Container gardens

What to Plant on a Windy Balcony? Part 2

After having explored, in a previous text, the challenges and some possible solutions for the art of gardening on balconies exposed to the wind, it is now time to look at the palette of plants particularly well adapted to survival in such conditions.

This is where I will subtly slip in some lessons learned from the main principles of permaculture. Yes, some of these ideas can be applied to a downtown small balcony. Permaculture teaches us to observe the nature that surrounds us and use this knowledge in the creation and development of our gardens. The wind exists elsewhere than at the top of a large residential tower. It is also ubiquitous on mountain tops or by the sea. These habitats can therefore become sources of inspiration and guide the style or theme of the plant to use. Imagine the rocky slopes by the Mediterranean Sea. What grows there? Think of the humid tropical islands in the Pacific. Do you feel the freezing breeze of the Scottish moors or the northern tundras? There can be found the plants to adopt!

In other words, the crafty windy balcony gardener will turn away from traditional hanging planters of annual flowers and flower boxes filled with herbs to indulge in the cultivation of perennials and shrubs from these windy environments. Here are some inspirational ideas and beautiful plants that have proven themselves.

In the Sun, Dare the Mediterranean Garden

In addition to being constantly swept by the wind, the shores of the Mediterranean expose plants to conditions of drought and blazing sun. They have all it takes to thrive on a sunny balcony. To bring a little height to this arrangement, we will cultivate the oleander (Nerium oleander), this small tree with leathery and slender leaves. With good watering, it will bloom all summer. It is a plant that can be brought indoors for the winter. We can also be interested in the fig tree (Ficus carica) and even the olive tree, whether it is the true olive tree (Olea spp.) or the Bohemian olive tree (Elaeagnus angustifolia). The real olive tree will be a little more difficult to find. As for the Bohemian olive tree, it can easily be found in the tree section of your garden center. Oh! And I almost forgot citrus trees: lemon, limes, tangerines and all these variants are excellent plants for our Mediterranean theme.

Citrus fruits and olive trees are a very good starting point to give a Mediterranean look to your balcony. Photo: PxFuel

The windy balcony can also accommodate a superb bougainvillea plant (Bougainvillea spp.). The long stems can be set high or run along railings, as it looks like a creeper. Be careful, however, the stems are thorny.

Then garnish your pots with lavender (Lavandula spp.), catnip (Nepata spp.), sage (Salvia spp.), pelargoniums (Pelargonium spp.) and lantanas (Lantana camara). For sages and lavenders, all varieties, whether annual or perennial, edible or ornamental, are very good plants for balconies. If you can get your hands on a few agaves (Agave spp.), aloes (Aloe spp.), and various succulents, the decor will be complete! The famous kangaroo plant (Anigozanthos spp.) is also a great plant for extreme conditions.

It should be noted that all trees, shrubs and perennials, usually hardy in gardens, will have great difficulty surviving the winter in containers. Better to consider them as annual plants, which can be replaced each spring.

Oleanders are surprisingly resistant to strong winds and they flower all summer long, if they are watered correctly. Photo: Wallpaper Flare

Tropical Options in the Sun

Here, the palm trees will be in the spotlight. Do not hesitate to repot those bought on discount in supermarkets, to increase the quality of the soil. For them to remain beautiful and full, watering must be abundant and regular. Containers with a water reserve come in handy. If conditions aren’t too extreme, hibiscuses (Hibiscus spp.) will grow very well. The key here is to make sure they never run out of water. I recommend growing them in a deep saucer that can be filled with water. You can also grow abutilons (Abutilon spp.), these small trees with hanging flowers and even birds of paradise (Strelitzia spp.). Coleus, all cordylines and dracenas will add color with their decorative foliage. This is also where the magnificent specimen of zigzag cactus (Disocactus anguliger) is featured.

For the floral touch, you’ll be amazed at the performance of moth orchids (Phalaenopsis spp.). If possible, place the foliage in a shadier spot on the balcony. Along with garden geraniums (Pelargonium spp.), tuberous begonias (Begonia x tuberhybrida) will be the most interesting flowering plants for a sunny balcony. Finally, while not quite a tropical-looking plant, marigolds (Tagetes spp.) must be praised. Yes, ‘Marygolds’ are unanimously the best flowering plants for the worst windy balconies in the world!

All lavenders are perfect for a sunny balcony. Photo: PeakPx

Shady Greenery

For balconies in the shade, bamboo is perfect to bring a touch of height to the decor. Even though they also grow in full sun, they still grow well with less light. Look for tall varieties, especially Bambusa vulgaris. You can bring back the palm trees from the previous balcony and add, if your budget allows, a beautiful specimen of Japanese maple (Acer palmatum). Then you can literally take out all the indoor plants on the balcony. Normally, plants with very broad leaves, such as banana trees (Musa spp.), monsteras or giant colocasias have a harder time not being lacerated by the wind, but it all depends on the force of the winds. But all in all, anything with medium-sized foliage will be very happy outdoors.

Good old hostas (Hosta spp.), grown in collections of various sizes and colors can also provide a nice ambiance. They are surprisingly suitable plants for growing in shade and wind.

Options for the Gourmet Gardener

Even if the cultivation of edible plants is a great challenge for exposed balconies, several plants manage to produce interesting food stock. The champion, in my opinion, is Swiss chard, closely followed by sorrel (Rumex spp.)! What a force of nature! For herbs, you have to give up on basil, which is the most difficult herb to succeed in these conditions. On the other hand, rosemary, oregano, parsley and mint will be generous plants. The laurel sauce (Laurus nobilis), due to its Mediterranean origins, will be very comfortable.

On the vegetable side, it will be quite easy to grow radishes, beans, carrots and lettuce. Cabbages also yield some pretty impressive results.

This is only a part of the plants that can be successfully grown on a balcony exposed to high winds. I believe our readers would love to hear about the experiences of those who garden under these conditions. Do not hesitate to share your successes and your misadventures in the comments below.

Julie Boudreau is a horticulturist who trained at the Institut de technologie agroalimentaire in Saint-Hyacinthe, Québec. She’s been working with plants for more than 25 years. She has published many gardening books and hosted various radio and television shows. She now teaches horticulture at the Centre de formation horticole of Laval. A great gardening enthusiast, she’s devoted to promoting gardening, garden design, botany and ecology in every form. Born a fan of organic gardening, she’s curious and cultivates a passion for all that can be eaten. Julie Boudreau is “epicurious” and also fascinated by Latin names.

2 comments on “What to Plant on a Windy Balcony? Part 2

  1. This post has been super helpful! I have been struggling to grow on a *very* windy balcony in Dallas. The wind desiccated my basil and even canna lily. Crossandras have done very well but they cannot always withstand the heat. Currently experimenting with prairie grasses and russian sage.

  2. Ferne Dalton

    Been gardening a good chunk of my life but just recently balcony gardening in the sunny Okanagan from a southwest corner straight into the afternoon sun with the wind storms that hit occasionaly during spring and summer. So far, lemongrass is a favourite, a herb that replicates the flavour of lemon rind and is useful in tai recipes. Extremely tough, fast growing plant. But mostly I choose to grow flowering plants. Amongst those, Canna does extremely well if started early from a root inside. Fast growing and showy. Both these plants are tender perennials but both survive the winter indoors easily. The lemongrass in a south facing window and the canna in complete or semi dormancy. Lots of failures too. Heat and wind are both a problem (no shade) but severe heat is more of a problem. Planting in big pots helps as does growing plants that like lots of water. Many plants do poorly even with daily watering. I will try a small tropical water garden one of these days and continue to experiment.

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