Toronto Experts: 11 Tips on Condo Gardening

Toronto Life

Toronto’s real estate market continues to soar sky high, and so are many of the city’s residents who are opting to live life with a view. Toronto’s skyline is trending as the "must buy" destination within the city. In 2011 the National Household Survey revealed 1,615,485 Canadian households lived in condominiums as renters or owners. This number represents one in eight households, and is more concentrated in metropolitan areas including Toronto. Today, trends suggest that the number of Torontonians living in condos is on the "high" rise.

A report from Canada’s real estate website REALTOR® confirmed a total of 8,965 condominium sales from the beginning of April 2016 through the end of June 2016 alone. These numbers represent a 17.4 per cent increase in Q2 condo sales compared with last year.  

Condo living has become synonymous with a convenient life of walkability, including easy access to urban centres and extensive amenities. While the image of the typical condo dweller doesn’t traditionally coincide with that of a gardener, thanks to social media, particularly sites like Pinterest and Instagram, condo residents and their green thumbs are no longer restricted to traditional backyard boundaries. There are many new and exciting ways for those living in condos to enjoy a healthy hobby as the evolution of condo gardening continues to reach exciting new heights.

 

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1. Embrace the personal and public benefits of elevated gardening

The simple fact is that a person doesn’t need a house to enjoy gardening. There is so much unused outdoor space on balconies all over the city.  Balcony gardens are an excellent way to provide private and public benefits within a city. They develop metro areas by improving air quality, increasing "home-grown" food, provide an outdoor face-lift, and increase the general mental and physical health of the city residents who enjoy them.

Balcony gardening can even contribute to cooling the city in the hot summer months, reducing the Urban Heat Island effect, as the greenery absorbs light that would normally be converted into heat energy.

2. Just like real estate, location is more important than size

Bigger isn’t always better, and a garden doesn’t need to be vast in size to be effective. Before you get planting connect with your neighbours, particularly those in a similar space and building positioning, who have successful balcony crops. They can help you determine watering schedules and provide sage advice on when to move particular planters inside for the winter. Reaching out to your fellow neighbours is a simple way to figure out which crops will be most successful in your space, and create a connection at the same time. Gardening is meant to embody a spirit of community, so why should balcony gardening be any different?

It’s up to you to determine whether or not your preference is to focus on one particular crop, or dedicate your time to a combination of lush greenery, fragrant flowers, hardy herbs, or delicious vegetables.

Sarah Battersby, Toronto Gardens blogger and gardening coach, urges gardeners to keep the position of their balcony as a primary factor in selecting plants, 

South gets the most sun, then west. East gets only the morning sun, and north facing is the hardest if you want to grow vegetables, but flowers and herbs are fine.

3. Beautiful gardens don’t need big budgets

Budgeting can vary depending on the garden. You don’t necessarily need to dig deep into your pockets to get your hands dirty. A simple tomato plant in a large pot could cost around $25, while those who really want to invest in their gardening budget spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars by hiring professionals to design their balcony garden. Sarah Battersby recommends starting small as you can always increase your investment if you find you enjoy gardening. Hanging baskets such as ferns or miniature herb gardens can start anywhere from $20-$30 each, depending on where you purchase them, the size of the plant, and the variety.

Pricing for garden accessories can vary between inexpensive but practical bamboo poles as supports to more costly, intricately adorned decorative metal trellises. Sarah Battersby adds that the investment of a trellis can also double as a space to put up lights in the colder winter months.

4. Water is a gardener’s best friend

Supplies needed will be dependent on the types of plants you are looking to grow, but there are some key basics that will help get you started. You can begin with one large planter and continue to build your garden from there. Sarah Battersby suggests purchasing, "a big watering can or investing in an apartment sized hose that you can attach to a sink with a plumbing fixture" to keep your planters well hydrated.

5. Go green with ferns

For those looking for some greenery, ferns are a versatile and low maintenance option as they don’t require a lot of direct sunlight, thrive in shallow containers (can be planted in either hanging baskets or smaller standing planters), and won’t require daily watering.

