balcony garden

How to Get Your Patio Garden Started to Create a Private Retreat

Imagine starting every morning with a cup of coffee on your patio garden, surrounded by the sweet fragrance of Frangipani, those tropical flowers made famous by Hawaiian leis. Then picture yourself enjoying a glass of wine amid the perfumed Night-Blooming Jasmine as you watch the sunset. Sound impossible? After all, you don’t have much space for gardening.

What you may not know is that having a patio or balcony means you can grow a wealth of flowers and tropical plants without a lot of garden space. Whether you live in the cold North or the dry Southwest, you can create the optimal growing environment on a covered or partially covered outdoor area.

Why Start a Patio Garden?

With a covered patio, you can protect tender plants from the blistering sun or cultivate the right humidity within a partially enclosed space with misters. Even if you have a spacious backyard, adding a patio garden allows you to enjoy flowers and plants that normally would perish without strictly controlled growing conditions. Those in hot, sunny regions can appreciate shade-loving plants like ferns and hostas. Those in the Midwest can protect fragile potted palms and banana trees from spring’s biting winds. Let’s take a look at how to create a patio garden to help take you away from the cares and stress of everyday modern life.

Planning Your Patio Garden

Before heading for the home improvement store or buying out online seed distributors, there are a few things you need to do before getting started. Good planning is, after all, half the battle.

Understand your growing zone

Hours of sunlight

Know your plants

Choosing your plants

To provide variety and visual interest throughout your growing season, considering the following when selecting plants for your patio garden:

Vary the height

Optimize color

Provide variety

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Creating shade

If your patio isn’t a covered one, awnings and outdoor umbrellas can add shade to your garden. Using them will let you grow shade-loving plants and will also keep your patio much cooler. Another option is to build a pergola over your patio for climbing plants that will block some of the harshest of the sun’s ray.

For covered patios, hang planters with trailing vine plants to provide shade and privacy. Bamboo shades are quite popular in the South for covered patios and porches. Usually quite inexpensive, they’re easy to hang, and you can adjust them throughout the day by rolling up or down to moderate the levels of sunlight.

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Hardscape

Along with seating and a table or two, you may want to add other features to your patio garden. Hardscape includes anything that isn’t plantings, such as seating, lighting, and water features. Just because your patio garden isn’t in a big backyard doesn’t mean you can’t add features like a rock garden or waterfall fountain.

Fountains provide humidity for plants as well as relaxing background noise for you and your guests. A tabletop rock garden contrasts with the soft greenery, and LED light strings add lots of romance with little expense. For seating, planter benches work just as well for your patio garden as they do in larger spaces. And old wood furniture, such as sideboards and cabinets, make charming plant stands and provide storage for tools and supplies.

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Get Planting

Decide if you’re going to start your patio garden flowers with seed or purchase seedlings. You can even purchase full-grown flowering plants, if your budget extends that far. One way to make sure you make the most of your growing season is to use seed starter trays indoors a few weeks before the last frost.

And you may want to find some indoor space to annex your patio and catch overflow when it comes to tools, supplies, and seedlings, if you don’t have outdoor storage. Look to your garage, laundry room, or utility closet.

Choosing containers

Container gardening is perfect for a patio garden. Garden pots come in a wide range of sizes, from the tiniest 2-inch terra cotta pot to massive pots large enough to hold a fruit tree. Here are a few tips for choosing pots and containers:

  • For a designer décor look, choose containers of similar colors and materials of varying sizes.
  • Using a wide variety of unusual planters and containers gives your patio garden an eclectic look.
  • For casual charm, reuse discarded containers of metal or wood to hold plant pots.

Preparing Your Patio Garden for Winter

In colder regions, many plants die back or die off completely. However, there’s no reason to start all over from scratch every spring. Choose the right plants and overwinter them. That way, you’ll be able to create a lush patio garden every year.

If you have tropical flowers or plants, or those typically considered “houseplants,” bring them indoors and find a space for them in your home. They may not grow much in the lower light levels but should do well if not overwatered or fertilized.

Perennial plants in containers need a little help to do well over the winter. Because their roots have less insulation as those buried in the ground, they can be susceptible to hard freezes. For best results, choose plants that are hardy up to two zones above yours. For example, if you garden in zone 6, choose perennials that are hardy up to zone 4.

Preparing your perennials for winter

One option for overwintering perennials is to turn your patio garden into a patio greenhouse. Depending on the size, you can assemble a greenhouse kit along a sheltering wall to keep your plants warmer through the winter. You can even build one yourself out of PVC pipe and plastic sheeting.

If this isn’t an option for you, you can create an insulated temporary space for them. Move the containers out of the wind, preferably with south-facing exposure, and put the pots in a “huddle.” From there, they can "shelter in place." Create that shelter for them by setting up a chicken wire perimeter around them. Insulate around the containers with hay, stray, or even old blankets, covering up to a few inches above the top of the soil. When temperatures dive below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, cover the chicken wire surround with burlap or other cloth. Remember to remove the cover on warmer days, so the plants get the benefit of sunlight.

Remember to water your plants during the winter. Take advantage of any sunny winter days with temperatures above freezing to water your outdoor container plants thoroughly. This helps make the roots more resistant to freeze damage. Gardeners in zones 7 to 11 rarely need to winterize outdoor container plants, although covering them overnight during a freeze will help protect them.

Get Ready to Create your Patio Garden Retreat

There’s no reason to scrimp and save for an island vacation when you can create your own tropical paradise. Get that resort feel with a wicker lounger, a tinkling table fountain, and a privacy screen of potted palms on your patio garden. And don’t forget the tiki lamps to cast a bug-repellent and magical atmosphere.

Instead of lasting a week or two, you'll be able to enjoy it all summer long. Combine exotic flowers and greenery to surround yourself with a private rainforest. Or add herbs and vegetables for al fresco salads to enjoy as you sit back, shaded from the hot sun by hanging tomato vines. Container gardening lets you bring the outdoors anywhere, even right outside your door in your patio garden.

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