The Garden Ninja's 7 top tips for balcony planters: How to maximise space and beauty

In this article, Lee aka The Garden Ninja has 7 fab tips on how you can maximise space and beauty with your balcony planters...

Balcony planters and container gardens offer a wonderful opportunity to bring the beauty of nature into urban living spaces, providing a vibrant oasis of greenery and colour no matter how small or awkward your garden space is. 

Whether you're a seasoned Ninja gardener or just starting out in the world of growing things, optimising your balcony planters can make a significant difference in your success rate! In this article, I'll share seven top tips to help you make the most of your balcony planters, from selecting the right plants to maximising space and ensuring proper care. Let's grow!

1. Choose the Right Plants for your space

When selecting plants for your balcony planters or containers, consider factors such as sunlight exposure, space constraints, and climate conditions. The best way to do this is with a shade map. With a piece of paper record throughout the day at 3-hour intervals where the shade is on your balcony. This will enable you to work out the light levels, meaning you can choose plants that thrive in your conditions. Also, make notes of any exposure, such as how much wind your balcony gets, as this may indicate you need to pick plants that can cope with more challenging conditions!

Opt for more compact varieties of plants that thrive in containers, such as herbs, succulents, and dwarf shrubs. With a small garden, it's all about adding texture and a contrast between the foliage to make the space feel more visually interesting. Additionally, choose a mix of plants with varying heights and colours to create visual interest and balance in your planters. 

2. Use Quality Compost & Never Garden Soil

Invest in high-quality peat-free potting compost as it is far lighter than garden soil, retains moisture better, and slowly releases nutrients to plants. Garden soil is unsuitable for containers and balconies as it is too heavy and also it doesn't last long in containers. The bacteria and microscopic life forms tend to die off when containerised. Don't forget garden soil is a living, breathing substance that requires a cyclical process of leaf fall, insects, animal waste and deceased insects to create a continuous cycle of nutrients being circulated through the soil. 

Compost is the better alternative, which doesn't require this careful balance. You can then use an organic liquid feed to keep it topped up twice a year. Compost is significantly lighter, meaning the containers are easier to lift, and your balcony is not under the strain of necessary weight!

3. Provide Adequate Drainage

Proper drainage is essential for the health of your balcony plants, preventing waterlogged soil and root rot. It also means that your containers are lighter and prevent less stress on your balcony from heavy water-logged soil! Ensure that your planters have drainage holes in the bottom to allow excess water to escape freely. You can also add a layer of gravel or broken pottery shards to the bottom of the planter to improve drainage and prevent soil from becoming waterlogged. Some newer planters have clever reservoirs you can fill to ensure the plants always have access to the right amount of water.

Avoid watering too frequently as this too can cause issues with plant health and cause nutrients to simply wash out of the compost. A good trick is to put your finger in the soil. If it comes out with a few grains of damp compost on your hand, it's fine. If bone dry and your finger comes out clean it probably could do with a water. It is always better to water twice a week thoroughly than a little sprinkle each day. It is also far less maintenance!

4. Maximise Vertical Space

Make the most of limited balcony space by incorporating vertical gardening techniques into your planters. Install wall-mounted planters, hanging baskets, or trellises to grow plants vertically, freeing up valuable floor space for seating or other activities. Vining plants like jasmine, climbing nasturtiums or even smaller climbing roses are excellent choices for vertical gardening and can add vertical interest to your balcony.

Obelisks in containers can also bring much-needed height for plants to scramble up, which means you can plant in layers to give the illusion of more space and interest.

If space allows, consider planting a multistem shrub in one large container. This will help create a focal point and provide privacy from neighbouring apartments. Well-behaved multistem shrubs like Hamamelis (Witch-hazels) or Viburnums can bring year-round interest and are relatively slow-growing.

5. Regular Maintenance and Care

To keep your balcony planters looking their best, establish a regular maintenance routine that includes watering, fertilising, pruning, and pest control as needed. Remember to feed your plants with a balanced organic liquid fertiliser once a month during the growing season to promote healthy growth and blooming. You don't need to overfeed or overly pamper most plants. In fact overfeeding can result in lacklustre plants and make you a very frustrated gardener in the process!

The brilliant thing about pest control in balcony gardens is that it's usually far easier than a ground-level garden. Why? Because everything you need is brought into the space, so quality compost and healthy plants mean fewer pests. There's also less of a chance of pests like slugs or aphids from travelling in from other gardens. As you're working with containers, you can quickly spot any unwelcome invaders and remove them organically in record time rather than in a larger urban garden where pests can be a real problem!

6. Group Plants Strategically

Arrange your balcony planters in groups according to their light and water requirements. Grouping plants with similar needs together makes it easier to provide the right care and ensures that each plant receives the optimal amount of sunlight and water. 

For example, place sun-loving plants like tomatoes and peppers in one area that receives full sun, while shade-tolerant plants like ferns and Hostas can thrive in a shadier spot. By grouping plants strategically based on their needs, you can mimic their natural habitat, and your plants will be far happier!

There is nothing sadder than a tomato struggling in the shade or a frazzled fern turning yellow due to too much sun. So when picking plants and working out where they should go, always follow their preferences!

7. Refresh with seasonality

Refresh your balcony planters with seasonal plants and annual flowers to keep your space looking fresh and vibrant throughout the year. Swap out cool-season annuals like pansies and violas when they go over for heat-tolerant varieties such as petunias or even brash marigolds in the summer. 

Ensure that your planters have a mix of herbaceous perennials and suitable shrubs to give structure and allow for repeat flowering each year. It's far better for the environment than simply buying plants every three months or so. This also helps your balcony garden transition to autumn and winter while keeping interest. 

Also, consider rotating your planters periodically to ensure even sunlight exposure and prevent plants from becoming lopsided or leggy. By rotating and refreshing your plantings seasonally, you can enjoy a constantly changing display of colour and texture in your balcony garden, working with rather than against the space Ninjas!


With these seven top tips for balcony planters, you can create a beautiful and thriving garden oasis right outside your apartment or flat. By selecting the right plants, using quality potting compost, providing adequate drainage, maximising vertical space, and maintaining regular care, you'll be well on your way to enjoying a lush balcony garden. By working with Mother Nature and her plant's requirements, you can enhance your outdoor living experience. So roll up your sleeves, grab your gardening gloves, and start planting—you'll be amazed at the beauty and tranquillity you can create in even the smallest of spaces! Until next time Ninjas!

Happy gardening,

Lee Burkhill

About Lee

Lee Burkhill aka The Garden Ninja

Lee Burkhill aka the Garden Ninja is a multi-award-winning garden designer, horticulturist, garden blogger, vlogger, TV Presenter and YouTuber. Hailing from the North West of England, Lee has an infectious enthusiasm for helping gardeners all over the world. The Garden Ninja is his garden design business and online gardening blog, and he was recently voted one of the Top 10 Gardening Bloggers and Garden Vloggers in the UK. Lee is also part of the BBC Garden Rescue Team, which you can watch on weekdays at 3.45 pm on BBC One or on BBC iPlayer. Here at Lazy Susan, we’re looking forward to sharing his exclusive horticultural tips, tricks and advice on our blog.

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