It is quite possible to have a garden on a balcony, even if the balcony does not get a lot of sun. The principle of balcony gardening is that the height of the balcony is fully utilised to compensate for the lack of width and length. You cannot grow vegetables or flowers on a balcony in the same way as you would in a vegetable or flower garden. New techniques need to be applied. Perhaps above all, it is necessary to be aware of the balcony's strength. You are not going to have a swimming pool in this garden!

Balcony gardening means gardening in containers, and the containers need to be both strong, in order to balcony gardenhold the soil inside and light, so that they are not adding more weight to the total than is necessary. This means plastic containers, not clay or wood or cast-iron or stone, however beautiful these are. On a balcony, unless you are having only one plant, you use plastic containers.

The containers need to sit in trays. When you buy the pots buy the trays, a bit wider than the base of the pots, at the same time. The trays are needed for two reasons. If you are having a garden on your balcony, it is vitally important that it does not cause a nuisance to your neighbours, and water trickling down from your balcony to theirs would most definitely be regarded as 'a nuisance'. The trays hold any excess water from the plants. There is also a sound gardening reason. Plants absorb water from the soil through the root system – the water is drawn upwards. A good shower of rain does not feed the plants; it soaks the soil and the plants then draw the water up from the soil below. Plants being grown in pots are watered from below, by pouring water into the trays. This encourages the plants to send their roots downwards and leads to much healthier plants.

If your balcony gets no sunlight at all, you will probably struggle with trying to grow vegetables and flowers, but there is a wide variety of other plants that love shade and will do well. Above all, and most suitable for a balcony, are the ferns. There are many different types of fern, some of them growing to as much as five feet high. They all have lovely leaf shapes, they adapt well to pot culture and a fern filled balcony on a hot day will be a cool, delightful place in which to sit. Viewed from inside, they will be glorious in all weathers.

A balcony that receives the sun allows you a much greater choice. To use the whole space, attach hanging baskets from the roof at the front. As well as flowers such as aubretia, which will give you a purple and white cascade, you can grow trailing tomatoes, specifically bred for use in baskets. Attach clip-on trays to the front of the balcony and fill them with flowers. Have some staging shelves at one end of the balcony. Garden centres supply them made from lightweight metal covered with green plastic. They are not actually ugly and they will hold trays of lettuce, cress, parsley, and other salad leaves and herbs as well as pots of small flowers. Pepper and aubergine plants are both useful and decorative and grow well in pots. Good for a balcony since they will grow tall.

Now the climbing plants. These are obviously splendid for a balcony since they can be trained up one side, and along the front at roof level. Choose the plants carefully. Not wisteria, cyclamen, or rambler roses. They need heavy feeding and have rooting systems that require a considerable depth and width of soil. But many annual climbing flowers are much less demanding – sweet peas and the whole morning glory family, for example. Best of all are the vegetable climbing plants, the cucumbers and the squash family. A balcony with cucumbers and golden squash hanging all over it is a great joy.

It is also quite possible to have a small tree on the balcony if you choose one that has a dwarfing stock. An olive tree is a lovely thing to have and, because, it needs dry conditions, will be less heavy than other trees might be. The pot needs to stand on a trolley so that you can bring the tree indoors during the winter. A small Japanese maple could be another choice and is better able to withstand freezing temperatures.

Where Can I Buy Balcony Garden Supplies?

The great thing about gardening is that you can find gardening tools, supplies, pots, seeds, and other materiel almost anywhere. Supermarkets, such as WalMart, Costco, and Target, have gardening sections fully equipped to meet your balcony gardening needs. Local gardening shops or small chains also exist in most cities if you prefer avoiding the big box store. WalMart sells small window planters in sets of four between $20 and $35. Remember, your balcony garden planters should be light weight, preferably plastic, to keep the total weight down. WalMart also has a much larger, plastic, cubic planter with 20 inch sides for just $120 - which could be a perfect fit for your balcony; Big enough to hold most plants, but not adding much to the total weight, not to mention a reasonably cost effective choice. In addition to planters, you will also be able to find soil, seeds, and plants for your balcony garden at most supermarket locations.

You also have the option of doing your balcony garden supply shopping online. Amazon has some great small plastic planters that cost less than $10. There are also many plastic pot "sets" that can be found, from 2 to 15 basic plastic planters with prices ranging from a couple dollars up to $75. If you're going to be buying a large number of plastic garden planters, this sort of bulk option could result in large savings. Be careful shopping for planters online, due to their size you may end up paying a lot in shipping and handling costs, so take that into account when looking at sometimes-enticing initial prices. Sometimes you can get special discounts on shipping for purchases over a certain dollar amount, so it often pays to do all of your online shopping in one place.