Recently, I noticed that out of our 13 tomato plants on our balcony that we started during lockdown (did anybody NOT grow tomatoes during lockdown)!? – only one had survived.
Yep, I’d followed all the gardening books advice, and treated my seedlings like they were living in a rainy, shady English garden. The problem being that I live in the Mediterranean. Not anything like a shady English garden.
No wonder they all died! However, one thing that has grown really well, despite the heat? Our balcony herb garden!
Herb gardens are great for balconies – they grow well in pots in small spaces and require little maintenance to flourish. So it doesn’t matter what size your balcony is, almost anybody can grow herbs!
The best tip for growing herbs on a balcony is to keep them separate. Keep them in separate pots, at least 10cm apart, they all get enough light and space.
The easiest herbs to grow on balconies are
- Basil – grows best in the spring and summer, pick leaves frequently and it will grow more! Great for adding to pasta and Italian dishes if you’re creating a kitchen balcony garden
- Lemon Thyme – grows best in full sun. Great for filling out space on your balcony, grows to approx 30cm tall. Adds great flavor to roast dinners and hearty winter meals
- Mint – is a great grower, so best grown alone! Will easily fill a pot or whatever space you care to give it. Perfect for mint tea.
- Spearmint – Just like growing mint, easily fills space on your balcony. Has a delicate fragrance, great for tea.
- Rosemary – another wintry favourite for your kitchen garden on your balcony! A tough and hardy grower, can grow tall (over a meter)! has delicate purple flowers.
- Chives – Use these in your kitchen balcony garden to add flavour to salads, potato dishes, and more. Easy to grow, chives have pretty purple flowers and return year after year.
- Sage – great for witchy kitchens, you can grow bundles of this and create smudge sticks that scent your apartment beautifully! Also great in pasta.
How To Get Started With A Herb Balcony Garden
Consider Your Balcony Position
To get started growing herbs on your balcony you need to ensure your herbs are in a warm spot where they will receive 6-8 hours daylight per day. The warmer the better! So if you live on a cold-north facing balcony, you might want to move your herb garden indoors on to your windowsill instead.
Apartment Herb Garden Balcony Ideas
There are so many things you can do with a balcony herb garden! Some of the best ideas for your balcony herb garden –
- Create a kitchen herb garden – use the herbs in your cooking
- Use your herbs to provide life and scent to your balcony
- Sell or gift your herbs
- Create a pretty balcony space with herbs that flower, such as chives and rosemary
- Use your herbs in home DIY’s such as making soap, candles, etc
- Companion plant herbs to help other plants on your balcony, such as roses. Some herbs help keep pests away!
- Use herbs to attract bees and other pollinators to your balcony
- Finally, herbs give more of a natural feeling to your space
I use my herbs for a mix of all of the above, as I think most people do. I love that our herbs bring a little color and scent to our home, and there’s nothing quite like adding your own rosemary to your Sunday dinner to make you feel like all Nigella.
So first, decide on the purpose of your herb garden. This will help you decide how many plants you need.
How Many Herbs Should I Buy For A Herb Garden?
You should buy as many herb plants as your space allows, if you want to maximise that natural feeling, have an abundance of herbs, and fill your apartment with that gorgeous, herby smell!
Note – I’ve previously gone down the precarious ‘oh look, this rosemary plant is just 2 dollars!’ route. When you get home your unexpected balcony addition, it ends up sitting there all sad and lonely and nowhere near as nice as it did in the garden centre or supermarket. So then you have to go and buy a load more to keep it company and before you know it you have ten pots of chives and you’re not sure why because you don’t even like chives! But they were only 50 cents!
So, first decide on what herbs you actually WANT and what they’re for, before sweeping up all of the herbs on offer.
After than, it’s pretty obvious – buy the herbs you like to add to your food, or, if you like plain food minus herbs, buy herbs you like the smell of. Good choices are the ones I’ve listed above, particularly if you have black thumb like me (rather than green). They’re quite hard to kill even with a little neglect.
Buy at least 2 pots of each herb. If one dies, you’ll still have the other. Of course if you’re planning on doing smart things or crafty things or the pots are small then you’ll need lots more.
A general rule of thumb is to buy more than you think you’ll need.
If you buy too few, they’ll just a look a bit sparse and rubbish and well, cheap. Like you couldn’t afford an abundant garden.
Too many (if there is such a thing) and you can always bring some inside or tie them with pretty ribbon for a cute and always-welcomed gift.
Should I Repot Herbs?
Listen, I’m about to tell you my balcony gardening secret. I hardly ever repot my herbs! I literally take my pot, and stick it in a bigger, prettier one!
Your herbs will still grow or last (depending on how mature they are when you buy them) and it’s basically the easiest form of gardening ever.
However the downside to not repotting your herbs is that your herbs don’t have much room to grow bigger. That’s fine if you have a small space, but if you want your herbs to flourish and fill out a larger area, you might want to repot your balcony herbs.
