Low-Stress, Hard-Working Annuals for Balcony Gardens

by Louise Warner, a Toronto-based landscape gardener

When deciding what annuals to grow on your balcony garden, assess what type of exposure your plants will get. Wind, sun, water and reflected heat are all factors. Unobstructed south- and west-facing exposures are going to demand tough, drought-tolerant plants and daily watering in the high heat of summer. Balconies with sheltered, north, or east-facing exposures generally need less watering, and plants suitable for shaded conditions. Fortunately, there are lots of colourful, no-fail options for low-stress balcony gardening in either extreme.

Shade-planter-by-LouiseAnnuals Suitable for Full Sun Balconies:

Scaveola – A trailing South African native, appropriately a.k.a Purple Fan Flower, gives unstinting colour in the leanest of conditions. Blooms best without fertilizer, and can easily shrug off total wizened dehydration with a good soaking. Great for the absent-minded and people who like purple.

Geranium – Available in the upright varieties that have their own frumpy charm, as well as more graceful cascading forms. Tough, dependable and profusely flowering, these are balcony stalwarts.

Trailing Nasturtiums – Attractive leaves and lovely flowers running the spectrum from mahogany red to cherry pink, electric orange and buttery yellow. Spice up your balcony and your salads with this edible charmer. Blooms best without fertilizer.

Herbs – Thyme, sage, chives, rosemary, oregano, basil and mint are all good candidates for a sunny balcony garden. Basil needs extra care because it prefers reliable moisture, while mint is a total thug and doesn’t need much in the way of encouragement.

Tomatoes – Cherry, grape and currant tomato varieties are great performers in medium to large containers on the balcony. A mix of red, yellow and orange fruiting types will give lots of colour and flavour. Tomatoes have high fertilizer and water needs, but are worth the extra work.

Annuals Suitable for Shady Balconies:

Impatiens – Impatiens will flower all season in shade, given consistent moisture and moderate feeding. Available in white, pinks, salmons and double-flowered varieties, impatiens are tried and true. “New Guinea” or “Sun” impatiens have larger, more vibrant flowers and require more sun than regular impatiens. They are at their best with direct morning sun and afternoon shade.

Non-Stop Begonias – Profusely blooming large, full flowers in bright colours make non-stops a non-brainer. Kept on the moist side, but allowed to dry out a little between waterings, these begonias enliven a shaded space.

Fuchsias – These trailing plants drip with colour, literally. Large blossoms in combinations of fuchsia, mauve, purple and white are produced in great quantity, even with little direct sun. Keep moist and fertilize periodically.

Salad Greens – Leaf lettuce is available in seeds and cell packs and given consistent moisture, is quite easy to grow on a shaded balcony. Speckled, red and oakleaf varieties are beautiful ornamentals that double as dinner. Cut only a few leaves from each plant when harvesting and sow seeds throughout the summer for a steady supply.

As you can see, no matter which way your balcony faces, there are plenty of easy and decorative options for container gardening of flowers and vegetables.