April 09, 2015 Phil Maunder

We’ve all seen a failed balcony garden; outdated pots and weeping plants that just don’t go together. The secret to a successful balcony garden is to choose plants that will not only survive but thrive. Below is an eclectic mix of plants from cacti and succulents, to large-leafed, shade-loving plants. A balcony garden should be an extension of your home – choosing the correct plants will create an urban oasis you will want to escape to.

Blue chalk sticks

Known for their finger-like, striking blue foliage, Blue chalk sticks (Senecio serpens) are a perfect balcony-friendly plant.

Blue chalk sticks are a drought-tolerant succulent that prefer a sunny position, but do well in part shade, too.

Buxus balls

Everyone’s favourite formal hedging plant, Buxus microphylla, also works fantastic on balconies when shaped into spheres to create what’s commonly known as buxus balls. 

Buxus prefer full sun, but also do just as well in part shade. I have had success in full shade, however you will need to start with a mature plant because the growth rate will be much slower. 

While they are one of the more maintenance-intensive balcony-friendly plants, the trimmed and clean look is worth the work.

Don’t feel like you can only use buxus balls in formal gardens, either; they work just as well mixed up alongside architectural contemporary plants, too.

Golden barrel cactus

Golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii) originate from Central Mexico and are superb desert plants requiring minimal care and attention, which makes them perfect for hot and dry balconies. Not only do these spiky balls of fun thrive in full sun, they also do well in reduced light but with slower growth.

Depending on the position of your balcony and how much natural light you receive, golden barrel cacti will survive for up to six months with no water or care during the non-growth period.

I recommend planting them singularly in a circular-shaped pot such as an egg pot or cylinder.

Red pencil plant

Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’, or the red pencil plant as it’s commonly called, is a hardy succulent plant capable of reaching 10 metres, but will remain stunted when planted in a pot or container. The ‘Sticks on Fire’ cultivar lacks the chlorophyll of the parent plant and as such is much slower growing. 

The longer, pencil-like foliage gives the plant a striking look that’s sure to enhance any balcony. 

Silver falls

When it comes to under-planting, there really isn’t a better plant than Dichondra argentea ‘Silver Falls’. The grey silvery foliage, which weeps downwards, looks stunning against a charcoal-coloured pot.

I’ve used Dichondra argentea ‘Silver Falls’ in full sun to part shade. They require very little water. Once established, the foliage will weep down as much as two metres!

For best results, try planting a feature tree in a large pot, and under-plant around the inside edge of the rim every 20 centimetres. Over time, this will form a complete curtain around the pot.

Lady palm

Finding a privacy solution for a shady balcony is also a difficult task. Fortunately, Rhapis excelsa, commonly called lady palm, is perfect for screening out those unwanted neighbours in shady areas.

This multi-stemmed dwarf palm, originally from the rainforests of southern China, is commonly used as an indoor plant.

Raphis are slow-growing and can remain in the same pot for many years, making them perfect for shady balconies. They also look stunning planted on their own as a feature in a large pot.

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