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Know Your Balcony or Small-Space Garden Growing Zone

Knowing your balcony or small-space grow zone is fundamental to good growing

Many would-be gardeners don't realise that living in a certain place actually determines the type of garden you will have and the plants that grow happily and healthily. If you grow your own vegetables and fruit then where you live determines what you grow to- you can't really fight your conditions of nature.

There is  so much information on the internet about what seeds to sow and what plants are suitable for the seasons in your area. But the important thing is to really understand what your grow area or zone looks and feels like to your plants. Even within those parameters, there are micro-climates that are created by the environment you're living in which may require a re-think of what might be suitable for a home garden in your area compared to your Balcony, for example. Here I will try to highlight and distil some of the important considerations in the planning process that work for me on the Balcony and this applies equally to any small space!

Check Your Garden Growing Zone

Before rushing out and planting whatever you see it’s best to familiarise yourself with your climate zone. Too often, you will see posts or magazines talking about the seasonal plants available, however, the decision about which plants and when to sow seeds is best made when you know what grow well in your area.

I have made every mistake in the book over my years gardening in backyards and now my Balcony and possibly the most have been made here because the conditions are quite different from my ground-dwelling garden days! Plants that are not in their optimum environment are likely to be stressed and more susceptible to succumb to pests and diseases. In Australia, the zones are mainly divided into warm temperate, cool temperate, tropical and subtropical and arid (the first 4 being the most populated areas of Australia and I’ll focus on these).

Tropical Zone

Cool ZoneWarm ZoneSub Tropical Zone

You will find much commentary at the start of seasons about what “seeds to sow now”, “what plants to plant now”.

What To Plant And When - Are You Sowing Seeds Or Buying Seedlings?

That’s the big question!

Reasons for Seeds Sowing: Know where your food comes from. You can grow more varieties than what is available to buy at the grocer, cost savings (each packet contains lots of seeds compared to the price of the vegetable/flowers themselves), it's easy!

Reasons for buying starter seedlings: 
Seeds take time to grow so starters give you a head start, if you're new to gardening, growing from seed can be daunting when you're beginning, the trays for your seeds can take up room in an optimum position which you might not have on a Balcony or small space.

The how to and answers to questions are easily come by if you refer to some of the excellent resources available online.

General seed guides will recommend generic plantings but it’s important to know exactly when to sow or plant.

For example in Cool zones it is important to plant cool season crops so they have time to mature in the cool weather; if they are planted too late they will bolt to seed as soon as the weather warms up in spring; too early and the soil may not be warm enough for the crop.

Here on the Balcony I rely on references that provide seed sowing and planting guides by zone for the reasons that I have stated above in the zone information. A fabulous free resource is Gardenate which has an app that tells you exactly what to plant and when for your region.

Some popular vegetables they suggest to plant in Autumn are:-
Temperate zone: peas, carrots and broccoli.
Cool zone: peas, carrots and cauliflower.
Sub-tropical zone: beans, cucumber, pak choy.
Arid zone: tomato, zucchini and capsicum.
Tropical zone: sweet corn, lettuce, strawberries.

Specialty purveyors of organic seeds will also provide specific information about this too. I use a combination of seeds and seedlings.

Check The Sunlight And Your Physical Location

Understanding your climate zone is just the beginning, every garden location, even on a Balcony or patio, has local 'microclimate' variations.

Autumn and Winter sunshine comes in at a different angle and the sunny spots on your Balcony or Patio and small space may disappear in Autumn and Winter. A wise gardener will be familiar with the location of the sunny patches at each time of year and parts of the day! Good news for shady Balconies and small spaced gardens is that a lot of the leafy greens of the colder months don’t need a lot of sun, unlike the fruiting Summer varieties of favourite plants!

Where You Live Matters!

If you live on a hill, each aspect - north, south, east and west - will have slightly different climatic variations. The eastern side will get morning sun, which is not as hot as afternoon sun but more likely to cause frost damage. The southern side will be much cooler than the northern. The western side will be hotter and drier.

The wind exposure will also be different: the eastern side may receive cooling breezes; the southern, destructive strong winds. Lower areas will receive more frost usually than higher areas, as the cold air drains downhill at night and settles in the low-lying areas. Apartment living can expose you to all these considerations.

Growing in containers means you can shift your plants into areas of your space where more optimum conditions exist. Root Pouch Grow Bags have two handles 

👉Action Plan for Seasonal Growing

  1. Tidy up last season's spent plants – if you have veggies and herbs that are going to seed with flower heads on them, consider leaving these for the pollinators to feast on and pull them out when the flowers are spent. Consider composting these by creating a small space composting system on your Balcony. Here's a Blog on what works for me in my Balcony Composting System
  2. Choose your crops wisely according to the planting guides relevant for your area (see zones). If you select the types of crops that you enjoy eating and that provide repeat flowering or fruiting or cut-and-come-again leaves you will get the most out of your selection.
  3. Don’t  forget flowering plants to keep the pollinators and insects fed don't forget to include flowering annuals, evergreens , local natives, succulents and perennials in your planting scheme every season. Here is a blog about how you can be a supporter of Native Bee populations entitled How to be a Bees-Knees Australian Native Bee Supporter and another on how you can create a bee rest stop on your very own Balcony or small space 
  4. Decide whether you will sow seeds or take the faster route of purchased seedlings.
  5. Remember that soil is everything The change of season is the time to refresh your soil in your containers in preparation for new and possibly heavy feeders to come. If you have a large pot full of spent mix you can try to add as much compost as it will take, some slow release fertiliser pellets and drench it with liquid, organic fertiliser. Alternatively, do what I do…where you are able to empty out the container of soil, you can refresh the entire contents using much the same technique or better still, make up new potting mix using  the spent mix. There are recipes for doing so on the internet or use our Soil Recipe card to make up new potting mix for the new season.

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