bicycle in front of home with pots of flowers

Envious of the huge cutting garden across the street from your apartment? Contain yourself!

You didn’t think we’d leave apartment and condo dwellers out in the cutting garden cold, did you? Of course we wouldn’t! So you live in a place where you can’t plant in the earth? No problem! Container gardening is great fun, and you can grow a modest cutting garden right on your balcony or patio!

Location, location, location

The very best location for a container cutting garden is on the south side of your home, as most plants that make the best cutting gardens need 6 to 7 hours of sun. But what if your outdoor space is not on the south side? What if your balcony or patio faces north? You’ll have to be choosy about the flowers you grow, that’s all. So let’s break ti down.

For those of you with a south-facing balcony or patio, you can choose from flowers like: dahlias, geraniums, marigolds, moss rose, petunias, ranunculus , salvia, sunflowers, sweet peas, and zinnias.

For those of you with a north-facing balcony or patio, go for: begonia, cora bells, deadnettle, double impatiens, English ivy, fuchsia, hosta, and viola. And be sure to have small vases on hand. Flowers that grow in the shade don’t have incredibly long stems.

And if you have an east- or west-facing balcony or patio, you can take your pick between the two lists, depending on the hours of shade or sun you get. And because peonies need need about two hours less time in the sun than the full sun flowers, they are a wonderful choice for this location.

Deep and wide and available everywhere!

The containers for the types flowers you will want to grow for a balcony or patio cutting garden need to be as big as you can manage/afford. Perennials and plants grown from bulbs have larger root systems than annuals. So look for containers no smaller than a foot deep and a foot wide–bigger if possible. They can be of just about any material you want, provided they have good drainage. And if you decide to re-purpose a container from your house, get out your drill. Peruse your local thrift stores for buckets and baskets (you can line them with plastic or cheesecloth). Find an old bathtub if your space is sturdy enough to hold it. The ideas are endless–and let’s face it–so much more interesting than just planting them in the ground.

Consider the material your containers are made of, too. Clay and terra cotta pots will dry out more quickly and are heavier than other containers. If they are glazed, they may not dry out as fast. Plastic is light and holds moisture better, but be kind to the planet and look for containers made of recycled or biodegradable material. Manufacturers have begun using bamboo and rice hulls in recent years to make some really interesting plant containers. They come in all sorts of shapes and size and after using them for 2 or 3 years, totally biodegradable. Interested in more about environmentally friendly containers? Check out this roundup.

Planting–seeds, bulbs, or seedlings–ask for help!

How you start your container cutting garden is up to you. If you start in the early spring, you can grow your own seedlings from seed packets and get a jump on your bulbs indoors. If that is too much hassle, wait until late April, and then take a trip to your local greenhouse. Bring your list of plants with you and talk to one of the employees about what you want to do. They will have plenty to share about what works well in containers in your climate. What might work in Maine will probably not work in New Mexico. Look for plants with long stems and be sure to pick up some stakes to keep their stems straight–especially if you plan to grow dahlias or sunflowers.

Watering and feeding–ah…the power, the control

Here are the really great things about growing your cutting garden in containers instead of a yard–no weeds! And since you will be growing your flowers in individual containers, you are better able to provide each plant with exactly how much water and fertilizer it needs.. So take a look at the care instructions that came with your seeds, seedlings, or bulbs and water accordingly. As a general rule, however, err on the side of under-watering rather than over-watering. No plant likes to have soggy roots, and it is more of a problem in containers. On the bright side, it is easy to fix, too, as there is less soil in the containers to dry out. And if the rain starts to be a problem, you can simply move the containers under an overhang and not have to watch rain and hail destroy your plants. (which is heartbreaking to watch).

flowers in a pot with a birdhouse

For feeding your container plants, again, less is more here. You can use slow-release or liquid fertilizer. Slow-release fertilizer is easy to use, you just sprinkle the prescribed amount of little beads on top of the soil and forget about it. The problem is, you won’t know when those little beads are exhausted and need to be replaced. It’s a guessing game. If you use liquid fertilizer, you simply dilute it and add it to the water you are already giving your plants. Each plant is different; however, usually plants need a monthly feeding in the spring and fall and bi-weekly feedings in the summertime when they are growing the most.

Easy, simple, beautiful!

Growing a cutting garden in containers is so, so doable! And in some cases it is easier than growing a big lot of flowers in a yard. No weeding, more control over watering and protection from the elements, and you are closer to the place where you will put the cuttings. And if you need some inspiration for creating simple beautiful arrangements–watch this gorgeous Ikebana video. You may or may not speak Japanese, but we all speak the language of flowers. Now get your garden started and share your photos with your friends and family!