Not having a yard certainly doesn't preclude anyone from having a garden. Balcony gardens can be intimate, manageable, useful, and absolutely stunning. Take a look at these tips for creating an outdoor, verdant space you'll love.
To ensure you are buying and growing plants that are suited to your particular weather zone, look no further than your local plant shop: they won't stock anything that won't survive in your weather conditions (or they shouldn't). Make sure that you are purchasing plants that are intended to go outside.
However, you also need to consider the microclimate of your own outdoor space. In particular, what kind of light does your space get and how many hours of it? Is your balcony windy or sheltered? Is it perpetually shady? The answers to these questions will narrow down the specific types of plants that will be happiest in your balcony garden.
Annuals or Perennials
Just as if you were landscaping an actual plot of soil, you'll need to consider whether you want plants that survive throughout the seasons (even if they go dormant) or ones that will only last a season or two.
Generally, it's nice to have a mix. That way you can enjoy annuals such as more delicate fresh herbs, like basil, summertime flowers, and even maybe some veggies. But including some perennials as well opens the possibility for some green even during gloomy winter months and also allows for larger plants to fill in your space since they will continue to grow year after year.
Containers and Soil
When choosing containers, in addition to considering appearance, also take into account what the containers are made of and their drainage. Pots made of porous material, such as terra cotta, offer better drainage than plastic pots, which don't allow any water to escape from the soil itself. Drainage holes are also a good idea in order to help guard against root rot and over-watering. Putting saucers under drainage holes prevents water from running onto your patio and from spilling down off your balcony.
Buy potting soil that's particularly suited to the plants you will be growing. An all-purpose mix will be sufficient for most plants, but note that succulents and other specialty plants will need a different mix. Start your plants off right and they will thank you with healthy foliage and blooms.
What do you want to be able to do in your new garden oasis? If it's just a place to grow some herbs or flowers to cut and bring in the house, you may not need any furniture on your balcony. But a little bistro table with a couple chairs makes a great spot for coffee, croissants, and a crossword. Or maybe you want a space to entertain outdoors and therefore require a larger seating area or full-blown dining table. It's probably a good idea to consider how you want to use the space and the furniture you'll need so you can work the plants around these larger structures.
Probably the most obvious place to put containers of plants is the floor of your balcony. But varying height gives you more "space" to put plants and also adds a hefty dose of interest, enabling you to create the feel of an enveloping garden. Window boxes hung from railings, cascading hanging plants hung from the ceiling or from tall stands, and even planters made to hang on walls can really take your balcony garden to the next level (heehee).
Consider furniture as well. An old bookshelf or a bar-cart can do double-duty as plant stand and storage. And let's not forget the ubiquitous Ikea RASKOG, which not only functions as plant stand and storage, but adds a pop of gorgeous color as well.