Should I Buy Supermarket Potted Herbs For My Balcony?
Just doing a dash around the supermarket and those gorgeous smelling herbs caught your eye? Who hasn’t grabbed a basil plant to add to that night’s pasta at some point in their life!
You can grow supermarket herbs quite well on your balcony, because nowadays supermarket herbs are just as good as the ones you pick up from your local garden centre. But if you want to support local businesses and growers, then look for some sort of ‘buy local’ or ‘grown locally’ label. Organic labels are also my preference.
But in terms of quality, these are really the same as any other herb. They might occasionally be a little weaker if they’ve travelled some distance, but a good dose of water, potting soil and sunshine will put that right.
How To Repot Supermarket Herbs
- Find your pots. If you must use the long, slim containers, give your herbs some room! They’re not prolific growers like tomatoes but they will still spread upwards and outwards particularly something like rosemary!
- Choose large single pots. If you’re wondering what ‘large’ means, it depends on the size of your space. Just buy as large as you can get as herbs like to spread. And buy a couple of spares. I always run out of pots and have to buy more.
- Get some potting soil (a bag or two) while you’re at the supermarket. From the garden section. Or grab some from your garden centre on the way home.
- Fill the bottom of your new pots with a mix of small (1-2cm stones) and gravel.
- Add your potting mix to your containers, about half way up.
- Gently remove your herb from the pot it’s currently in. If you can’t seem to remove it easily, tap the bottom, or cut away the pot. (Though this isn’t the best option for recycling. I try to keep my pots where possible for future use).
- Pop it into the new pot, and surround it with more potting soil.
- Give your new herb a good drink of water. This will help it take root in its new pot and help it to avoid ‘transplant shock’.
How To Take Care Of Your Balcony Herb Garden
- Basil – Needs your warmest, sunniest spot. Water daily. 6 weeks after planting, pinch off the top leaves and the bud. This will encourage it to sprout leaves at the side and grow bigger. Usually dies off in autumn, though you can bring it indoors to extend it’s lifespan.
- Lemon Thyme – Another direct sun lover. Keep soil damp and most but not waterlogged. Cut back regularly to ensure leafy growth.
- Mint -Plant alone to prevent it taking over your other herbs, as it is a dominant plant. Cut back to 5cm tall at the end of summer, for regrowth next year.
- Spearmint – Follows mint. Plant alone, cut back at the end of the season for growth next year.
- Rosemary – Can grow in direct sun but prefers a sun / shade mix. Water frequently, especially in hot weather. Use fertiliser (as directed on the instructions). Cut back all branches after flowering, for growth the following year.
- Chives – keep soil moist, cut as required. Chives will die in winter but return the next year.
- Sage – water frequently, even daily in hot spells. Place in sheltered spot, in part shade. Use manure or natural fertiliser for best growth.
How To Harvest Herbs From Your Balcony Kitchen Garden
When picking leaves from your balcony herb garden there is one main rule to remember – don’t pick all the leaves at once!
Take an assortment of different sized leaves, leaving mostly the larger ones behind.
The larger leaves are the ones that produce all the food and energy for your herb to grow – if you pick those, your plant will usually quickly grow lots of new little leaves to try and produce the same amount of food.
Over time, all you’ll end up with on your plant is this tiny leaves – not as attractive, and not as tasty either!
The best way to cut your leaves for your balcony or apartment kitchen garden is using scissors or pruning shears. Tempting though it is to pull them off with your fingers, you can damage your herb like this. It creates a bigger or rougher ‘wound’ in your herb, leaving your herb open to infection.
Cut your leaves and branches (as with rosemary) using sharp, disinfected scissors or small hand pruners. This will help ensure your herbs stay healthy.
Remember to cut back your herbs at the beginning of Autumn, so those that flourish annually can come back stronger next year.
Apartment Balcony Garden Design
So, you’ve got your herbs and pots all ready to go, now it’s time for the design part! What do you want your balcony garden look like? What kind of vibe you go for really depends on the style of your balcony, your personal preference, and what space you have.
So this our roundup of the best bits and pieces you can buy on Amazon that will suit all styles of balcony herb garden. Best of all, they won’t take up much room, and they’re priced to match a balcony sized garden 😉
You’ll need more than one if you want to have that thick, ‘plant-wall’ effect though. I’m definitely going to be investing in some of these for my balcony, they’re just the thing to bring my dull, concrete space to life!
This post is our basic guide to getting started with a balcony herb garden for beginners, however I’m also excited to take my own balcony herb garden to the next level! For this I’ve been researching hydroponic gardening, growing fruit trees, and thinking more about garden balcony furniture, so I’ll update you soon on this! 🙂
In the meantime, you might want to check this out. I wrote a guide to growing gorgeous roses on your balcony. A lot of millennials seem to write off roses as being a bit old fashioned, but they add so much color and scent to your apartment or home as well as the whole balcony. Not to mention they go amazingly well with your balcony herbs! Check out this post here to see what I’m talking about.