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Fall Balcony Retreat!

Fall is truly in the air, so when my niece (our EIC Andrea Graye) emailed me that she had a fall-themed idea for an article that was personal to her, I agreed to do it, and quickly sent off an email to her with some basics to start her thinking. Her question was, and I quote, “How to ‘decorate’ a little city balcony with plants/trees/bushes that will endure Fall/Early Winter!”

Now mind you, at first I had to take a step back to think this through. Normally I have my own larger decks and porches to deal with, but a city balcony is a whole other story! Presented with this challenge, I vowed, by hook or by crook, I would figure this out for her, and for many of you with the same question. To those of you with larger areas, most of these ideas still apply.

First and foremost, balcony safety and building code come to mind. Make sure the balcony and railings are sturdy and secure to hold the extra weight of containers filled with potting soil and plants, your outdoor furniture, and any other architectural elements you so desire. Wind, believe it or not, will be an issue, so be careful not to put anything taller then your balcony railing unless well secured. There may be a weight limit of what your balcony can hold.  Also look into whether building codes will allow it.

Now that we have that out of the way, the fun begins!

When decorating your balcony for the Fall season, right away what comes to mind are Chrysanthemums & Asters. They’re great for Fall and balconies and are certainly a must! But unfortunately, they’re only for the Fall season as the colder weather moves in and brings on spent and faded blooms. Not too many plants will grow in the colder, early winter weather, so let’s address something that will endure that cold, gives your balcony year-round appeal, and has “weathered” the test of time! And the winners are…. Evergreens!

For the trees and bushes requirement, Evergreens have several characteristics that draws attention to them:

1. Their texture.

2. Their different hues of green, green-blue,  green-yellow, or green-silver year round.

3. They can be pruned/sculpted into a topiary shape whether it be rounded, pyramid, or spiral shaped. You can find them at garden centers already shaped or have them shaped to your liking. They also come au naturel in case you want to try your hand at sculpting!

For your balcony, please stick to the dwarf sizes (thd.co/1GoC41U) for obvious reasons. They’re slower growing and remain small in stature. Dwarf conifers such as dwarf Alberta spruce trees, boxwoods, yews, and arborvitae are just a few choices. They add a mounding or upright columnar/vertical or pyramid accent, are a great base color, and provide a background for flowering plants or eye-catching elements that you change out from season to season. As a background, they can create a wall for privacyblock a not so pretty sight, and create a focal point. They will draw your eye out to your balcony year round and give you the perception your indoor space is larger, and as the saying goes, bringing the outdoors in!

Speaking of bringing the outdoors in, I must mention the dwarf Meyer Lemon tree; yes, a citrus tree, in a container! Although it’s an evergreen, it should be brought in from the outdoors when cold weather threatens. This beauty is not only very fragrant in bloom, it will also draw your eye out to your balcony with it’s bright-colored fruit. Imagine, you could be enjoying fresh fruit (lemon for your tea) right on your balcony!

Now that you have your background of evergreens, fill in and add your color with flowers (one of the plant requirements). With green being your base color (and doesn’t count in the following equation), try to have different shades/hues of one color or just two shades of a color that complement each other (such as purple and yellow). One way to be sure of a complementary color is to check the color wheel. Many different colors will make the area look too busy and we certainly don’t want that; you’re supposed to be doing nothing other than relaxing on your balcony and who wants to be busy on a balcony?!

To find out what plants are in season is easy. Check your local garden centers, nurseries, or farmers markets. Right now I’m seeing Mums, Asters (the purples are gorgeous), and the Gerbera Daisy. Pansies are back for the cooler weather after making their grand appearance in Spring.

For interesting foliage try Ornamental Cabbage and Ornamental Kale (yes, they’re not just for soups and salads anymore)!

Another plant that caught my attention for Fall decor, and has the most stunning striped foliage with no flowers, is the Croton (note: it does need to be brought inside in colder temps).

Oh and don’t forget ornamental gourds (love the swan shaped!) and mini pumpkins; they’re easily tucked in among the foliage and flowers for that Fall touch!

As for edible plants, you could grow herbs….not only to use for cooking but for their wonderful fragrance; such as lemon balm (citrus aroma) and mint (sweet aroma). Other cool weather herbs that grow well in containers are parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme (now you probably have that song in your head; I know I do!), chives, cilantro and dill; these all have savory smells. Let’s not forget lavender (to some noses, a very relaxing aroma).

There’s an added benefit to growing herbs (http://bit.ly/1S2CiwE). They’re used as natural bug/insect repellents!  Lavender, lemon thyme, mint, lemon balm, and rosemary are all herbs that are said to repel mosquitoes! Lavender is to repel flies! So, shoo fly don’t bother me! Tuck these fragrant herbs in amongst your other plants or plant an assortment of herbs all in one container!

Other then that, there isn’t much you can do to get rid of these pests unless you want to try a carnivorous plant such as the Pitcher Plant or the Venus Flytrap! Yes, they actually catch and digest!

Since we are working with a small area, stick to one color variation for containers for your collection of plants, trees, and bushes so they don’t compete for attention. Also, I think larger containers look better in a small area. Too many small containers will look too busy. When I say larger I don’t mean heavier, that would be an “uh-oh” on a small balcony that has a weight limit, so stick to light-weight containers. Remember the soil will add weight.

Note:  Evergreens would require a bigger container anyway (to hold more soil) so their roots have more room to stretch out to grow a healthier plant. Year round trees and bushes also require frost-proof containers.

Drainage holes on the bottom of your containers are a “must” to ensure good drainage and to avoid root rot! Please make sure you have a saucer for the bottom to catch water that will drain from your container. You don’t want it spilling over the edge of your balcony for another “uh-oh”!

As for placement, just setting your containers directly on the floor of the balcony is a given, but it may not be enough; especially if you have an unwanted view to block. Giving height to a plant with a decorative wooden crate, box, bench, or shelf will do the job. You could also attach window boxes to the inside if the railings for cascading plants.

Now let’s cover up that soil in the containers for a more pleasant appeal and also help to retain some moisture in your containers. Polished stones, sea glass, seashells, and marbles are all examples of container/soil toppers.

How about some lighting for ambiance? Nestle solar or battery operated lanterns in the corners of your balcony and set a flame-less LED candle on your table!

Now, dream, and get creative! Make a list of needs, wants, and wishes. And don’t forget your balcony measurements and railing height. It’s time to go shopping now!

Your garden balcony retreat is awaiting you….