6. Adaptable flowers will thrive in the sky

Add a pop of colour courtesy of flowers including begonias, impatiens, geraniums, or small succulent perennials like hens and chicks. These are all adaptable flowers that will continue to do well inside and outside. This is particularly important in Toronto’s climate and you can easily move these plants inside when the temperature drops.

 

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7. Packaging is important for growing food

Sarah Battersby says one of the biggest trends in balcony gardening is growing food. 

Most vegetables do well in containers, as long as the container is big enough. Tomatoes and other fruiting vegetables need five hours of sun minimum. Get the biggest container you can find. Herbs like parsley, mint, rosemary, and basil can be grown on balconies that don't have full sun.

Cultivating herbs can be a great introduction to gardening as many garden centres sell pre-planted containers including hardy fan favourites of basil, dill, parsley, rosemary, and sage. 

For beginner gardeners who want to grow herbs it’s generally recommended that you start growing from seedlings rather than seeds so you can see the fruits of your labours sooner. Water your herbs daily, prune them regularly (from the top of the plant), and treat with some compost or Miracle Grow to keep the soil healthy.

While Toronto balcony gardeners will continue to need to hit their local fruit market on a regular basis to get their fill of fruits and vegetables, they will certainly be able to supplement their salads thanks to a couple of different crops that are smart fits for the space constrictions of balcony gardening . Tomato plants will grow well in a single large container. Zucchini and cucumber plants can be grown vertically on a trellis for those who want to add more breadth to their bounty. Other vegetables that are well suited to container gardening include beans, beets, bell peppers, cabbage, and lettuce.

8. Plant placement and container size can make or break your garden

Selecting the correct container for your space can be the difference between a successful outdoor oasis and one that just won’t thrive. According to Battersby,

Vertical arrangements of containers can work, as long as the containers are big enough, and secured well, and save space. But window boxes can be problematic as they aren't often big enough, they dry out faster and need lots more attention to watering. Window boxes are more susceptible to drying out from winds, as are many balcony gardens, but being right on the balcony edge is windier than being closer to the inner wall.

By planning your containers and their appropriate positioning accordingly you will be able to ensure a greater success for your crops. Battersby also recommends purchasing plastic, fibreglass, or resin containers for your balcony gardening needs since they won’t crack in the winter and will be lighter than clay or concrete containers. Another suggestion would be to look for larger square containers as they will be able to hold the most soil, won’t dry out as quickly, and will allow optimal room for root development of your plants.

9. Put on a Styrofoam "winter coat" for extra insulation

For those who want their garden to remain outside all winter long, Sarah Battersby recommends using large square containers that are at least 22 inches deep with a layer of Styrofoam lining in the bottom and on all sides. Plant recommendations that will survive the winter if properly protected include shrubs, succulents like sedums, and chives.

10. Educate yourself on building restrictions and regulations

It is recommended that you read your bylaws and inquire with longstanding owners or your condo board of directors before spending a considerable amount of time and money on a balcony garden. This will help you navigate your choices on what type of garden will meet your needs and your building’s regulatory requirements.

In most condos, when it comes to spaces such as balconies or patios, it is expected that the unit owners who have exclusive use remain responsible for the maintenance. This means that any of your gardening endeavors would remain your own responsibility.

While all buildings have different regulations and rules surrounding what is permitted on the balcony, they are generally administered by a board of directors, using common sense as to what is best for the safety and property value of all owners within the building. Planters that could cause potential damage, including leaking and rusting, or those that are not properly secured to avoid being blown away are not permitted. At times, items on the balcony may need to be temporarily removed, often after a formal request in writing, should the building corporation require access in order to complete maintenance.

11. Regularly research and keep up to date on gardening resources

Beyond social circles and social media, there are a number of other places that can serve as a wealth of green-spiration. Sites like Toronto Balconies Bloom advocate for the many benefits of urban gardening, encouraging people to join the local gardening community.

For those who really want to plant a significant stake in gardening efforts, Sarah Battersby recommends Toronto-based group Box Design and Build to assist with gardening designs. Beginners or seasoned gardeners who have hit a roadblock and want professional help can access Battersby’s one-on-one personal gardening coaching services, Gardenfix.

Now it’s time to roll up those sleeves, put on those gardening gloves, and dig in!

ML00ML

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