It may have taken a global pandemic to unearth our interest in home decor, but it appears that this newfound obsession is here to stay. We still can’t stop redecorating every square inch of our homes and apartments—and with summer rearing its head, we’re looking to the best balcony, backyard, and patio ideas to turn our outdoor spaces into dreamy plant-filled oases.
Even with the prospect of a mask-free future budding, the need to bring the outdoors into our everyday living is still very real—whether we have a two-foot fire escape or larger backyard at our disposal. But considering much our plant knowledge starts and ends with low-maintenance indoor plants, we decided to call in Bloomscape’s resident “Plant Mom” Joyce Mast for some expert-approved patio ideas and outdoor plant tips.
Ahead, find out exactly how to turn your space into a vibrant green escape, and shop the tools and decor items that’ll get you there.
Step One: Gather Your Supplies
Mast lists a hand trowel, pruning shears, soil scoop, and gardening gloves as her top outdoor gardening essentials. “These tools will set you up for success when container gardening,” she tells Glamour. “Your soil scoop and gardening gloves are key when planting your flowers and foliage, and your pruning shears and snips will help you keep your plants happy and healthy all season long,” she says.
Step Two: Assess Your Lighting Conditions
To set your outdoor escape up for success, you’ll need to assess the lighting conditions in your space. “Your home’s unique mix of sun and shade will determine which outdoor plants you should include in your garden,” explains Mast. “Most retailers, whether online or garden centers, will classify the available plants by full sun, part sun and shade, and full shade.” For reference, full sun areas receive six-plus hours of direct sunlight, part sun and part shade will get roughly three hours on and three hours off, and full shade areas receive six-plus hours of direct shade. “Keep in mind that flowering will be delayed if a plant isn’t receiving enough light—it’s important to monitor your plants and make location adjustments as needed,” she says. Ahead, find her plant recommendations for each lighting condition:
- Full sun: Geraniums, petunias, and calibrachoas thrive in full-sun areas and will flower all season long, according to Mast. If you’re growing herbs and vegetables, she recommends sun-loving tomatoes, basil, and mint for beginners.
- Part sun, part shade: Jeana garden phlox, anise hyssop, Japanese forest grass, and blue ice amsonia will all flourish in dappled sunlight or partially shaded areas. Arugula, spinach, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and carrots will also thrive in indirect sunlight.
- Full shade: Colorful impatiens, miniature mat daisies, and begonias are perfect flowers for shadier areas of your garden, while shade-tolerant coleus, hostas, and helichrysum add balancing foliage. Full-shade herbs and veggies include kale, beets, leeks, potatoes, and turnips.
Step Three: Plan Your Container Garden Design
The size of your patio, porch, or balcony will determine how many planters and pots you need to purchase for your container garden. Mast recommends measuring your space and mapping out potential layouts before heading to the local garden center or nursery. For example, hanging pots, railing and wall planters, and large pots are well-suited to spaces of all sizes, while rectangular planter boxes and gardening troughs are best for large backyards or patios.
The arrangements themselves require a bit of forethought, too. “It’s important to plan your garden design before digging in to ensure that your plants grow together harmoniously,” adds Mast. “For example, each plants’ growth pattern will affect how much space is needed—some are compact and only grow vertically, while others trail and vine.” What’s more, the annuals and perennials in each pot shouldn’t just look great together—they must have the same light and watering requirements. (If this sounds too complicated, check out these Bloom Kits for curated arrangements.)
Step Four: Select & Prep Your Soil
Soil is quite literally the foundation of your container garden. Mast recommends a pH-balanced outdoor potting soil enriched with ingredients like Canadian peat moss, perlite, and Hydrafiber. “These ingredients will help your plants retain water moisture and provide proper drainage for happy, healthy roots,” she explains. But high-quality soil alone isn’t enough—outdoor plants in particular benefit from regular fertilizing. “I always mix time-release fertilizer, like Jack’s ClassiCote, into the soil before planting,” she explains. “These slow-release formulas allow plants to feed on key ingredients over time.” She also recommends supplementing with an all-purpose fertilizer during the summer months when watering is at an all-time high.
Step Five: Plant & Tend to Your Container Garden
Now for the main event: physically planting your blooms and greenery. Simply fill each container halfway with your fertilized potting mix, create a small hole for each plant pod, and nestle each bloom into its new home. Gently pat down the surrounding soil to secure each plant, and give the finished arrangement a deep watering until the water runs clean into the saucer.
From there, the real work begins. Mast recommends regular watering, pruning, and maintenance to keep your container garden looking lush and healthy. “Gardening is a great way to connect with nature, celebrate the coming of spring, and enjoy the summer outside,” she explains. “I recommend checking your plants every day, especially during peak summer heat, and watering when the top 25% of the soil is dry.”
Finally, regular pruning and deadheading encourages new growth and wards off pests and diseases throughout the season. “Regularly inspect your plants and remove any dead leaves or flowers with a pair of clean, sharp pruning scissors,” she explains. “This will lengthen your flowers’ growth cycle and allow your plants to devote precious energy to new growth.”