Winterize Your Balcony

If Toronto is the condo capital of North America, then wouldn’t that also make it the balcony capital of North America?

From worm’s eye view, they’re just a protruding box from which summer barbeques are perched, but go 18 stories up and you’re in a different realm. Sure balconies are ideal for summer seclusion when a panorama of the Toronto skyline is more worthy than a $14 martini, but can they hold their vigour during the winter?

According to landscape architect Martin Wade, cold weather is no excuse to neglect your balcony during which their use and care tend to dissipate.

“In the dead of winter, you want to be looking at something that’s still attractive,” Wade said in an interview. “Put together designs that are good for all seasons.”

To do so, its important to choose hardscape pieces–pots, trellises and furniture–that will endure seasonal change.

Terra cotta planters will crack during the winter from exposure to freezing and thawing phases and you will have to consider indoor storage. You can ditch the process of cleaning and storing these clay pots by purchasing plastic, fiberglass or cedar planters which are durable and can easily be insulated for the winter by layering Styrofoam along the inside.

The main thing I find that people usually have trouble with on their balconies is their pots are often too small and it’s not freezing that kills plants on the balcony it’s actually freezing and thawing,” said Paul Winsor, owner of Ladybug Florist and a member of Toronto Balconies Bloom, a project spearheaded by urban planner, Fern Mosoff to promote balcony gardening. “The ideal is to have very large pots so that once they freeze during the winter they stay frozen during the entire winter.”

Once your pots are properly insulated the only question now is what to fill them with. “Balconies are tough areas for plants to grow,” said Wade. “The general rule of thumb is to choose plants that can survive about two hardiness zones colder.”

According to Agriculture and Agro-Food Canada, hardiness zones are areas where certain floras will most likely survive. The zones are numbered zero to eight to distinguish the harshest to mildest climate. Choosing plants that can grow two hardiness zones colder will guarantee survival during winter months. Excellent and easily attainable choices are large cedar trees, dwarf Alberta spruce, cut fir and pine trees.

Wade suggests buying large pots that will give your plants room to grow and making sure to keep them properly irrigated since roots can easily become dry, even in winter.

If you live on to top floors of high rises, drying winds can be extra menacing to plants so Winsor suggests visiting a nursery and picking up anti-desiccant spray. “[It’s] a foliage spray that you spray on trees in the fall and it does help to prevent against that drying.”

If you would prefer to reserve plant-keeping for spring and summer there are ways to add life to your planters without using plants. Wade and Winsor suggest filling your planters with dogwood sticks or other tree branches, evergreen boughs, berries, cones, colourful twigs and rocks to create a display with winter interest.

Light up your view

Add outdoor lighting to illuminate your winter planters.
Planters can be decorated with twigs, berries and everygreen boughs to create a display with winter interest.

Planters can be decorated with twigs, berries and evergreen boughs to create a display with winter interest.














If these don’t provide the pop that you’re looking for then outdoor lighting is a great way to add extra color to your balcony-scape.

“Outdoor lighting is really effective in all four seasons,” Wade said. “You can illuminate your winter displays and planters.”

Solar powered garden stakes can be implanted anywhere you like without having to run wires and they will turn themselves on and off, which means you can stay indoors and admire from afar without the additional hassle.

Equally important as planning your planters is careful selection and care of patio furniture. Metal furniture is ideal for seasonal durability but needs to be covered to keep out moisture which can cause cracking, or turn scratches into rust.

Shane Lyon, a seasonal associate at Home Depot on Gerrard Street in downtown Toronto, says this rule is congruent with grill care for which a cover is especially important if you hope to keep it for years.

What you many want to invest in, regardless of cover or not, is a rust-proof paint which can easily be applied to furniture to help keep it protected throughout the seasons. You do not want to apply this paint to your grill which will need a heat-resistant paint instead, Lyon said. For grills, a simple cover is your best bet.

With these design elements in mind, winter gardening can be as easy, if not easier, than summer gardening.

All you need is careful planning and minor upkeep to have an attractive balcony garden during the winter which you can admire from the warmth of your home.


Spazio Magazine, Winter 2010/2011

2 Responses to “Winterize Your Balcony”
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  1. […] PROTECT YOUR PLANTS Did you know that terra cotta planters will crack during the winter?  To avoid having to replace these planters, purchase very large plastic or fiberglass planters which can be insulated with Styrofoam.  The real reason why it is important to protect your plants is due to the stress that comes along with freezing and thawing, which will send you plants into shock.  So protect your plants before the winter comes. […]

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