With a few plants and flowers in just a few square metres, you can easily bring a little more life to your home. Certain plant species are perfect for limited outdoor spaces, and plants such as aromatic herbs can also be used in the kitchen. You can even divide your balcony up into various spaces, set up shaded areas, embellish and colour your terrace and create an oasis of peace and relaxation away from prying eyes.
Choice of species
The first thing to do is choose the plant species you want. There are, in fact, many varieties of plants and flowers, but also fruit trees and vegetables, that grow well in pots and other containers, both in the traditional way and arranged as a vertical garden, which allows you to exploit the available space even more.
In particular, the limited soil depth they have must be enough for the well-being of the root system. So, we recommend species with shallow roots that can easily be adapted to the container they are placed in.
We can sort balcony and terrace suitable plants into different categories:
Perennial and evergreen plants
Hardy, easy to grow and needing little care. There’s no need to re-pot them, and so they are perfect for a balcony or terrace. These species include:
- Lavender (Lavandula)
- Bamboo (Bambuseae)
- Periwinkle (Vinca)
- Leadwort (Plumbago)
- Boxwood (Buxus)
- Mugwort (Artemisia)
A great variety of species can be used. Some are:
- Geraniums (Pelargonium)
- Petunias (Petunia)
- Surfinia (Petunia × atkinsiana Surfinia)
- Black-eyed Susan Vine (Thunbergia alata)
These plants are a must! They perfume, decorate and can be used for cooking. Some examples are:
- Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
- Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus)
- Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
- Sage (Salvia officinalis)
- Mint (almost all the species belonging to the genus Mentha)
- Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
- Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)
- Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
- Marjoram (Origanum majorana)
Suitable for a balcony, terrace or vertical kitchen garden. These include:
- Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)
- Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum, almost all species with certain growth patterns)
- Radish (Raphanus sativus)
- Strawberries (all species of the genus Fragaria)
- Chilli pepper (all species of the genus Capsicum)
NB: Plants with a creeping or shrubby growth are not suitable for domestic use.
Seeds or seedlings?
The use of seedlings is always recommended, because it is the fastest way to obtain a mature plant. Moreover, the critical phase of germination is already over and so they need far less care and attention than seeds would.
Choice of pot
The choice of pot is determined by the species, since it must allow for an adequate development of the root system. It’s better to choose a slightly larger pot, as too small a pot can limit growth. For example, tubers will need deeper pots than strawberries. As for the choice of material, there’s no general rule. The important thing is that it can absorb water and avoid stagnation. It is, therefore, better to opt for vases that have a hole in the bottom.
Finally, in order to avoid conflict between species, it’s advisable to grow only one plant per pot.
When planting seedlings, you can use a universal soil type, preferably rich in organic matter.
For optimal drainage, it’s a good idea to lay 2 to 3 cm of expanded clay or gravel at the bottom of the pot.
Add some more soil every now and again, as good oxygenation and soil replacement allows the plants to grow stronger and healthier, while problems such as fungi, nematodes and other pathogens.
The right exposure is fundamental for the best growth. A southern exposure that can guarantee 6 hours of sunlight is often recommended, as plants need sunshine for photosynthesis, which is a vital biological process for all plant species. However, not all plants need the same amount of light. Some may need more hours, such as aromatic herbs, and others less, such as lettuce.
Again, in relation to the amount of light, it’s important to bear in mind that some plants may need protection on the driest and sunniest days of the year, in order to protect them from scorching and wilting.
The wind also plays a key role in exposure. Remember to keep your plants in a well-ventilated environment that allows air and humidity to circulate, but that is also able to protect them from strong winds and gusts.
Last but not least is exposure to frost. Remember to cover your plants in winter or place them in a more sheltered space.
Once planted, your plants will need watering. Watering is certainly one of the most complicated aspects to manage. Abundant and frequent watering should be avoided, as it can cause various pathologies, such as the rotting of roots. People often think that, with more water, plants are better off and grow faster. Nothing could be more wrong! Improper watering can lead to catastrophic consequences for the plant. The most important advice is not to be in a hurry, if you want to see your plants grow luxuriantly 😊.
The right watering is not only important quantitatively speaking, that is, how many litres of water you give, but also qualitatively speaking, that is, how often you water.
In general, it goes without saying that the soil must be neither too dry nor too wet. In both cases, there can be negative consequences for your plants.
The best water quantity and watering frequency is determined by various factors that need to be considered in order to achieve healthy and luxuriant plants. The main aspects to consider are:
- The species: some species need more water than others.
- With the same species, the growth stage is also very important: newly planted seedlings will need a different watering regime than the same species at the production stage.
- Sun exposure: the more plants are exposed to the sun, the more water they will need.
- Temperature: the hotter it is, the more you need to water.
- Humidity: the more humid the air, the less water the plants need.
- Wind: the stronger the wind blows, the faster water will evaporate.
- Soil type: a clayey soil will retain more water than a sandy one, and will, therefore, need less water.
Given all of these considerations, the ideal time of day to water is in the morning or the afternoon, especially on hot days, in order for watering to be efficient and to avoid damage to the plant. The advantages of watering in the coolest hours of the day are:
- Better watering efficiency: in the cooler hours, the soil is cooler and this limits the evaporation of water from the soil.
- Plants lose more water in the hottest hours due to transpiration: in the cooler hours, the stomata are not fully open and this allows the plants to better manage water demand.
- The scalding effect is avoided: if you have a surface irrigation system, during the hottest hours of the day, the water can reach high temperatures inside the pipes, and, when you irrigate, you risk scalding the roots of the plant.
- The lens effect is avoided: any droplets of water that end up on the tops of leaves can cause a lensing effect, where the sun’s rays are focused and can burn the point of contact between the droplet and leaf.
Be careful to water only the soil and not the plant or leaves themselves.
To know exactly how much water you need to give, and how often, the best method is to use soil moisture sensors.
Domestic plants don’t have a particular need to be fertilized. Good planting in a well-suited pot, with good soil and the right exposure and watering will allow your plants to grow strong and healthy.
However, if you want to give your plants just a little extra, we recommend using a universal organic fertilizer.
It is important not to overdo the fertilization, as too high a dose could damage the plant. Remember that fertilizers are made up of various minerals, which means that, if you overdo it, you risk poisoning your plant. The advice is, therefore, to carefully read the fertilizer dosage information, and learn about the specific nutritional needs of your plant. Indeed, each plant has its own nutritional needs, which also depend on its growth stage.
Keep your plants clean in a well-ventilated space and at a good distance from each other. Remove dry and diseased parts.
Aerate the soil from time to time, in order to allow an efficient gas exchange between the soil and the atmosphere.
Remove weeds, and also make sure you have a flowering plant nearby that can attract insects, which are essential for pollination.