Will you suggest a few herbs or flowers I can grow on a small apartment balcony that gets no direct sunlight? It is a bright patio that needs some plant life.
Joe Passarelli, Sacramento
How much indirect sunlight does your patio receive? According to UC Master Gardener and herb expert Greg Ratliff, there are so many herbs and flowers to choose from but most need full sun.
"Taylor's Pocket Guide to Herbs and Edible Flowers" indicates the amount of sunlight that each plant needs. That amount varies from plant to plant. Many need full sun, but there are a number that grow well in partial shade or light shade, receiving four to six hours of sunlight or dappled shade all day.
Refer to the individual plant descriptions for light requirements before deciding which herbs to grow. In the Sacramento Valley where summers are very hot, some sun-loving herbs will benefit from partial shade. Others that grow vigorously in full sun are less aggressive in partial shade.
Some herbs that will tolerate partial shade include mint, garlic chives, lemon balm and sweet woodruff. They tend to get leggy in low sun. Pinch them back or trim regularly to encourage bushier growth.
As for flowers, among the most reliable shade lovers are impatiens, begonias, coleus, oxalis, fuchsia, lobelia and viola.
You not only have a lack of full sun on your balcony, but you must grow your plants in containers. That's a second limiting factor.
Almost any low-growing herb can be grown in a container, says Ratliff. Some good choices for containers are basil, oregano, tarragon, lavender, mint, chives, cilantro, savory and parsley. Creeping rosemary and lemon thyme are especially good plants for hanging baskets (and both will tolerate light shade a plus for your balcony).
Many flowers grow well in pots, too. Among them are marigolds, begonias, impatiens, coleus, lobelia, cosmos, feverfew, snapdragons, pansies, violas, calendula and dianthus.
Consider mixing herbs with flowers for interesting combinations in the same container. Choose containers that are in proportion to the size of the mature plant. Make sure the pot has drainage holes.
For your situation, garden soil is too heavy and may not drain well in containers. Use a soil-less plant mix of peat moss with perlite, vermiculite or coarse sand.
Remember: Plants in containers need more frequent watering than the same plants grown in the ground.
Questions are answered by master gardeners at the UC Cooperative Extension services in Sacramento and Placer counties.
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