The 2020s were… a lot of. COVID-19 is still out there, groceries have become way too expensive and we are all looking for ways to become more self-sufficient during these wild times. Why not create a balcony garden? It’s relaxing and offers healthy and inexpensive dining options all summer long!
Of course, planting is more complicated than just watering a seed – especially when growing plants on a possibly shady balcony. Montreal also has changeable weather throughout the summer that some plants cannot handle. Here are some of the best plants to grow on a Montreal balcony, according to Barbara Larder, a graduate student in Agricultural and Environmental Sciences from McGill University.
What you need to get started
To start your garden you need three things: containers for your plants, soil and seeds, or starter plants from a nursery.
The plants listed in this article are all pretty sturdy, so any container will do—even those old margarine containers! For best results, there should be at least one hole in the bottom of the container to allow drainage.
As for the soil, dirt from your garden is unlikely to cover it. Larder suggests going to a garden center and buying a good old 20 liter bag of garden soil or black soil. Both options contain the nutrients needed for your plants to grow healthily!
All of the plants listed here should be watered every other day, or daily during a heat wave. When rain hits your balcony, you can consider your plants watered for the day.
With all that out of the way, here are a few plants that will thrive on a Montreal balcony.
Bush beans are smaller, shorter plants than bush beans. This means they will stand up on their own and take up less space on a balcony, while producing delicious beans that you can eat with the pod.
According to Larder, this is the perfect time of the season to plant beans, and they grow quickly from seed. Bush beans take about six weeks to start producing beans, but after that they continue to produce until fall. This is a plant that can handle partial shade.
Kale is not only a delicious food, but also a particularly robust plant. It prefers direct sunlight but can do with partial shade, Larder says. Unlike some other plants, it can be grown from seed outdoors, meaning you don’t have to start the seedling indoors before transplanting. Kale is also frost hardy, meaning it will survive a drop in temperature.
Kale produces edible leaves throughout the summer well into the fall. Pick leaves from the outside of the plant and you should have the base for a fresh salad for months to come!
While cherry tomatoes require a little more maintenance than some of the other greens on this list, they’re a very satisfying crop. You can expect a flowering plant to grow to about a meter tall and produce ripe tomatoes all season long.
Cherry tomatoes take eight to 12 weeks indoors before planting outdoors, so it’s best to simply buy a small plant from a garden center in late spring, advises Larder. You’ll need an average to large pot for the seedling, one big enough to hold a basketball. You may also need a stick to hold the plant upright as it grows.
Cherry tomatoes need direct sunlight, so if you have a sunny corner on your balcony, reserve that for the cherry tomatoes. It is not a frost hardy plant, but grows even faster than usual during heat waves.
Lettuce sounds a bit boring at first until you consider its many varieties: boston, romaine, leafy greens, etc. It also goes really well with kale in a salad or sandwich. Lettuce is a great beginner plant as it grows easily and produces edible leaves all season long. You can even plant the heart of an already eaten lettuce plant and it will keep growing!
Larder says that much like kale, lettuce prefers sun but tolerates partial shade and is frost hardy. The ideal time to plant lettuce is before the last frost in spring, but it can still be grown from seed outdoors in late spring.
Spinach is another plant that Larder says likes sun but can handle the partial shade of an apartment balcony. Spinach is a cold crop, meaning it tolerates cold better than heat, so it’s best to plant spinach as early in the season as possible.
Spinach can handle temperature drops, but it thrives in the heat. This means you can harvest seeds for next year’s crops during the first heat wave of the season. More and more important news is that spinach will continue to produce edible leaves after bolting, but the leaves will have a more bitter taste.
Basil is a great plant to grow alongside cherry tomatoes. Not only do they taste great together, but according to Larder, they can also be grown in the same pot!
Basil can be grown from seed, ideally in mid to late spring. Basil is not frost hardy and won’t grow on colder days, but it will thrive during a heat wave. Basil prefers sun (perhaps the sunny corner reserved for the cherry tomatoes), but trudges along in partial shade.
Basil is great raw or cooked and can be made into tea. As long as you pick no more than a quarter of the plant’s leaves at a time, it will be delicious well into the fall.
Who doesn’t love mint? This is a great plant for tea lovers. Five to seven leaves in a cup of boiling water make a fresh-tasting concoction. Mint is also fairly low maintenance and leaves quickly, making it perfect for newcomers to urban gardening.
It is best to purchase a seedling from a garden center. Once planted, you can expect to start harvesting within a week. You can plant mint any time of the year and in any condition, Larder says. As long as you leave at least three quarters of the leaves on the plant at any given time, it will produce leaves all season long.