Vertical Gardening Ideas for Your Balcony

balcony with climbing plants and purple petunias

Boring balconies, begone! Vertical gardens green-up small balcony spaces to give you a verdant haven right outside your sliding doors. The proper use of containers and vertical supports means you can enjoy flowers and food just steps away from your kitchen. If you’re interested in bringing more life, color, and texture to your small apartment space, vertical gardening may be the solution.

What is a vertical garden?

green plant growing vertically on metal bars
Newtown grafitti | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

At the most basic level, a vertical garden is any garden that grows plants vertically instead of horizontally along a row (and usually in-ground). This can manifest in many different ways, but for our purposes, we’ll focus on growing plants in containers and training them upward to fit and thrive on an apartment balcony. We’ll also throw in a few hanging basket ideas for extra vertical inspiration.

How to start a vertical balcony garden

Before you think about gardening vertically, think about how to garden on a balcony. Here are a few things to consider:


Your apartment’s rules and regs are just as important as your balcony’s climate. Some apartments may put a weight limit on the balcony, while others will have rules that are set in place for aesthetic reasons. Check with your landlord before you make plans for a balcony oasis.


How much sun and shade does your balcony get each day? If you have a south or west-facing balcony, you probably have enough sun to grow most full-sun plants. Full-sun plants require a minimum of six hours of sunlight per day (some require more), so keep that in mind. If your balcony doesn’t receive enough sun, stick with partial or full-shade plants.


Does your balcony get hit by gusts of wind? If so, install some kind of windbreak, such as a windscreen or trellis, to protect your plants from damaging winds.


Do you have access to a faucet outdoors, or will you need to haul water from a sink? Or, will rainfall be sufficient? Watering one or two plants doesn’t take much time, but remember that container plants need more water than in-ground plants, and watering time will increase as your plant collection grows. If you don’t have a lot of time to water (or think you may forget), consider how you can make this feasible before you buy your first plant. 

For more details on what to consider before you start your balcony garden, check out our article “How to Create a Balcony Garden.”

Vertical balcony garden ideas

staircase handrail being used as a trellis for climbing plants, with potted plants all around the steps
Michael John Button | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

So, now that you’ve determined you can garden on your balcony, here are some tips on how to create a vertical setup to make the most of limited space.

Plant stands or vertical planters

Plant stands are a common way to use vertical space to grow plants. There are a million variations, and you can DIY or buy one ready-made to fit your space. Most plant stands are constructed with tiered shelves so you can display your pots in a beautiful and space-saving way. Some even have a hanging bar to suspend hanging baskets.

You may want to set up your plant stand before you buy plants to see when the sun hits it each day. Depending on the direction your balcony faces, certain plants may get more sunlight than others. For example, if you have a west-facing balcony, lower plants may not get as much sunlight since the sun will usually hit the higher shelves first. Put partial shade plants on the lower shelves and make sure all of your full-sun plants sit higher up.

Vertical planters are just as varied as plant stands and perfect for a DIY vertical garden. You can make these yourself from hanging gutters, hanging plastic bottles, old pallets (untreated only), and the like. Unique recycled materials — from shoe organizers to old bathtubs — can become vertical vegetable gardens, herb gardens, and planting containers. 

Trellises, cages, and supports

If your plants love to flop to one side, or if strong winds are a concern, use a trellis, cage, or other support to keep your container plants firmly in place. 

Make sure the trellis is strong enough to bear the mature weight of the plant or vine. You may need to anchor the trellis, tomato cage (which can be used for other plants, too), or bamboo poles to the railing to make sure they aren’t blown over by the wind.

Also, think about what shape is ideal for your plant. A tepee shape may be the perfect aesthetic choice for some plants but for others, a trellis attached to the wall (if your building allows that) may give greater height and stability. Use a pot that is wide, deep, and sturdy enough to hold an appropriate-sized support for the plant you want to grow.

Hanging baskets

Those fabled hanging gardens of Babylon — setting aside whether or not the gardens hung from a support structure, the idea is enchanting. Whether you hang coco coir baskets from your railing or hook pretty wooden pots to your wood beam ceiling, hanging plants can turn a plain balcony into your own miniature, verdant Babylon.

One thing to consider is drainage. You don’t want to give dog-walkers or your downstairs neighbors a cold shower every time you water your summer annuals. You may need to hang the planters from the inside of the railing if this is a problem. 

Vertical hydroponics

hydroponic plants in pvc pipe
Oregon State University | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Hydroponics (growing plants or food sans soil) is the next big thing in vertical gardening. It requires less water than a traditional garden and promotes faster growth and higher fruit and veggie yields (so bring on the homegrown tomatoes!). If you want to try a tower or other type of vertical hydroponic system, it’s not too difficult, and most DIYers can handle the setup themselves. Many DIY versions are constructed out of PVC, which is available from your local home improvement store. There is an initial investment cost to consider.

Look online for plans and tutorials (like this excellent step-by-step guide from the University of Florida’s extension program), and know that this system can be used on a balcony as well as indoors. You can even add fish to the system, at which point it becomes “aquaponics.”

Start a worm bin

What does a worm bin have to do with vertical balcony gardening? It cuts way down on hassle, that’s what. After you haul several bags of potting mix up to your 13th-floor apartment, you’ll wonder why you thought balcony gardening was such a good idea. Worm bins are the solution. 

Worm compost will recycle your kitchen scraps and turn them into a rich soil amendment that you can add to your pots each season to refresh your soil and give it a major nutrient boost. There are plenty of space-saving bin systems to buy or make your own on-the-cheap. Check out our full-length article, “What is Vermicomposting” for more detailed information.

