Balcony Garden Tips: Selecting Pots & Plants to Match

24th June 2024

Selecting the right pot and placing it in the right spot may be the first stage of success in container gardening, but selecting the right plants and looking after them is a make-or-break situation.

Plant Choice
The fact is, most plants will adapt well if grown in pots. Even large trees can be trained to suit the confinements of a small pot. After all, every plant we purchase from a nursery starts its life in a pot! We must understand that the plant's requirements for living in a pot often differ from those living in the ground. It's about knowing how a plant will react when living in the confined spaces of a pot. How quickly will it grow, and when may it need to be re-potted? How should it best be pruned & shaped? How much time will I need to put in to keep it happy? Bonsai growing techniques are an extreme example of how large forest giant trees can be manipulated into smaller specimens with the right level of care and maintenance.

Another factor that needs careful consideration when selecting plants is knowing which aspect your pot will be exposed to and ensuring you pick suitable plants to match. You can read more about the aspect plants need in our blog "Chasing the Sun: Choosing plants for the right aspect"

Be sure to ask many questions about your plant choice before purchasing to know precisely how it will behave in a pot and what you might need to maintain its ideal conditions.

Watering Requirements
Watering is the most time-consuming maintenance exercise for keeping plants in pots. It is the make-or-break moment for your plant's survival. It's important to know what moisture level a plant needs to thrive, and match this requirement with your pot, time, and aspect. Pots placed under shelters, like apartment balconies, will need regular supplementary watering. The smaller the pot, the quicker it will lose water, so consider this when choosing your pot.

Moisture-loving plants will need a consistent watering regime and may even require watering twice a day in the heat of summer. If you are concerned that your watering habits may let you down, select plant varieties that can handle dry conditions, such as drought-tolerant plants. Succulents, dry grasses, plants from the Mediterranean, and some NZ natives are all great options.

Consistency is a big factor in watering. If you allow your pot to dry out too much, it will be difficult to rehydrate and may become "hydrophobic." This is when water is repelled off the soil's surface and runs down the side of your pot before it can be absorbed. Once this has happened, you may need to stand your pot in water overnight or put it out in the heavy rain for a few days.

Adding water-saving crystals to your potting mix when planting will help with water retention and minimise hydro-phobic potting mix, but this needs to be reapplied every couple of months.

As a general guide, be prepared to water your medium-sized pots placed undercover with little exposure to rain every 2-3 days. Less often in winter, more in summer. More often for small pots, less for large. If you are lucky enough to have your pots exposed to rainfall, it is possible to select plants that can live off the rain, but at the very least, they should be given a good soak once a month.

If you have access to a tap and can afford a little extra, install a watering system. It will save your plants the risk of dying from lack of moisture and reward you with peace of mind, especially when you go away on holiday.


As pot plants have less access to natural nutrients found in garden soil, they will require feeding more often. The amount and frequency will depend on the type of plants you have selected. Still, as a general guide, I suggest feeding with an organic pelleted fertiliser such as Dynamic Lifter every 8 weeks over the warm months. Organic pellets benefit from adding organic material to the potting mix as they break down, which will keep the potting mix healthy and improve its water retention.

While pelleted fertiliser will release nutrients slowly, liquid fertilisers will quickly fix your plants and aid in their health and growth. I recommend liquid feeding at least once a month for most plants, fortnightly for hungry plants like veggies, citrus, and flowering annuals, and less for succulents and ferns. Make sure you either select a combination liquid feed which has added seaweed or be sure to add one in. Seaweed tonics are great for strengthening the immune systems of pot plants and can also help your plants cope better during hot, dry spells.


While I have seen Buxus plants still surviving in pots after 15 years without being re-potted, your plants will inevitably need to be re-potted, which is far better for their health. Some plants may require this as they outgrow their existing pots or to replenish their potting mix by replacing it. Larger trees and shrubs would benefit greatly from a re-pot every 2 years,

whereas some smaller plants may require re-potting yearly. Plants like grasses can look good in smaller pots for a year or so, but they may outgrow their space and can easily be pulled up, divided, and re-planted.

Again, it comes down to your plant choice and pot size, so be sure to ask plenty of questions before purchasing or hiring a professional to design and install your plants for you.

Planting in the garden should be a fun and stress-free experience. However, you may get something wrong along the way or underestimate the work required to keep a particular plant alive. At the end of the day, it is just a plant, and a suitable alternative is waiting to be discovered. The important thing is to enjoy the experience, learn from any failures, and accept that successful gardening is sometimes a lifelong journey!

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