Just because you live in an apartment, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have the luxury of a lovely outdoor space to enjoy or at least gaze lovingly at from inside.
However, working in a much smaller – and higher! – space can limit your ability to put those green fingers to work.
With more potential for things to go wrong and less protection from pests, a balcony garden can be trickier to maintain. Depending on your experience with plants, it can often be difficult to identify issues or even know if there’s a problem whatsoever.
This quick guide will take you through some of the most frequent problems that potted plants experience – not only might it help you identify what issues you’re having, but also provide some possible solutions.
Heed the advice and implement those tips – soon enough you’ll be the proud owner of a gorgeous suntrap fit for a queen bee!
Top five reasons balcony plants die
Reason #1 – You are watering them incorrectly
For those new to the world of gardening, and even sometimes when you’re experienced too, watering plants correctly is often the hardest thing to get right.
Too much and you’ll drown your beloveds by accident; not enough, and they’ll be dried up and dead before you can save them.
Managing to get the balance just right is a delicate dance: most plants are best off when you give them some time for the soil to dry up a little before you water next, whereas some do prefer their soil to be moist all of the time.
Even if everything looks healthy on the surface, it’s possible your plant could be experiencing root rot underneath, a result of mushy soil
Try and work out whether your plant is ready to be watered before doing so! Give the soil nearest the edge of the pot a feel, by pushing your finger in and down a little. If it’s bone dry and crumbly to the touch, you can probably go ahead and water.
Now comes the tricky bit! Start pouring and stop when water starts to run out of the bottom of the hole, or if any water appears to be pooling on the surface.
This is indicative of the soil being unable to absorb any water and means it’s not thirsty anymore.
Giving you a watering schedule to follow is tricky – every plant is different, and there are so many species you could have it would be impossible to offer the right advice.
It’s important to do the proper research and make a note of when you should be watering, as well as watching your plant itself and learning to recognize when it’s thirsty.
If you’re still struggling, try self-watering devices! They do all of the tricky calculating for you – all you have to do is put them in and fill them up.
Not fussy? Check out these affordable terracotta ones from MorTime; if you’ve got more money to play with or prefer cute accessories, the slightly more expensive but absolutely adorable mushroom-shaped little guys over at VYV Wellness.
Reason #2 – You have used poor quality soil
Did you recently swap over your plant from the pot it came in over to a gorgeous new one in the time you’ve noticed a problem? Have you failed to identify any other possible issues?
Maybe the potting soil used for planting or replanting was of poor quality. You can’t just go outside and get some dirt from anywhere – you need a bag of good quality compost.
Even for the most carefree of plant parents, it is important to make sure you opt for a good quality mix, which contains plenty of necessary fertilizer and added nutrients, ensuring your plants get everything they need to photosynthesize and thrive.
For certain plants, like succulents, you can even get a potting soil designed especially for use with that species. This is recommended if possible because they have been created by experts who know just what is required.
Consider spending a little extra to get the good stuff, without breaking the bank: a popular choice is this sack of planting soil from Charlie’s Compost.
Reason #3 – The plants are getting too much or not enough sun
If your plant is stretching out way too thin in the stem, leaning towards the light, its leaves are changing, or it won’t flower, chances are there’s not enough sunlight around to keep it going.
On the flip side, if a plant’s pigmentation appears bleached or washed out, the texture of its leaves is scaly, crispy, or crinkled, or they look burnt (either in a yellow, brown, or white color) then you’re exposing it to too much sun.
Unlike us humans, putting on some sunblock won’t help, either!
Again, because every plant is different, it’s difficult to offer specific advice on how much or how little sunlight yours, in particular, is going to need for optimum growth.
However, it’s easy enough to tell you that if the plant you’re worried about is currently in a shadowy corner that doesn’t get much sunlight, it could be worth your while to push it front and center for a while.
Likewise, if you observe the plant on an average or sunny day and notice it is in direct sunlight for longer than a few hours a day, perhaps it needs nudging over into the shade a little for some added protection.
Regardless, it is imperative that your plant is not kept out of the sun entirely: in order to photosynthesize adequately, it needs some exposure to light and sun for at least a portion of the day.
Reason #4 – The plants need a different kind of pot
Although watering your plant is incredibly important, making sure it has proper drainage is also necessary.
This should ideally be done via holes in the bottom of its pot, which allows the unneeded water to drip out, collecting in a tray beneath which should be regularly emptied.
