1. Get your light right. Before you buy anything, take the time to learn how many hours of sun per day your balcony receives. Pay attention to indirect light as well — that is, no trees or walls blocking large portions of the sky. Even a north-facing balcony can be a happy home for many plants if there is enough indirect light. For full sun, plant: Grasses, succulents (like echeveria), morning glory vines, strawberries, lettuce, lavender, oregano, sage, mint and basil. For lots of shade, plant: Coleus, English ivy, most types of ferns, fuschia, peace lilies and begonias.
2. Be an organized shopper. When buying plants, group them together by their light and moisture requirements.
3. Take a whiff. Don’t forget about scent when you are choosing your plants. It’s the final ingredient that makes your balcony garden an oasis!
4. Check your planters. Make sure the containers you plan to use are compatible with the growth habits of your plants. Make sure they have adequate drainage as well.
5. Don’t use just any dirt. Use a potting soil that is designed for containers — these soils are very light.
6. Cover soil with mulch. Avoid dry soil with moss, pea gravel or shredded cedar.
7. Use a top dressing of compost. Compost tea is great for apartment dwellers or anyone who can’t make compost, meaning its good for indoors and containers. Use it instead of water for your plants. Try: Urban Harvest Worm Castings Plant Tea, $14 (for 10 large bags), Urban Harvest.
8. Give the plants a good drink. If you are in a windy area your plants will need more watering, most likely once per day in the summer. Terra cotta pots also require more frequent watering than plastic or fibreglass.
9. But make sure you don’t rush watering. Water slowly and thoroughly until excess water drains out the bottom of the container.
10. Winter-proof. If you plan to leave your pots out through the winter, make sure they are frost-proof to avoid cracking.
Sarah Nixon is an urban flower farmer and floral designer in Toronto. Since 2002 her flower company, My Luscious Backyard, has sustainably grown over 50 varieties of cut flowers in a micro-farm in many residential yards in Toronto’s downtown west side.