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Ah, summer. A time for lounging and getting outdoors for backyard barbecues, floating in the pool, and lazy afternoons in the hammock. For those lucky enough to have yards, all of those activities are possible while maintaining a safe social distance from others during the COVID-19 pandemic. But if you live in a tiny apartment or condo building, it can be difficult to claim a patch of grass to call your own.

Fortunately, some units come equipped with a balcony or patio. Maybe you overlooked this space before, but you’ve probably been seeing it in a new light as a place of refuge from all the time spent indoors the last few months.

Harvesting fruits and veggies from your balcony is not only satisfying but also a healthy and sustainable way to source food.

Balcony furniture is a good first step to enjoying your outdoor space, but you can really upgrade and transform it into a summertime oasis that’s beneficial to you (all that Vitamin D!) and the environment (hello, pollinators) with some easy and cost-effective gardening tips and DIY projects.

Here’s how to get started on building an environmentally friendly balcony garden without breaking your budget.

Protect yourself and your plants from the sun

Start by analyzing how much sun your balcony or patio gets on a daily basis. You’ll get the most sun exposure if you face south, less if you face north. It sounds counterintuitive, but you’ll want to protect your potted plants from overexposure to the sun. Cement and brick patios are typically hot spots in summer and can reflect a lot of sunlight, which could stress out even the most sun-loving plants.

Watering plants daily in the morning and using the right tools will help keep a balcony garden growing strong. Also consider investing in some shade support. A patio umbrella, retractable awning, or shade cover can prevent overexposure to the sun. Shade protection also has the added benefit of keeping you cool and protected from UV rays as you lounge, and may even help reduce some of your air conditioning usage throughout summer.

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Pick plants that attract pollinators and fend off mosquitoes

When purchasing plants, you’ll obviously want to consider sun exposure and your region’s climate patterns. But you can also look at picking plants that help attract pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds (hanging plants in particular can attract hummingbirds).

The blog Homestead and Chill has several recommendations on potted flowers, such as marigolds, lavender, and oregano, that help attract pollinators and also double as natural plant repellents to pesky mosquitoes. There are many other options, including lemongrass and citronella plants, which are particularly effective at fending off bugs.

Whichever plants you choose, make sure they serve you and the environment.

Create DIY garden containers for fruits and veggies

You don’t need a CSA or community garden plot to get going on a bumper crop of fruits and vegetables that will last you all season long. Raised garden beds, big or small, are perfect for balcony and patio gardens, and they come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

One of the most cost-effective ways to get started is with a few drywall buckets from a hardware store. Simply drill a few holes in the bottom of the bucket for drainage, then put some gravel in the bottom of each bucket and fill with potting soil, and you have the perfect container for growing everything from strawberries and tomatoes to zucchini and jalapeno peppers.

Harvesting fruits and veggies from your balcony is not only satisfying but also a healthy and sustainable way to source food. And don’t forget to add a few herb options, such as mint, basil, and cilantro, to the mix. They can kick up the flavors in your cooking and add a pretty garnish or touch to an iced beverage.

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Tim Ebner

Tim Ebner is a contributing writer for the Washington Post, Thrillist, Eater, and Matador Networks. Follow him on Twitter: @TimEbner.

Washington, DC