If you fail to do so, your plant will not be able to absorb all of the water in its pot, causing it to “drown” – if you’ve watered your plant recently but it’s still looking droopy and the soil is still damp, then your issue is likely one with drainage.
Plants also require enough room to grow in their pots, with the roots especially needing plenty of extra space to push out into.
Without it, they quickly become too heavy on top, their roots now too weak to support the excess foliage. Pretty soon they’ll wither and eventually die.
You might think it’s fine to leave it in the pot you picked it up in, but you won’t have them for very long with that attitude!
If you’re fairly sure the size is right – and it’s easy enough to check by examining the roots carefully – then you likely need to get a new pot with built-in drainage holes.
Should you find a pot that doesn’t come with holes, but is just too pretty to pass up, you can always drill your own drainage by following a simple guide on Youtube. Make sure you remember to match up the size though!
When you’ve already got drainage covered, you should still give those roots a check over, to make sure they’re not overgrown. If they’re poking through the holes, for instance, or poking through the surface of the soil, you’ve definitely got a problem.
Depending on how big your plant is, you might need a small, medium, or a large replacement – it’s always best to have too much room than not enough, though!
Reason #5 – The plants are afflicted with diseases or infestations
When, after thoroughly considering all of the above, you can’t seem to find any other causes for the problems you’re experiencing, it’s possible that your poor plants are being attacked or eaten by insects.
Sometimes it’s hard to know, otherwise it’s very obvious and you may have noticed the signs already without realizing.
Look for differences in the soil and changes in the appearance of your plants, like tiny holes in the leaves or perhaps strange color alterations on various points of the plant and its potting mix.
If you notice cottony fluff on or underneath the leaves, for instance, keep your eyes peeled for mealybugs in the soil. A strange, ammonia-like smell is also indicative of disease within the root system in the plant.
Try repotting the afflicted plant as carefully and thoroughly as possible, removing as much of the soil as you can without damaging the roots.
Do not reuse your potting mix – it’s important to use a brand new soil in order to ensure it is completely free of bugs and bacteria.
If that doesn’t help, or if you’d prefer a less one-size-fits-all approach, you’ll do better to do a more thorough search with the specific symptoms or describing the creatures you can see, as this will help you to find a more obvious solution.
Avoid growing too many plants in the same area, as most diseases and bacteria can spread from pot to pot very quickly, wiping out your entire balcony before you can do anything about it.
Still stuck? More top tips for plant survival…
Whilst this plant-based advice might not necessarily cure any existing problems, they’ll certainly help you prevent future ones and provide the best possible care for your leafy friends.
Protect them from any pets
Cats, dogs, birds, guinea pigs… all of them can do some serious damage to your plants if left unattended, though we’d like to think you’re not leaving any of your precious friends alone on your balcony!
Either way, do your best to keep your flowery children away from your furry friends. Even if they just look like they’re being nosy, they could cause problems being their gentlest!
Sadly, they don’t understand the phrase, “No, stay away from my plant, you’re going to decapitate it!”
Check humidity levels required and monitor
Certain plants need a certain amount of humidity in order to thrive, whereas others hate being particularly warm and sweaty.
Try different spots around the balcony and see if they can improve, or try taking them inside for a bit as it could be that it’s too warm outside in general.
Either way, avoid placing your plants near things that produce warm, dry air like an air vent, heater or dryer.
Do your research
This one’s been touched on already, but it bears repeating: the best way to care for any plant is to find out as much about it as possible.
There’s plenty to consider, from how much water it needs to where it’s best to position it, to if it likes extra sunlight or a little shade or whether there’s a special kind of potting soil you should be getting.
If you notice any dead foliage, stems, flowers or fruits, you want to remove them – this will make sure that all of the energy the plant has is reserved for the parts that are still alive and kicking enough to benefit from it!
Make a point once a week of trimming up the dead or damaging looking parts of all your plants, and you’ll prolong their life spans considerably
Protect from the elements
Too much sun can be just as problematic as not enough, so it’s important to work on both. Try to aim for plants on your balcony that like moisture if you’ve got a little too much shade, as they tend to retain more water in the soil.
Likewise, if you could do with some extra shade, try growing vines or have some sun-loving plants in hanging baskets, as both of these will cast some shade that your more fragile plants can bask beneath the sun safely by taking solace under them.
Should you have a natural sunspot on your hands that’s proving especially powerful, you could put up a golf umbrella or other kind of large parasol to shield your greenery.