Summer is a favourite time of the year for many of us, invoking memories of sweltering days at the beach or in the backyard, sprinklers on freshly mown grass, the cricket on the radio or tv, and lounge rooms strewn with wrapping paper and presents.
With your recreation taken care of, how do we look after the garden in your small space?
The long hours of sunshine and the return to warmer weather are good for plants (and people). However, factors such as exposure to intense sun or lack of it, reflective surfaces, wind and light can make growing in containers on your deck, patio or balcony challenging for the urban apartment and small space grower.
In my experience, Summer on a balcony can present even more intense challenges - principally, managing heat and sun! Renters and owners alike can readily adopt any of these suggestions.
🌻Grow Plants Appropriate To Your Location.
It's tempting to buy all the plants that catch your eye at the nursery without checking whether they are appropriate to the environment in which you're asking them to survive - sun-loving plants that can tolerate the long sunny hours and heat, shade-loving for balconies and gardens lacking sunlight. Light patterns are really about understanding microclimates in our garden and then finding the right plant that will thrive in the right spot. Our challenge is to mimic these conditions if we want the most from our investment in our gardens. The plant label, seed pack or your research will tell you what your plant's needs are - tags will say such things as sun, sun – part shade, shade.
🌻Assess your garden space
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 grows well in your area and your microclimate. So read the Know Your Balcony Garden Growing Zone and plan your seed raising, seedlings or plant purchases, knowing what will grow well.
🌻Protect Urban Plants From Afternoon Summer Sun
Shadecloth can be purchased from the hardware. If aesthetics are not critical, a sheet or towel or umbrella clipped to the balustrade and stakes in the pots will relieve heatwaves and scorching conditions.
Allow some morning sun and protect the pots during the hottest times of the day. Use strong clips, ropes and elastic as appropriate.
🌻Protect Balcony Plants From Winds
Winds are drying and can be destructive. The higher up your garden, the more intense the wind. If your balcony has no reprieve from the elements, consider stringing up a wind barrier along your railings. Again, this can be a sheet of shade cloth or canvas.
🌻Careful Summer Gardening Plant Placement
Grouping together of plants raises humidity and gives them better protection from the wind. Consider moving smaller plants into one larger pot or root pouch. They will have more soil and water to share. There are many different pots available for a balcony situation. Do avoid unglazed Terracotta pots as they lose water too rapidly. Some self-wicking pot types can be helpful.
Be careful that the plastic types are BPA free and UV resistant or harmful chemicals will leach into the soil if exposed to heat over a long time. Also, be very careful of the weight loading on your balcony of lots of heavy pots. There have been many incidents of balconies collapsing due to poor construction and being over-loaded!
Root Pouch grow bags are a fabulous solution to the two issues above and provide many other benefits, such as superior root health due to the unique fabric weave. Light and durable, they can be moved around your balcony space to chase the shade, or in extreme conditions, they can easily be shifted indoors too!
Simply pop a tray under each bag, and your plants can live happily indoors until the extreme weather passes (plus they are modern and attractive too).
🌻Be Careful Of Plant Dehydration
With the harsh elements of wind and scorching heat, plants will lose water quickly from leaves and the soil surface.
Mulch can help the roots hold on to moisture and lower the temperature around the plant itself. There are many types of irrigation devices and pots that can keep your plants irrigated but consider your access to taps and power to run some of the automated systems.
I have another more detailed blog called "Mulch – not just a pretty dress!" which goes into more detail.
Over And Under Summer Watering Issues
In the heat, it isn't easy to assess just how much water your plant requires. Over-watering leads to root rot (as the plant sits in soil that's too damp for too long) and watering during the day will see much of the liquid evaporate but also be wasted due to run-off and simply not being required by the plant. Over-watering also creates a situation where the root cells are swollen and cannot take up nutrients to keep the plant alive.
Perpetual under-watering can lead to stressed-out plants that will be less resilient.
A traditional and time-honoured method of irrigating plants is the Olla, a low-fired terracotta pot that leaches water into the soil at the roots and requires no hoses or power, and allows the plants to regulate their own water intake without guesswork!
Your plants will then be much less reliant on you to determine when to water. Simply fill the vessel and nature takes care of the rest!
🌻Summer Gardening Pests
It's important to check your container garden for evidence of pests. In many cases, simply hand-picking the pests off the plants is the most effective method of controlling insects in container gardens, but occasionally an organic pest control product is called for.
🌻Fertilising Your Container Plants
This is a complete blog on it's own! Summer is an active growing period on your balcony and the one big challenge with growing plants in containers is ensuring they are getting the proper nutrients they need to grow their best.
As the plants grow and mature, they use up the nutrients in the soil. Containers can also lose nutrients faster because they get washed out of the pot when we water. So, it's important to fertilise your container gardens to replenish the nutrients lost. You can use a pelletised fertiliser when you plant your container gardens to give them a healthy start. Then, be sure to water your containers with liquid fertiliser weekly throughout the growing season.
🌻🌻 Best Resource for the balcony and small space grower is the book Grow Your Own Food Where you Live by Angus Stewart and Simon Leake. Horticulturalists and ABC Gardening Australia TV show presenter, Angus and Simon explain the many different techniques and possibilities for growing in small spaces. A little informed planning and you'll be on your way to eating food that you've grown!
Do you want to enjoy your holiday away from your precious pots and not worry about how your garden is doing while you're away? It can be difficult to leave your garden for a holiday or work travel. This is especially true if you have a vegetable garden. A little preparation ahead of departure day will give your small space garden the very best chance of surviving without you! Plants in pots tend to dry out quickly.