Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Pots, Dirt, and balcony saving measures

When it comes to keeping the balcony neat and tidy I am not really the best at it. Tyre dust, potting mix leftovers, petals, you name it, it blows around on the balcony. A sweep in the summer keeps it at bay, and a mop every now and then helps keep the nasties down but better planning and some other measures can also help. The balcony garden is due for a mop, but doing this takes up a significant amount of time. To avoid mess and dirt build up there are a few things you can do; pot choice, potting mix and mats are just some.

For a balcony garden the bigger the pot the better (though watch your weight limit and make sure you try and use lighter pot options, I know terracotta and glazed pots look great but they can add undue weight to a garden. Not only will bigger pots help give your plants plenty of room to move, they will retain the water better, and mean less pots to move when the cleaning times come. Here is a picture of an appropriately sized pot.

This is perhaps less appropriate.

As is this.

I have lots of little pots interspersed around the big ones which makes things tedious but adds variety to the garden. It is up to you how many pots you have and how big you go, but the more pots means the more you have to move when cleaning.

Trays are a must if you want to keep the water from running all over your balcony. This causes problems for some plants who don't like sitting in a tray of water. If this is the case put the plant up on something, pot feet, a bit of wood, anything, to help give a bit of spare between the pot and the drainage tray as this will help a bit. I don't do it currently, but will in the future given the powdery mildew of late last summer.

Self watering pots are great for an Australian balcony or any balcony really. Not only do they retain water, they provide a gap between the plant and its dirt and this water. Most plants, unless they are pond plants, don't like wet feet. Self watering planters provide that space.

Now I don't actually follow their daft instructions and water the reservoir only. I use these like normal pots and water accordingly (mostly at soil level because we don't want powdery mildew.) The downside with these pots is that they cost more, and you need a bigger size than you first think because part of the pot is taken up by water/space. But they are great for the plants and reusable (wash your pots between each use and use new potting mix always.) Oh and when you leave the store, make sure the inside shelf is intact in your self watering pots, otherwise you'll be using them like regular old pots, like this one!

Hanging pots are great too, they can catch the water and maximise space in the garden.

Potting mix, that's another key to balcony garden growing success. For my veggies I use a high grade organic potting mix. It is expensive and tough for a student budget but the plants love it, and they grow well with it which really is a money saver in the end. Besides there are other areas where you can cut costs (see the section below on using old phone books!!!) Thriving ground cover or companion plants in pots, like basil in a tomato pot helps keep the soil intact, so it is less likely to blow away on Melbourne's frequent windy days. Good potting mix helps give these plants the start they need.

Apparently non-slip plastic mats go well under plant pots too and will help minimise dirt. I don't use them but I am considering putting them in the garden in the future.

I put some of my plants on stands (none of them the regulation, standard, store-bought kind) to help play with height and also allow the plants better access to sun. Anything waterproof will do, an old container, a silver bin originally used inside that was given to you by a useful hoarder of a relative, even phone books wrapped in a bin liner!

Regular sweeping and mopping is the best tool for keeping the balcony clean and tidy but pot choice helps minimise problems along the way. Has anyone else got advice for those wanting to keep the mess of a balcony confined garden down?

1 comment:

Melinda said...

Thank you Prue, I've been waiting for this post. Lots of great ideas, I'm currently on the hunt for some attractive lightweight pots that don't cost a fortune. I'm a bit of a matchy/symmetry person.
Looking forward to see the verdict on the tomato front. You've got so many varieties it'll be cool to see which work best. Just waiting for my balcony now....another month.