This week we’re talking about gardening on high rise balconies, thanks to Shawn, who brought the topic to my attention and graciously agreed to be “exhibit A.”
While high rise balconies and rooftop gardens often offer beautiful city views, they also have challenges unique to their location, such as exposure to harsh winds. Wind can dry your pots out faster than normal. It can knock them over. It can shred the leaves of your plants and break their stems. Most of the time, it’s not a container gardeners friend. However, there are some upsides. Constant air movement will help plants that are often susceptible to mildew, and wind will make it too difficult for some pests to get to your plants.
Don’t be dissuaded from gardening in the sky! While not every plant is suitable to being batted around by the wind, there are things you can do to help your plants cope.
Photo by ~Aphrodite
- Create a wind break. Either affix clear plexiglass panels to the balcony railing, or plant hedges in planter boxes on the sides of your balcony where the wind comes through (i.e. if wind normally comes from the east, plant the windbreak hedge on the east side).
- Use a mulch in your pots. It will help prevent the wind from drying out the dirt. Something like pebbles or river rocks will not be blown away. Be sure to fill your pots with soil to two inches below the lip, and add then add an inch of mulch.
- Don’t use unglazed terracotta. Terracotta dries out faster than other pot materials. Wood may be one of the best choices because it can be easily secured to the railings (if need be) by screwing in an eye hook in an inconspicuous spot and feeding a short length of chain through the eye and around the railing.
- Go with a smaller number of larger pots or planters rather than having many small pots. The likelihood that the wind will be able to pick up a pot and carry it overboard is slim, but it is definitely possible to knock over lighter pots and break them, or damage the plants.
- Remember that wind chill effects your plants too. Protect your pots in the winter.
Plants That Are Tough Enough to Stand Up to the Wind
There are actually more plants than you might think that are tough enough to stand up to the wind. These are just a few ideas.
Remember that when plants are tested for hardiness, they are tested growing in the ground, not in a container. The ground is often warmer than the air. On a windy, exposed balcony, you can guarantee that your plants’ roots will be subjected to colder conditions than if they were grown in the ground. With this in mind, if you plan to leave your plants outside during the winter, it is best to pick plants that are hardy to one or two zones colder than your region. For example, if you live in Montreal, you live in zone 5 (right?). Try to find plants that are hardy to at least zone 4. You can help your plants by insulating them in the winter.
- Many varieties of Floribunda roses are hardy to zone 4 or 5, sturdy enough to handle the wind and will flower (although less abundantly) with less than the usual 6 hours of sunshine recommended for roses. Try Fair Bianca ‘Ausca,’ Gruss an Aachen, Iceberg, Carefree Wonder ‘Meipitac,’ and Anthony Meilland ‘Meitalbaz,’ among others.
- Bayberry will tolerate wind, cold, shade and pretty much everything else you can throw at it. The downside is that it isn’t the most interesting plant to look at. It would work well as a wind break shrub, and in the winter it does have nice blueish-white berries.
- As far as vines go, many varieties of honeysuckle vines are cold tolerant and will happily wind themselves around balcony railings. The wind on a balcony might actually help them avoid harboring mildew, which can plague honeysuckles. A vine growing on the railing might help diffuse some of the wind, but remember that if you’re a renter, you’re likely going to have to kill the plant to remove it when you move.
- Threadleaf Coreopsis is hardy to zone 4 and wind-tolerant. It forms lacey clumps of leaves flecked with small yellow flowers. It looks great spilling over the side of a pot. However, it does need full sun.
- Russian Sage is another plant that can tolerate cold temperatures and wind, but that does need full sun.