Balcony gardening, what you’re doing wrong

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A well-decorated back balcony of Caroline Dimba -Abwoga. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU | NMG

Have you been dreaming of having your own flower garden but you don’t have a backyard to make it happen? Well, you might be surprised how many plants you can grow on a balcony!

You don’t need much space at all, especially for those living in apartments, there couldn’t be a better time than now to create a lush, leafy escape right outside your door.

Balcony gardens are a perfect way to add joy and life to your space, especially if you are an anthophile.

A colourful balcony decorated with fresh flowers and plants is turning into a common sight.

There are millions of plants to choose from and many ways to combine them, an art that can be a hard nut for inexperienced gardeners to crack.

For Teresia Kinuthia, the lack of space at her house was never an obstacle. She had spotted a spot, and now she can never trade her balcony for anything.

The feeling she gets at the sight of flowers is therapeutic.

After working at a flower garden, Ms Kinuthia decided to take the challenge. Four years into the art, she regrets not starting earlier.

Her balcony is home to a variety of flowers and plants including golden palms, rubber plants and money plants.

Ms Kinuthia, however, acknowledges that flowers can be so delicate at times calling for more care.

She notes some of her flowers dried up while others were not growing.

“It has never been all rosy taking care of the plants. When I started planting, some of my plants and flowers could wither away and some were even destroyed by pests,” she says.

It can sometimes seem that houseplants just love to die, especially if you’re relatively new to indoor gardening.

Perhaps worse yet, in many cases, gardeners are mystified by exactly why their beloved plant died.

Plants don’t just die without a reason. Houseplants are fairly predictable, depending on their species.

Beth Mumbi, a plant and flowers specialist, says for plant gardening, the best way to begin is to start small your first year, and not worry about making mistakes.

As time goes on, you can adjust your garden, digging up what didn’t work and embracing what did well.

By the time you find a garden style and plants that make you happy, the discovery can be a pleasure.

The horticulturist advises first things first when starting your garden.

Soil analysis is key as it helps identify any deficiency in the soil by checking the micronutrients and macronutrients as well as any disease present in the soil.

Creating good soil should be your primary focus. After all, it will serve as the foundation of growth for everything you add to your garden.

Additionally, lab analysis results come with a report of problems if any, and how to fix the soil that is for the missing macronutrients and micronutrients.

Any good planting soil or media needs to have very good aeration that helps the roots uptake nutrients.

Most of the nutrients are absorbed through the roots. Ms Mumbi says good soil preparation should consist of a 1:1:1: ratio soil, manure, and compost ratio.

“Start with a soil test in the area you have chosen for your garden, depending on those results (like whether the soil is acidic or alkaline) you will have a better idea about what you need to add to your soil mixture to make it the best blend possible,” she says.

Pest control is also important for any garden since flowers risk attacks by aphids, white flies, thrips, and caterpillars.

“One has to constantly scout the garden for any signs of pests. The sooner the better otherwise if left for too long the plants get stressed since the pest attack the newly grown leaves since they are tender,” says Ms Mumbi.

Out of an urge to have fresh organic veggies at her disposal, Mary’s balcony is now bursting with colour and life.

After barely two years in gardening, her therapy centre, as she describes it, is now a habitat for varieties of flowers and plants including apple trees, strawberries, collard greens, and even the edibles like spinach.

She however suffered the effects of pests feasting on her flowers, as well as other simple mistakes such as poor choice of soil type and poor watering.

Choosing the right location is another key to a successful flower garden. Most flowers thrive in full to partial sun, so it is important to choose a spot that boasts ample light to help boost your blooms.

Some of the simple mistakes that people make that destroy their flowers and plants Mumbi says include:

Too much water: There are very few plants that can handle daily watering in a typical potting situation.

The old advice about waiting until the top inch of soil is dry is a pretty good rule of thumb. You can also look for signs of thirst in your plant, including drooping or wilting leaves.

You shouldn’t water your plants until they need it.

Not enough water: This is mostly caused by neglect, so it’s a safe bet that people who let their plants die from lack of water really just don’t care.

Not repotting: It is all too common that a plant owner will have a plant for a year or two, during which time the plant thrives and looks great, only to be startled and confused when the plant starts to fail for no reason.

In many cases, this is caused by a root-bound plant that is no longer receiving adequate nutrition from the soil (because there’s hardly any left).

Not all plants need to be repotted every year, but you should frequently check for root-bound plants.

Poor drainage: There is no question that bad drainage kills a lot of plants. Poorly drained pots, which can include root-bound plants or simply old potting soil, can easily retain water in the bottom of the pot, even if it’s drier higher up.

The result is roots that sit in water, creating the perfect conditions for root rot.

Similarly, many people water their plants until the water runs out into the tray, but then they don’t empty the tray so the plant is literally sitting in a pond.

This is also an invitation for root rot.

Fertiliser issue: If you are getting the watering and drainage portion right, many plants can be very adaptable.

A plant with a healthy root zone can often survive fluctuations in temperature, imperfect lighting conditions, and even less-than-ideal light levels.

In this way, plants are a bit like houses: they need a strong foundation to thrive.

The demand for flowers continues to rise as people get to embrace a beautiful environment. This has in turn increased the prices which have seen the sellers reap big from their businesses.

Phamenus Mugambi, a flower seller along Ngong’ Road says for the green flowers, the prices range between Sh1500 to Sh2,200 and Sh4,500 including a pot.

In a day he sells to at least five customers. The sales peak on weekends when a lot of people are off from work.

“A lot of my customers come for the florals. It happens the beekeepers also prefer the floral ones since the bees feed on their nectar and pollen. Bees need flowers and flowers need bees,” says Mugambi.

As the festive season clock ticks, the sellers are in for a huge harvest as the demand is expected to skyrocket as flower lovers decorate their houses for the ambience feel.

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