On account of their altitude, some balconies may be a little cooler and windier than gardens at ground level, but this doesn’t mean you can’t establish your own balcony vegetable garden, however big or small. Read on for eight brilliant and easy balcony vegetables to grow and find tips on how best to position and care for them.
Eight easy balcony vegetables:
Radishes are one of the quickest growing vegetables. Depending on the variety, they can be ready to harvest in as little as a month.
For rapid growth, plant radishes no less than two inches apart in fertile soil and water regularly. Radishes grow well in small pots so are suitable for all kinds of container gardens.
Smaller varieties, such as the lovely rosy red ‘Cherry Belle’, will grow well in a small, six-inch pot. For bold color on your plate, try ‘Rainbow Mix’ which produces a veritable medley of edible roots in pink, yellow, red, white and orange.
Peas are perfect for growing on a balcony, especially if you’re lucky enough to have a south-facing spot that receives plenty of sun throughout the day. Remember that peas thrive in moist, cool soil and grow well in pots at least six inches deep. Make sure to keep them well watered, especially during hot spells.
For those lacking space, bushy dwarf pea varieties are ideal. Fast-growing ‘Tom Thumb’ (Half Pint Pea) grows to just eight inches tall but produces a decent crop of sweet, full-sized peas. A reliable, early yielding variety is ‘Sugar Bon’, which produces masses of sweet pendulous peas. Train this climbing variety up a trellis or obelisk.
Low-growing carrots are ideal for balcony planting, especially if you are in a draughty location. There are hundreds of small varieties that grow well in shallow pots when space is tight. ‘Oxheart’ and ‘Rondo’ are great options. Short and stout, both varieties produce a crop of tasty roots.
Grow carrots in lightweight, good quality soil with ample drainage. Remove any stones from the soil to prevent growing wonky carrots! Most varieties prefer soil that is slightly moist and do not do well if their roots become waterlogged. The frothy foliage is also susceptible to mildew, so beware of overwatering.
Beetroot is another easy and fast-growing veggie that thrives in medium-sized containers. Choose permeable, rich compost such as John Innes No.2 and water regularly to prevent bolting or splitting.
Beta vulgaris is an easy-to-grow heirloom variety. Its medium-sized, cylindrical shaped taproots are blood red and ready to harvest in a matter of weeks, while its deep-red foliage can also be eaten raw or steamed.
Another well-loved Italian heritage variety is ‘Chioggia’ which loves a cool climate and can be grown all year round. The attractive candy-striped magenta and white taproots are simply stunning sliced and tossed into a salad.
Like peas, beans grow particularly well on a balcony. As sun-worshippers, they should be located in the brightest position possible. Train the soft tendrils of runner, French or broad beans up a garden trellis and affix with gardener’s twine. You will need a slightly larger planter for most varieties. Beans grow best in a 10-litre pot so maximise your outdoor space by underplanting your beans with kale, chard or lettuce.
‘Blue Lake’ is a fabulous heavy cropping climber that produces delicious French runner beans. For particularly tight outdoor spaces, ‘Hestia’ is a good alternative. This dwarf bushy variety requires a smaller planter but produces a very reliable harvest nonetheless.
6. Salad leaves
Cut-and-come-again salads work well on a balcony, needing limited space and offering continuous cropping. Choose a wide rather than a deep planter – a trough is ideal. Unlike head lettuces, leaf lettuces can be grown close together and only need up to six inches of root depth. A good quality potting soil and a container with drainage holes is all you need for a continuous supply.
Try a mixture of loose-leaf lettuce varieties like the popular, densely bunched heirloom ‘Green Oakleaf’ with ‘Lollo Rossa’. Rocket ‘Serrata’, Oriental mustard, mizuna and komatsuna are winter hardy and all do well when planted on a balcony.
7. Swiss chard
With its shallow roots and hardy nature, Swiss chard is ideal for container planting on a balcony. Choose an eight-inch depth planter but opt for a wide base to prevent your chard from toppling over. Chard is native to the Mediterranean region, so loves full sun, but can also withstand partial shade.
Chard ‘Bright Lights’ is delicious and will add radiant color to your balcony allotment. As an alternative, try kale. ‘Curly Scarlet’ is a delicious superfood and its small size makes it perfect for balcony planting.
Yes, technically a fruit, but tomatoes are one of the easiest (and most productive) crops you can grow on a balcony. They thrive in hot, sunny conditions and are tolerant of wind, as long as they are supported by stakes or an obelisk.
Position tomato plants in the sunniest area of your balcony to ensure they get at least six hours a day of sunshine. Plant them in wide, stable pots of 12 or more inches deep. Use a good quality compost that’s well-drained and fertile. Feed your plants regularly with tomato fertiliser during the growing season.
Tomato ‘Favorita’ is a reliable, award-winning cherry tomato that produces sweet scarlet fruits. Short on space? Try adding tumbling ‘Tiny Tim’ or ‘Hundreds and Thousands’ to a hanging basket or two instead.
Planting ideas for a vegetable balcony garden:
- Position different sized pots and planters at ground level
- Train pea and bean tendrils up a potted trellis, obelisk or bamboo cane wigwam
- Secure window boxes or hanging pots to railings
- Fix vertical planters to walls and screens
- Create height with a vertical plant stand
- Fasten hanging baskets to the ceiling or from wall brackets
- Place smaller pots onto a patio table or spare garden chair
Add companion flowers to your balcony vegetable garden:
There’s nothing more disappointing than watching your vegetable growing efforts destroyed by hungry pests. But there is a secret (and natural) weapon to use in their defense. Planting hardy nasturtiums and marigolds near your balcony vegetables will help keep the creepy-crawlies at bay.
As well as adding color and charm to your balcony, nasturtiums act as a sacrificial plant. Aphids and whiteflies cannot resist them and will happily chomp their way through your nasturtium leaves, rather than your veggies.
Marigolds will also discourage all manner of pests and are brilliant for attracting pollinators. Plus, pretty nasturtiums and marigolds are edible and can be sprinkled over a summer salad to add a pop of color.
Care for a balcony vegetable garden:
Do you have permission to plant?
Check if your landlord or council have specific rules about what you are allowed to put on your balcony.
Watering balcony vegetables
Hot, dry conditions can be too much for some tender vegetables, so remember to water well and often throughout the growing season. Most vegetables like moist, free-draining soil and mulching will help reduce evaporation and provide nutrients. Avoid growing vegetables in very small pots as they will need watering more regularly. Likewise, porous terracotta pots are best avoided as they wick moisture away from the soil.
Groups of planters brimming with fresh produce can be heavy. Choose pots made from light materials such as recycled plastic or rattan. To be on the safe side, position the heaviest pots near supporting joists and load-bearing walls.
Balcony garden light conditions
Consider how much sunlight your balcony receives throughout the day and choose which crops to grow accordingly. Tomatoes thrive in full sun and need at least six hours per day. Salad leaves, carrots and kale, on the other hand, are happy in a more shaded position.
Balcony garden wind conditions
High-rise balconies can be windy and not all vegetables will tolerate these brisk conditions. If you live in a particularly windy spot, choose low-growing crops like carrots, onions, salads and dwarf beans. Reed screens and netting can act as useful windbreaks.
Balcony garden temperature conditions
Balconies tend to be a few degrees cooler than ground level. While sun-warmed external walls can create a protective microclimate, the closer your vegetables are positioned to the edge of the balcony, the colder they will get. Horticultural fleece and mulching are useful for keeping tender, young plants warm until the warmer months begin.
Nicola Clements works at Haddonstone, purveyors of fine cast stone ornaments handcrafted in England. For more information, please visit haddonstone.com.