Best plants to grow in a vertical balcony garden

vertical gardening on a balcony
m-louis .® | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

There is a rich variety of plants you can grow in a vertical balcony garden. So, how do you choose what to grow?

  • What season is it?

Timing is everything in nature. Look up your state-specific growing schedule so you’ll know when to plant what.

  • What do you want to grow (or eat)?

On a balcony, you don’t have extra space, so start with plants that you love to grow or eat to get the most out of your small space.

Here is a short list of common plants you can grow in a vertical balcony garden. 

Caveat: Keep in mind that many of these plants need full sun (six hours or more) to thrive. See FAQ #3 for a list of plants that grow well in full shade if your balcony gets less than two hours of sunlight per day.

  • Beans
  • Cucumbers
  • Eggplant
  • Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes
  • Herbs (most any kind: basil, lavender, mint, rosemary, parsley, thyme, and others)
  • Strawberries
  • Annual or perennial flowers
  • Succulents

When you choose plants to grow in a small space, it’s even more important to choose the right plant. This means rolling up your sleeves and reading those plant descriptions online or from your favorite paper seed catalogue. 

Tomato varieties, for example, are seemingly endless. Which one do you choose? Know that there are two main types: determinate and indeterminate. Determinate or bush tomatoes are better for small spaces because they self-prune at the top; indeterminate tomatoes are vining and will continue to grow until the first frost, so they’re more likely to take over your precious space. 

If you want something even smaller, look for a dwarf variety. And yes, there are ultra tiny tomato varieties that grow less than a foot tall, such as the Micro-Tom, if you’re interested in tabletop gardening.

Know that you’ll need to research your plant varieties before you buy to account for size, staking, container suitability, etc. 

Most plants will need at least an 8-inch pot for the best results, although some will appreciate more room to root if you can find a 12-inch or larger pot. Check out this handy potting chart (pg. 2) from Cornell’s cooperative extension service for details on what size pot you’ll need for different foods and flowers.

As you’re planning which plants you’ll grow, remember the pollinators, especially if you grow food crops. Plant a few pots with a pollinator seed mix around the balcony to encourage these essential flyers to stop and stay awhile.

Final tip: Don’t forget to fertilize. Although worm castings and compost add some nutrients to the soil, additional nutrients may be necessary. If your plants aren’t producing well, add liquid fertilizer to boost your plant’s productivity. (Read package directions for details on how often and how much to apply.)

FAQ about vertical gardening ideas for your balcony

1. Is Pinterest the best place for balcony and vertical gardening ideas?

Pinterest and other internet idea pages are a great place for inspiration. Remember this as you’re searching: Ideas should be functional as well as beautiful

Take this example: pot selection. Pinterest is full of terra cotta pot ideas. These earthen-colored pots are beautiful, have a good weight, and are more aesthetically pleasing than plastic. But remember that terra cotta pots are porous and lose water more quickly than pots like plastic or wood, which is an important consideration for your plant.

Porous pots like terra cotta are best for low-water plants like succulents that like to dry out completely between waterings. Of course, you could double pot — put the plant in a plastic pot and then put the plastic pot inside the terra cotta pot — to achieve the same look. 

Pinterest is a great idea board, but use your own gardening knowledge to ensure that the planting ideas you use are functional for the plant as well as beautiful.

2. Are vertical balcony gardens expensive?

They don’t have to be. You can start a vertical balcony garden with a few hooks and hanging planters or a few potted plants attached to a pallet or set on a plant rack. Start simply, and then if you want to get more involved with a hydroponic system or living wall, you’ll know which plants work well in your balcony’s microclimate.

3. Can I grow a vertical garden on a recessed or inset balcony?

It depends. Each balcony is unique. First, consider the technical questions you need to address: 

What climate do you live in? 
How much sun or wind does your recessed balcony get during the day (if any)? 
Does your management have regulations on what you can build on your apartment balcony? 

(If you haven’t already, check out our article “How to Create a Balcony Garden” for these and other technical questions to consider before you start.)

At the very least, you can probably get away with some shade-loving plants in railing baskets (if you’re allowed to attach things to the balcony railing) or planted in containers and placed on a pot stand. (You may need to secure the stand to a wall if the wind is an issue.)

So, can you grow a vertical garden on an inset balcony? Well, technically a hanging basket and containers set on a plant stand (or even a tiered shelf) are a way to garden vertically, so yes. 

If you are allowed to and want to take on a DIY project, you may consider adding a plant wall on your inset balcony. (If you want to keep plants alive all year, the best plants for your outdoor wall will depend on your particular climate and USDA hardiness zone. Here is a simple tip for any climate: Plant shade-loving annuals and remove them at the end of each season.)

However you decide to grow your vertical garden, here are a few full-shade plants to consider (assuming the inset balcony doesn’t get any direct sun): 

  • Clivia
  • Dicentra
  • Fern
  • New Guinea Impatiens
  • Philodendron
  • Spider plant

Most of these are not vertical in the sense that they will not climb or trail, but they will work without direct sunlight and can be placed in pots. However, depending on your climate, you may need to bring them inside as houseplants for the winter.

If your yard is too big and you’ve spent all your time beautifying your formerly boring balcony, we’ve got the lawn care solution you need. Contact our local lawn care pros for a two-minute quote to give your lawn the professional mow and edge it deserves. 

Main Photo Credit: Michael John Button | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Sarah Bahr

Sarah is a writer who has previously worked in the lawn care industry. In her spare time, she likes to garden, raise chickens, and mow the grass with her battery-powered lawn mower.