How to garden on a south-facing balcony – 3 ways to create a container garden for direct sun

Gardening on a balcony can seem daunting, but experts share their tips for making the most of an urban space that gets lots of sunshine

How to garden on a south-facing balcony
(Image credit: Westend61 via Getty Images)

People are increasingly seeking the opportunity to use balcony spaces as gardens, especially if you live in an an apartment and don't necessarily have any other yard space. But it's important to understand what will grow well on your balcony if you want to create a thriving green haven in your urban garden.

You may have already scouted out balcony garden ideas and figured out how to incorporate balcony privacy, but if you haven't identified what can grow best in your space you won't have much luck with successful plants. South-facing balcony gardeners have plenty of bright, sunny light and warmth to work with - meaning there are lots of options to consider.

But where to begin? We've spoken to gardening experts about how to garden on a south-facing balcony and they shared a few ideas for you to get started with.

Kitchen garden on balcony

(Image credit: Vaivirga via Getty Images)

3 ways to garden on a south-facing balcony

South-facing gardens are some of the most versatile and challenging spaces to work with. They often don't have lots of natural garden shade and are blessed with direct sunshine throughout the day during the warmer months. Here's how experts recommend getting started with gardening on a south-facing balcony.

1. Choose lighter colored pots

Balcony garden

(Image credit: Westend61 via Getty Images)

The first thing to note about a south-facing balcony is that it will experience warmer temperatures during the summer months.

'South and west exposure balconies offer the greatest challenges, largely due to the hot direct sun plants are exposed to during the hottest portions of the day,' notes Dr. Mike Arnold, professor of landscape and horticulture at the Texas A&M Department of Horticultural Sciences.

Taking precautions to help keep your plants cool can be a good idea in this setting, even if you've incorporated drought-tolerant planting. 'Lighter colored pots will tend to reflect some of the heat and help to keep roots cooler in summer,' says Mike.

Unlike terracotta planters which are effective at retaining heat, pots made from lighter materials and colors can have a cooling effect - like these white plastic pots from Amazon.

You should also take care to water your plants more regularly during the hotter months. Although, care requirements may differ if you find your south-facing balcony experiences some shade from surrounding buildings.

Mike Arnold
Dr. Mike Arnold

Mike has been with the Texas A&M Department of Horticultural Sciences as a professor of landscape horticulture and in other capacities since 2012 and 1993, respectively. Mike earned a B.S. in business administration, a B.S. in agriculture (horticulture major) and an M.S. in Landscape Horticulture at The Ohio State University. Then, he received a Ph.D. in horticultural sciences from North Carolina State University.

2. Opt for tropical plants

Cacti on sunny balcony

(Image credit: svf74 via Getty Images)

Successful growing is all about right plant, right place, so take advantage of your sunny balcony by creating a tropical garden with heat-loving plants.

'Many of our subtropical plants and desert plants thrive in these hot sunny locations. Think cacti, succulents, desert rose and sedums,' suggests Mike.

There are many options, from caring for succulents like aloe vera, to bringing tropical indoor plants outdoors, including growing bird of paradise - many of which can be found from online retailers, like this large bird of paradise from The Sill.

You should, however, always research which plants can grow outdoors in your US hardiness zone and take care to overwinter any plants that can't cope with dropping outdoor temperatures.

3. Create a kitchen container garden

Kitchen garden on balcony

(Image credit: Westend61 via Getty Images)

Just because you're working with a limited space, doesn't mean you can't have a bountiful kitchen garden - especially in a south-facing position. Fruit and vegetable plants will thrive in the warmer pocket of your balcony, so that you can harvest homegrown goods right from your doorstep.

'You can grow vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, as well as herbs such as rosemary, sage, basil and parsley,' says Annette Hird, expert gardener at Easy Urban Gardens.

Whether you want to grow tomatoes in pots or create a balcony herb garden, some of the best balcony plants are edibles. This is also a great way to add interest to your balcony and enhance the outdoor space you have available.

'Citrus can also often be grown as smaller size plants in containers. Think how fun it would be to pick your own oranges, limes or lemons?' says Mike.

Why not try using this pocket herb garden planter from Amazon to set up a space-saving herb station on your balcony?

Annette Hird
Annette Hird

Annette Hird has an Associate Diploma in Horticulture and is an urban gardening expert. She has worked as a professional propagator and managed, maintained and improved many urban and rural gardens. She also enjoys growing her own fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers as well as many different types of ornamental plants.


How can I create shade on my south-facing balcony?

South-facing balconies will be exposed to direct sunlight throughout the spring and summer months. You may find that surrounding buildings cast shade onto your space, but it can also be a good idea to explore balcony shade ideas to create cooler spaces. This might include adding umbrellas or even tall potted trees to create a canopy to sit under. You can also add balcony curtains to create both shade and privacy.

If you're lucky enough to have a south-facing balcony, make the most of the sun with heat-loving plants. Take care to keep on top of watering to ensure your plants don't suffer and you'll have a thriving green space to escape to, right outside your apartment.

Bring some greenery indoors, too, by adding some indoor plants for direct sunlight near your south-facing windows.

Tenielle Jordison
News Writer (Gardens)

Tenielle is a News Writer in the Gardens team at Homes & Gardens with five years of journalistic experience. She studied BA Journalism, Media and English Literature and MA Magazine Journalism at Cardiff University. Before coming to Homes & Gardens, Tenielle was in the editorial department at the Royal Horticultural Society and worked on The Garden magazine. She is passionate about sustainable living and the role gardening has to play in tackling the effects of climate change. Tenielle is also a houseplant lover who is slowly running out of room for her ever-growing collection. She has experience successfully propagating indoor plants and overcoming common houseplant problems.