By Vina Medenilla
In gardening, “There are four important elements: sunlight, water, nutrients, and time. There is no such thing as green or black thumb,” this is what Liezl Rivera, an IT Project Manager and gardener from Taguig believes in. Same goes for space; gardening does not require a wide area to begin with. In her case, to maximize her balcony garden, she opted for the vertical technique.
Three things to consider in a balcony garden:
If your available planting space at home has abundant shade and no direct sunlight, it is best to grow herbs and leafy greens that can thrive in shade, Rivera said.
Rivera’s north-facing balcony receives limited sunlight, so to resolve this, she started planting shade-tolerant ornamental plants and vegetables like pechay and tomatoes at first.
Eventually, she discovered the plants that fit her balcony’s environment. She currently grows herbs like basil, mint, vegetables like lettuce and eggplant as well as air-purifying house plants like pothos, snake plant, and peace lily.
In balconies with no full sun, the benefit is that there’s no need to water the plants every day, one can only water them when the soil is dry, Rivera said.
According to Rivera, beginners must buy different seedlings upon starting to know which one will grow best in their respective gardens. If successful, they can grow plants from seeds or through cuttings. The grown seedlings can also be the mother plant where they can get future cuttings from.
Space-wise, vertical gardening is ideal to produce higher yields, even in small spaces. Buy metal grids and hang the planters on it or reuse containers and rope then hang them from somewhere to make your garden productive and beautiful.
Some balcony gardens like Rivera’s may need to have grow lights, especially if there is no direct sunlight that will give energy to the plants. If so, it is best to use the grow lights for six to eight hours at night at least thrice a week. For balconies with morning and afternoon sun, grow lights are not necessary.
Before anything else, researching and being aware of one’s plants and their individual needs are crucial to focus on before cultivating them. Pot size and good soil are also important to keep everything controlled. Rivera uses ordinary garden soil mixed with the soil she bought online.
For novice gardeners, soil, seeds, and fertilizers can be widely bought in supermarkets or through online shops so one won’t have a hard time preparing them.
Be mindful of pests. Pests in balcony gardens are more manageable compared to growing on the ground, Rivera said. The downside of balcony gardening is that there is a limited selection of plants to grow especially for balconies that lack direct sunlight. This will make the gardener spend more for the grow lights.
Here’s a checklist to keep in mind before you start gardening:
- Check how many hours of sun the area gets – this is important to know which plants can thrive in the chosen space.
- Start by buying seedlings instead of seeds. Once successful with seedlings, you can try germinating seeds to plant more.
- Rearrange the plants to know which location is best for them – observing your plants is key to learn more about their needs as you’ll see how they react to the amount of care you give.
- Immediately isolate a plant if you think it is infested to prevent infecting other plants.
- Don’t overwater. Since some balconies lack direct sun, watering is only needed when the soil is dry to avoid root rot.
Insights and photos from Liezl Rivera.
This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s January to February 2021 issue.