Starting a balcony garden – no previous experience


Hi there, good afternoon!

I would like to add some plants to my balcony (87 sqf; ~13ft by 6.7ft), with the objective of adding privacy (building nearby) and adding some green! See floor plan attached.

I live in the 11th floor of a condo in downtown Toronto. And the balcony has little direct light (10-12am), but has OK indirect light.

Lastly, I have almost no experience in gardening, and would like to choose majority of plants (and equipment) that can sustain Toronto’s weather – that would not need to be replaced every year on spring.

That said, I would like you help with:
– Planning the garden (initially, I was thinking of having a large container in the left side and a single container in the right side).
– Choosing plants (thought of a mix of evergreens -light green, Japanese junipers, Lavenders, and maybe some herbs)
– Choosing the right containers, tools, watering, etc
– Building a care plan (watering days, soil change, etc)

Could you advise me on any of these steps or recommend professional services?

Thanks in advance.



Hi Vinicius – You are in for some fun as you create your first garden on your balcony.  The key to a successful balcony garden, like any garden is to choose plants that both meet your objectives for the garden (privacy and adding some green) and will thrive in your balcony conditions(shade, container-grown, and likely windy). Here are some considerations:

  • The soil dries out faster on a balcony due to high winds and the simple fact that plants are in containers. The overhang from the next floor also reduces the amount of rain your containers will receive.
  • The hardiness zone for evergreens and perennial plants is lower the higher up you are located. For example, as Toronto has a hardiness zone of 6, plants should be hardy to zone 4.
  • As you want the plants to overwinter, the containers should tbe large and insulated.
  • The larger and thinner the leaves of a plant, the more they will get damaged by wind. The smaller and thicker, the more they will retain moisture.


Design & Containers: You’ve suggested a large container on the left of your balcony which could work well for small evergreens and perennials. You will need a 4-season insulated containers that will withstand the changes in temperature throughout the seasons. 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.Note that you should check with your building management for regulations in use of balcony space–safety concerns and weight considerations. For perennials and dwarf shrubs, containers will need to be at least 40 cm. (16″) in height and width. You may need to consider lightweight alternatives for containers and soil. A previous post on our site has information on  insulating containers.

A smaller container on the right could be used for annuals and herbs that last only a single season so winter protection is not an issue.

Plant Selection: As well as the hardiness of your plant selections you’ll need to select plants that will thrive in a part shade situation. Part shade is defined as 2 hours of direct sun per day.  (Full sun is defined as 6 hours per day.) So a Japanese juniper (Juniperus chinensis) which needs morning sun and indirect afternoon light could work but lavender (Lavendula) requires full sun so would likely not do well.  Similarly, when selecting herbs for your balcony, parsley and lemon balm will do well in part shade but avoid the sun loving herbs such as basil and rosemary. Click here to check out a post on our site on plants for a shady balcony.

Professional Services:For professional assistance with the design and construction of your balcony garden, check with your local garden centre or with Landscape Ontario which is the professional association for the horticultural trades.

Other Resources:The Toronto Master Gardeners deliver presentations on a variety of gardening topics at various branches of the Toronto Public Library.  A presentation on ‘Balcony and Terrace Container Gardening’ will be offered a number of times over the coming months.  To check on dates and locations, go to the Toronto Public Library site and search on Ask an Expert, Balcony and Terrace Container Gardening. This presentation should give you some additional ideas and provide an opportunity to ask questions.

Enjoy your balcony this summer!