gypsyhorsefan
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Beginner Gardener Trying to Plan a Balcony Patch

Hi! I am a college student with an apartment and I am getting ready to try gardening this year. All windows are south-facing and I do have a small balcony, so I think I'll be able to get a decent number of things going. The problem is that last year I tried to grow some cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, and strawberries from Lowe's/Walmart plants and had nothing edible come out of it. I didn't do my research before hand, though, so this time I am determined to do better. I am having trouble figuring out what would do well in this climate, though, especially when it comes to having to place things in containers. My current list of hopefuls is below, any tips on growing these?

Mint
Rosemary
Basil
Thyme
Oregano
Sage
Lemongrass
Garlic
Green Onion
Grape or Cherry Tomatoes
Bell Pepper
Cucumber
Carrot
White or Yellow Onions

Also, any tips on dwarf fruit trees that do well in containers?

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Kisal
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Welcome! :)

Technically, anything can be grown in a container. What you have to consider is how much soil each plant needs based on the size of its mature root system, how much sunlight each plant needs to produce fruit, and how much each plant requires in the way of water and nutrients, and finally, how large each plant will be at maturity. Then you have to set about fulfilling the needs of each plant.

In general, root crops aren't very satisfactory as container plants, because of the low yield in relation to the space required. Melons and squash aren't usually grown as container plants because the vines spread over such a large area. Sometimes, smaller species of melons can be trellised, but it will require some extra work.

A standard tomato plant, regardless of the size of the fruit it produces, needs at least a container the size of a 5-gallon bucket, and larger is better. If your patio space is limited, consider growing one of the dwarf varieties, such as "Patio" or "Tiny Tim". They will do well in smaller containers of 2 to 3 gallon size.

All tomatoes are heavy feeders and need a lot of water. The fertilizer needs will be different, depending on whether the plant is in the growth phase, or mature and ready to fruit. They also need about 6 hours of full sun each day.

I've used tomatoes as an example, because they are popular and they're on your list. If you can provide for the sun/space/water/food needs of tomato plants, you should be able to grow a variety of other plants, as well. Going into detail about all of the plants on your list would require a book.

Review the space and sunlight you have for mature plants. Let us know the size of your balcony and which direction it faces, as well as whether it's open or covered. That information will help us help you. You may need to pare down your list a bit before going into all the details of what each plant will need in order to thrive. :)
"Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?" - Douglas Adams

gypsyhorsefan
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Kisal wrote: I've used tomatoes as an example, because they are popular and they're on your list. If you can provide for the sun/space/water/food needs of tomato plants, you should be able to grow a variety of other plants, as well. Going into detail about all of the plants on your list would require a book.

Review the space and sunlight you have for mature plants. Let us know the size of your balcony and which direction it faces, as well as whether it's open or covered. That information will help us help you. You may need to pare down your list a bit before going into all the details of what each plant will need in order to thrive. :)
I have a 4' x 8' south facing balcony. It has a roof, but with the afternoon sun there would be next to no shade. I would say that right now I get about 6 hours direct sunlight, but over the summer that will easily increase to 8 or more hours, and the temperature out there will be in the high 80s and 90s from May through September.

I think one of my problems last year with the tomatoes was that I didn't know they needed to be fertilized. Also, they were in an enclosed patio which did get sunlight, but it still went through some windows and may not have been as direct. Once I moved to this place, all my plants seemed to perk up, but it was August by then and I think it was too little too late.

I have been finding differing accounts on when I should start my efforts. With the La Nina in effect this year, it isn't cold at all and has been in the 70s during the day most of the time, but I guess there is always a chance of it cooling back down. At night it is usually in the 50 - 60 range for now, though over the summer it will stay 70 - 80 at night.

I have purchased and am working on reading Container Gardening for Dummies, and I intend to go through local nurseries this year rather than Lowe's/Walmart, so hopefully that will help. My barn has a gigantic rosemary bush, so I am thinking I may take clippings of that, lol, rather than buying.

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Kisal
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Your balcony sounds perfect. Now all you have to do is decide what plants you want to grow. If you want full-sized tomato plants, consider that each container and the top growth of the plant will need a width of about a foot on either side of a 5-gallon bucket. If you use larger containers, you'll need to have fewer plants. The dwarf tomato plants produce nice fruit, I've heard. I've never grown them myself, because I have plenty of space for full-sized plants. Talk to the staff people at your local garden centers. They'll have excellent recommendations to suit the weather in your area. It's good to get to know those folks. They can be extremely helpful, and they will give you good information. They want you to become a regular customer, after all. ;)
"Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?" - Douglas Adams

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rainbowgardener
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Yes, sunlight through glass is filtered, not the same.

For you now is about the time to start tomatoes, especially if you are doing it from seed. Tomatoes love warm weather, they don't really love hot. If temps get above 90 in the summer, they will probably stop producing at that point. If you keep them watered, they will idle along and then start again when it cools off a bit.

I noticed garlic on your list. Garlic is very slow to bulb up. It is usually planted in October, and then you get garlic bulbs the next summer.

Carrots are amongst the root crops Kisal was talking about. Plant a carrot seed (for you it's already getting late for that, they germinate better in cool weather) and you get one carrot, which sits there taking up container space for 6 months until it gets to be edible size, at which point you pull it and enjoy your one carrot! For containers, much better to plant leafy things, or beans, tomatoes etc which keep on producing.
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gypsyhorsefan
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Location: Columbia, SC

Marlingardener wrote:I just had a thought--what is the maximum load recommended for your balcony? The weight of containers of earth, especially when wet, might be something to consider. You could ask your landlord how much weight the balcony is constructed to bear.
Probably not a concern, and I'm likely being a worry-wart!
I'm not sure, but it's set into the wall, rather than projecting out, so I think it's probably pretty solid. They had to build it to be able to hold drunk partying college students (Alas, I go to a party school), so it's probably pretty sturdy, lol!

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jnunez918
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Location: Austin, TX

I have several potted fruit trees and the harvest per tree is so piddly I wouldn't sacrifice the space. But, If you really want fruit I can tell u that I planted orange, key lime, and kumquats, lemon last summer. The lemon was super finicky, fruit kept splitting. Kumquats didn't do anything until winter. If I were u I would find key limes, they produced a lot. I planted dill in the pot with my lemon tree and it grew like crazy! I would also research vertical gardening and try to utilize ur space with as many climbing veggies as possible. I'll post some pics.

Have fun!
Jennifer
Austin, TX Zone 8b

ruggr10
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You should be able to grow peppers in 5 gallon buckets too. I do all my peppers in buckets since they like warm soil. Up here in Maine, to the best way to have warm soil is with buckets.


Side Note: I did hear a trick from someone last year that I may try this year. She grows pepper in the ground and puts dark colored rocks around the based to help heat up the soil.

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