Climbing plant for trellis/pergola on balcony

(Question)

Hi,

I am moving to a row townhouse in May located in Mississauga (Zone 6a) with a walk out balcony having a trellis/pergola type structure (pic attached) on it facing North. The floor of the balcony is wooden. What kind of climbing plant can I plant which would not be too heavy in growth, yet easy to maintain, disease resistant and survive the Mississauga winter? I was going through some archive posts and so far got the idea that Black Eyed Susan or Clematis grow well in this weather. What do you think? Would any of these plants damage the wooden structure shown in the pic? Also, what measures can I take so that the pot/container does not damage the wooden base of the balcony? I was also considering to have some potted balcony plants. Could you please make a few suggestions of what I should be looking at? I am very new to gardening and have been reading up lately to know more.

(Answer)

May is the perfect time to start your balcony/terrace garden. You’re right to be thinking about the weight of the plants that you’ll be installing there. You need lots of soil to sustain plants in containers – trees and shrubs need at least 18 inches of soil to prevent them from being uprooted, and smaller plants will need between 12 and 18 inches, depending on their size. So it’s good to use light containers – to use plastic or fibreglass rather than clay, and to use a lightweight potting soil. As long as you have good plastic trays underneath your pots, it should not damage the base of the balcony.

A north-facing balcony will be shady for much of the day, although it looks from your photo as if you will get some sun from the back and sides of the townhouse. It is probably best to start with a few plants, and get a sense of how the light works on your balcony – how many hours of sun you get a day – before buying and potting up lots of plants.

Your idea of clematis for the trellis/pergola is a good one, as long as there is enough sun – you probably need at least four hours of sun a day. Clematis is a perennial that may have trouble overwintering on the balcony, but it’s worth a try. ‘Nelly Moser’ is a clematis that is recognized as good for a northern wall; other possibilities are ‘Silver Moon’ and ‘Dawn.’

Black-eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia alata), an annual, would be easier in many ways. You could start the seeds yourself and the thunbergia will flower all summer – again, as long as there’s enough sun.Another possibility, also easy to grow, is scarlet runner bean (Phaseolus coccineus), which is a climbing bean plant that produces beautiful red flowers and then beans that you can eat.

Once you’ve determined how much sun you get, you can plant appropriate sun- or shade-loving plants.

Here’s the answer to a similar question:

Vines and grasses for containers

And here’s more information on suitable vines for a balcony, which includes the black-eyed Susan vine:

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

Here is a link to more information on balcony gardening in general and to attracting pollinators to a balcony garden:

http://www.torontomastergardeners.ca/index.php/factsheet/pollinator-garden-a-toronto-master-gardeners-guide/