix. Unfortunately, cheap potting mixes are generally not worth it. You’ll need to mix in fertilisers, soil conditioners, minerals, water crystals and perlite to bring the mix up to the right standard that the potted plants will need to survive, so you may as well pay the extra and buy a high-quality mix right from the start. Also consider filling the bottom of the pots with polystyrene chips to keep the weight down.
As pots can dry out quickly, it’s always worthwhile topping the soil with mulch to keep the roots cooler and the soil moisture.
Succulents don’t need a lot of water, but most other plants will need watering at least once or twice a week in cooler months, and maybe daily on hot or windy days.
Don’t let them sit in saucers of deep water either, as this can cause the roots to rot, as well as attract mosquitoes.
When planting, ensure you mix a handful of controlled release plant food granules into the soil. There are different mixes available for different types of plants, or you can buy an all-purpose one.
It’s also a good idea to water with a soluble fertiliser a couple of times a year, as they do need nutrition to keep growing and flowering. Flowering and fruiting plants need a fertiliser high in potassium, whereas leafy plants need a fertiliser higher in nitrogen.
Always trim off dead and diseased leaves and remove spent flowers. It’s also a good idea to prune back straggly branches of shrubs to encourage bushier growth.
Quick Tips For Balcony Plants:
- Have pots elevated on bricks or pot feet. This allows potting mix to drain and also lets you keep an eye out for unwanted roots.
- Make sure all include drainage holes in their bases. If run-off and drips are a problem, catch water in a tray under the pot but empty it frequently. If a pot doesn’t have adequate drainage, use it as a cover pot for one that does.
- Use top-quality potting mix that meets the Australian Standard. Cover the soil surface with a mulch of pebbles (particularly in windy situations).
- When you buy a plant, make sure it has a well-developed root system but isn’t pot bound.
- Water plants well to get them established and check them daily for dryness, particularly after a bout of windy weather.
- Select plants that can be pruned and shaped to allow you to control their size and shape. Best choices usually have small leaves and twiggy growth.
- Apply fertiliser in the growing and flowering season but reduce its use when plant growth slows. Either use a slow-release fertiliser pellet to give nutrients over three or four months, or regularly liquid feed.
- Just because you’re off the ground, it doesn’t mean your garden will be pest free. Pests find their way to plants and can also be introduced with new plant material. Control pest outbreaks by hand or use low-toxicity sprays.
- Cut your losses. If a plant isn’t performing, remove it and try something else.