How to choose  trees and shrubs for your deck or balcony?

How to choose trees and shrubs for your deck or balcony?

John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge

Guide written by:

John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge

83 guides

There are a varieties of small trees or shrubs, usually shorter than 2 meters high, that can be grown in planters or containers in order to provide volume and relief to a balcony or deck decor. They can also simply be used as isolated plants and positioned in a central position in the space.   

Important features

  • Choice of species
  • Adult size
  • Flowering period
  • Foliage
  • Color
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Shrubs will stick around for many years. The species you put in your garden must therefore be carefully selected. The good news is that there is a wide range of species and varieties available, many of which thrive in planters.To more easily find the one that will suit you for years to come, consider these different factors:

  • Evergreen or deciduous species. Evergreen shrubs can play a variety of roles. In addition to their aesthetic aspect, they are also useful as a privacy screen, to avoid prying eyes, or a windbreaker. They can be planted in large, elongated lines to form a hedge;
  • The shrub's silhouette, or in other words, the airspace that it will occupy;
  • The shrub's flowering period, so you know when to come out and enjoy the bloom;
  • The flower's color, which will add to or emphasize your decor; 
  • The foliage color, the range of which can go from green to red;
  • The shrub's resistance to cold. This last point is more important than it seems, because while a basic wintering cover around the foliage may suffice for some shrubs, others will need to be brought inside during intense cold periods (it's quicker if you have the planter on a rolling dolly, just in case).
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1. Place a higher priority on the color of the foliage than to the flowering period, as the latter is much more short-lived.2. Choose dense evergreen plants if you want to create a screen to isolate the space and preserve your privacy. 3. If it's going on a balcony, remember to keep the shrub's weight in mind! Potted shrubs can become very heavy. Balconies on modern buildings can generally withstand 200 kg or more of weight per m2 (better to ask if in doubt). If it does pose a problem, it is very easy to loose weight by replacing the soil with polystyrene beads, expanded clay, vermiculite or perlite.

The primary features of conifers, in addition to their evergreen foliage, are the trees' habit (or silhouette) and the color of their foliage.

Conifers with upright habit

  • Yew (Taxus baccata, 'Fastigiata Aurea');
  • Juniper (Juniperus communis, 'Sentinel'), with a very slender habit and 'Skyblue' foliage;
  • Macropin 'Pinus strobus' up to 2.50 m tall.

Conifers with globular habit or open growth

  • Mountain pine (Pinus mugho, 'creeping pine' or 'Mugo pine');
  • Black pine (Pinus nigra 'Austrian pine');
  • White Spruce (Pinus glauca, 'Canadian spruce';
  • Northern Wide Cedar (Thuya occidentalis) and Golden Globes, with their colorful, golden winter foliage;
  • False cypress (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana, 'Minima Aurea', with golden foliage and 'Minima Glauca', with blue foliage.

Creeping Conifers

  • Many varieties of juniper (Juniperus communis, Juniperus horizontalis), like 'Blue Star' varieties with blue foliage;
  • Pinus mugho 'pumilio';
  • Spruce (Picea abies), in the 'Maxwellii' variety, composed of a flattened shell no higher than 50 cm.

Here is a small selection of shrubs that are interesting in terms of their flowering. 

Shrubs blooming in spring

Azaleas, forsythias (the Goldilocks variety), syringa (Philadelphus coronarius 'Aureus') flowering currrants, exochordas, deutzias and kerria japonica, to name but a few.

Shrubs blooming in summer

Abelias, which start to bloom in June and continue until the frost comes. Rocktrumpets, other wise known as mandevilla (Dipladenia sanderi) sports large bright flowers from spring to autumn, hibiscuses (Hibiscus syriacus) blooms all summer, crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia indica) is highly decorative due to its flowers, leaves and bark, buddleia ('purple nanho' has purple flowers and 'blue nanha' pale blue flowers) and Weigela, among others.

Shrubs blooming in winter

Skimmia japonica, with dark green evergreen foliageViburnum farreri, a deciduous shrub that blooms from autumn to late winter, laurestine (Viburnum tinus), Japanese camellia (Camellia japonica) and winter mimosas (Acacia dealbata).

Scented flowery shrubs

Scented daphnes (Daphne odora), Mahonia x media 'Charity', witchhazel is also very decorative in autumn due to its foliage, Viburnum farreri, Viburnum carlesii blooms in late winter and sasamqia Camellias (Camellia sasanqua) will bear flowers in autumn.

Here are a few plants that are useful when sprucing up your deck and balcony, especially if they don't get a lot of sun.

1. Japanese skimmia, a shrub that can withstand -15° C temperatures;

2. Amur maple, which comes in many colors, with a variety of leaf shapes;

3. Mexican orange blossom;

4. Climbing Hydrangea;5. Cornelian cherry dogwood 'Elegantissima';

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Guide written by:

John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge, 83 guides

John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge

When I was young, I was already working in the family garden. Perhaps that is where my interest in plants and gardening came from. So, it was logical for me to study both plant biology and agronomy.   At the request of various publishers I have, over twenty-five years, written many books on the subject of plants and mushrooms (a subject that is close to my heart).They were mostly identification guides at first, but shortly after they were about gardening, thus renewing the first passion of my childhood.   I have also regularly collaborated with several magazines specializing in the field of gardening or more generally in nature. There is no gardener without a garden, I have cultivated mine in a small corner of Cambridge for the last thirty years and this is where I put into practice the methods of cultivation that will I advise you in as well.

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