Quick Privacy Hedge

(Question)

Hi there, I live in Toronto and wanted to plant a quick privacy hedge in container(s) (I live in a condo so it’s an urban garden). I have tried emerald cedars and they worked great for the first 2 years; but this year, they completely died out.

 

(Answer)

Thank you for contacting the Toronto Master Gardeners.

When planting on a balcony there are a few things that you must take into consideration.

The soil dries out faster due to high winds and the simple fact that plants are in containers. Also the overhang from the floor above also reduces the amount of rain your containers will receive.

The hardiness zone for perennial plants is two levels lower the higher up you are located. In other words if you are located in Toronto where the hardiness zone is a 6,  you should be looking at plants with a hardiness zone of 4 or lower.

Another important factor to consider is the container itself. Here is our answer from a previous post: “Overwintering perennials in containers is one of the biggest challenges faced by container gardeners in our zone, and balcony gardeners in particular.  The freeze-thaw cycle is the main problem; that is, the melting of the water in the container’s soil during sunny or warmer spells, followed by freezing when the temperatures dip again.  This is what kills a plant’s roots over the winter.Your most important starting point is the container itself: it should be as large as possible (the more soil it can contain, the more insulation it will provide.”  Ensure that the containers are freeze thaw resistant.  Ceramic and clay pots will probably crack as will cheaper plastic pots.  Those made of plastic, or resin composites, metal or wood will be fine outside all winter, and many will be lighter in weight. Make sure to check with your condo board with regards to weight restrictions. Good drainage is also important for your plants to thrive, as is the right growing medium: a lightweight mix formulated for containers is best.

You do not mention how much light you receive. Do you have full sun (6 hours or more), part sun/shade (4-6 hrs.) or is your balcony in shade.

Have you considered annual vines? The black-eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia alata), with orange, yellow or white flowers will bloom all summer and would do well in part shade.  A mandevilla vine, a tropical with deep green leathery leaves and huge flowers in pinks to reds that blooms all summer, would be another option if you balcony is situated in full sun.  Both can be overwintered indoors. For further information on suitable vines for a balcony see the link below:

http://www.treehugger.com/lawn-garden/5-gorgeous-climbing-vines-plant-your-chic-container-garden.html

Perennial or ornamental grasses are also another option for containers. Here are a few suggestions from one of our earlier posts “As for grasses, most ornamental grasses are quite drought tolerant, once established.  Most prefer well drained soil.  I am going to assume that grasses of a half metre to a metre would be best for your balcony.  Some grasses grow to 3 metres and may not be what you want.  The Eragrostisgrasses or lovegrasses grow less than a metre and are excellent specimen plants.  Their flower heads are like plumes and depending on species, come in tan to purplish in colour.  The northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) have flat green spikelets on slender stems (they look like an oat flower), dangle in the breeze and turn reddish brown in the winter.  The Avalanche feather reed grass (Calamagrostis xacutiflora ‘Avalanche’) grows to a metre, is variegated with a white stripe, and is narrow in habit.  The white flowerheads show up in summer, turn pink as the weather cools in fall, and then tan for the winter.  With winter protection, they may come back in the spring.

Here is a great Toronto website that has good ideas and links to further information: https://www.torontobalconiesbloom.ca/index.php/how-to/resources

Lastly, we have numerous archived posts on balcony gardening with numerous annual/perennial suggestions depending on your light requirements. Simply, type “balcony gardening” into the search bar, located to the right of the page.

Here’s to many wonderful summers on your balcony.