North facing balcony with indirect sun


Hi there. I just bought condo in Toronto with has a very large open terrace facing north. i have been told it does get hot in summer and very windy. There appears to be sun on terrace in afternoon. I have tall planters which came with condo (photo attached) and was wondering what plants would be suitable to withstand the wind and sun. I don’t have a “green thumb”!! Thank you.


Thank you for contacting the Toronto Master Gardeners with your inquiry

We receive numerous questions concerning balcony gardens. When planting in containers on a balcony you need to consider the physical environment your plants will be growing in, for example the amount of sun, wind conditions, and source of water? Although you have afternoon sunlight how many hours of sunlight? Partial sun means 3-6 hours of sunlight. How high is you balcony? There is more wind at the higher levels that will affect taller plants and also dry out the containers more quickly. Also consider drainage, where does the water run off?  Is there a balcony below you?  Perhaps free-standing containers make more sense than railing.  Make sure you have a way of containing the water, such as saucers.

Before beginning on this exciting project we suggest you check with your building management for regulations in the use of your balcony space, are there any safety concerns and weight considerations/restrictions.

Are you interested in planting annuals (plants that need to be replanted every year) or perennials (plants that come back year after year)? You might like to plant a pollinator garden. I am assuming that your location faces north/west since you mention receiving afternoon sun. If so, it is important to choose plants that thrive in part-sun and are drought-tolerant.

If your interest is in planting annuals, the Toronto Master Gardeners have a Garden Guide on Drought Tolerant Annuals  that has a number of annuals for dry shade/light conditions.

If perennials are more what you had in mind choose part sun-loving pollinator plants such as hostas, columbines, lady’s mantle and bowman’s root, which along with ferns would give a nice textured look. Drought Tolerant Perennials  give some excellent plant suggestions. Creating a windbreak using a trellis or screen or native shrubs like juniper or viburnum will help shield plants from the wind.

Another important factor to consider when growing perennials on a balcony is the container itself. Containers will need to be at least 40 cm. (16″) in height and width to make sure that the perennials will overwinter.

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.

You might want to consider using pollinator plants on your balcony.  The key principles of a pollinator garden apply equally to a balcony pollinator garden. A balcony pollinator garden should also focus on native plants, which are first choice for native pollinators. In addition, native plants may need less water, a boon on a balcony where watering is often difficult. Our Pollinator Garden Guide has a section on attracting pollinators to your balcony along with native plant suggestions.

The University of Illinois has an excellent article titled Successful Container Gardening. Toronto Urban Growers article Balcony Gardening discusses every aspect of balcony gardening. Lastly, we have a number of resources on balcony gardening on our website. Simply type balcony gardening in the Find It Here box located to the right of the page.

Whatever type of plants you are interested in planting, you should aim in planting a diversity of plant material.  Using plants of varying heights, including annuals, perennials, flowering vines and potted shrubs and trees is most effective in creating a relaxing, interesting outdoor space on your balcony.

Good luck and have fun with this project

April 25, 2021