Growing Smaller: Start Your Apartment Balcony Garden
Posted on May 20, 2014

If you live in an apartment you might think you don’t have room for a garden, but the typical apartment balcony offers just enough space to set up an edible garden. The question is, how can you start your own apartment vegetable garden and maximize your small space? This article will discuss the best way to start your own apartment balcony garden.

The long term Property Manager at Eden Glenn Apartments in Eden Prairie has seen a rise in the interest of residents wanting to grow their own food. At Eden Glenn they promote balcony gardens to the residents and suggest purchasing planters with built in wells. They also suggest practicing the small space gardening methods that urban farmers use. Urban farmers use systems that are designed to provide maximum produce in a minimum amount of space.

Steven Scott Management- Apartments- Minneapolis- St Paul- Garden (2)

We had the opportunity to ask Joan James of A Backyard Farm some questions about starting an apartment balcony garden. A Backyard Farm are Twin Cities based urban farmers that will design, install, grow, maintain and harvest an organic vegetable and herb garden for you. With a relaxed, go-with-the flow approach, clever tips, and talent for creating stunning urban gardens out of underutilized spaces, Joan James shows that balcony gardening is not just rewarding, but totally accessible. Here is our interview with Joan James:

Steven Scott Management: Many people claim to have “black thumbs,” killing every plant that comes into their home. What would you suggest to these people if they have an interest in getting into balcony gardening?

Joan James: They should start small.  Most people plan to big and can’t follow through on the project.  They need to know having a vegetable garden is like getting a puppy, you need to pay attention to it every day.

Steven Scott Management: What tools and accessories do you advise that aspiring gardeners choose? Do you have any specific go-to gardening tools or brands that you recommend?

Joan James: (A Backyard Farm) loves Lee Valley Tools and A.M. Leonard.  They are our go to companies for tools.  You really should only need a few tools.  A good trowel, a scissors, and we use a gardening knife as well.

Steven Scott Management: For the someone just starting a garden, the vast number of options in garden centers and seed catalogues can be overwhelming. What do you suggest to make the process of beginning a balcony garden more manageable?

Joan James: Finding a mentor is key to wading through the first couple of years.  If you are going out on your own start small.  Try and avoid buying anything from the big box stores.  They are not certified organic and their tools will not last.  Find a local garden shop.  Spend your money there and their staff will gladly answer the many questions you will have.

Getting Started

If you have decided to start an apartment balcony garden there are a few things you will need to consider before getting started. Answer these questions and you will be on your way to growing your own organic food.

How Much Sun Does Your Balcony Get?

Balcony gardening 1

The first thing to decide is what to grow. Before deciding what to grow it will be helpful to decide how much sunlight your balcony gets. There are four main categories of sunlight:

  • Full sun. 6+ hours of direct sunlight.
  • Partial sun. 4-5 hours of direct sunlight.
  • Partial shade. 2-4 hours of direct sunlight.
  • Shade. Less than 1 hour of direct sunlight.

Since most apartments are in urban or suburban environments there are other structures next to each other causing partial shading. Because of this most apartment balconies fall into the partial sun category and below.

What are you growing in?


Balcony herb garden

What is the right container for an apartment balcony garden? The simple answer is there is no one “right” container for a balcony garden. That said, there are a few guidelines that can help you make the decision.

The choice of container style is truly unlimited. People have done everything from planted herbs in wine boxes from increased space on a tiny balcony with a DIY pallet garden.

to mounted canning jars on a wall. It really depends on your budget, your aesthetics and what you want to plant.

The bigger the container, the more likely it is that your plants will survive. You have to water large pots less frequently because the more soil there is the more moisture it can retain. Also, a larger pot will give you a greater margin for error in fertilizing and watering.

Drainage is key to keep plants from drowning. You want your pot or container to let excess water out of the bottom, so your plants won’t sit in water or soggy soil. Make sure your container has one large hole or several smaller ones. You can usually drill holes if the drainage is insufficient.

What are you growing?


Deciding what to grow is probably the most important thing you will decide when you start your apartment balcony garden. You may wonder what you can grow on a balcony in a small space. Most apartment vegetables aren’t going to be as big or robust as those grown in natural settings, but they can do quite well. Herbs in particular seem to do well when they’re given sun and space.

Some questions to ask yourself before planting are:

  • What do you use most? If you are using a lot of something, you should consider growing it.
  • What do you like to eat? You are working with a small space and need to get the most out of it.
  • What makes the most sense? A lot of time this is herbs. At the grocery store you always have to buy a big bunch and only need a sprig or two of them.
  • What season is it? Certain herbs and vegetables will only grow in certain temperatures.

Once you answer these questions you will be on your way to starting your apartment balcony garden.