My friend Alex just asked me: “What are some plants that will thrive on an apartment balcony that faces north and does not get a lot of direct sunlight?” Good question. I have a north-facing window and have found arugula to be the easiest to grow there. Generally, leafy greens do well in shade. Here are 4 salad greens that grow like weeds:
Loose leaf lettuce
The photo above shows the loose leaf lettuces I grew in my very first garden. Depending on the variety, lettuces mature in about 50 days but I find the younger leaves to be more tender. Pinch the heads to harvest and watch more grow quickly. In the gardening world, this is known as “cut and come again.”
Arugula is one of those plants that will thrive on an apartment balcony, in the ground, or even indoors. Sow even a single seed now and you’ll have non-stop salad throughout summer. Transplant seedlings 2-3 weeks before last frost or sow directly into the ground. Arugula and other leafy greens appreciate full sun but will do well in partial shade too.
If you want to grow and harvest arugula indoors, you’re in luck. Most houseplants crave the southern sun, but arugula will do just fine in a north-facing window (like mine!). Sow in a small pot and the leaves will stay small; in a larger pot the leaves will grow bigger. The plant can reach up to 2 feet and eventually produce flowers like the white, edible ones pictured above from my former garden.
Kale is not my favorite to eat, but it is one of my favorites to grow. This hardy green grows in big, bountiful patches from just a sprinkle of seeds, and it thrives (and tastes better) in the cold.
Sow seeds ¼ to ½ inch deep into well-drained soil. In two weeks, seedlings will appear. Thin the seedlings (and eat them!) so that the remaining seedlings are spaced 8 to 12 inches apart. Water often.
Kale is typically planted 3-5 weeks before last frost, but with the weather being pretty warm in our zone, I’d say go for it as soon as those seeds arrive in the mail. Harvest the largest leaves outdoors and baby kale indoors.
Buy here or elsewhere. Check that it’s not labeled “ornamental.” Ornamental varieties are not meant as food.
Spinach loves spring. Sow seeds indoors and transplant about 4 weeks before the last spring frost date (which is normally closer to May 15th but this year it is April 30th in Bethlehem!). Careful not to disturb the roots as you remove the seedlings from their first homes. Spinach prefers cool temperatures and full sun, but tolerates part shade. Actually planting it in a somewhat shady spot will extend the growing period before the hot temperatures make the plant “bolt” (make flowers/more seeds) in summer.
You know that “Baby Spinach” that comes in plastic bins at the store? That could be growing in your yard or on your windowsill by late April, early May. The seed packets for most varieties claim the leaves will mature in 25 days, but like any leafy plant, you can pick it sooner.
Sow the seed in a container that is at least 6 inches deep and place in a spot where temperatures do not exceed 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Water often.
Other plants that will thrive on an apartment balcony
One more fun fact: Radishes, carrots, and potatoes can also be planted in containers. They are known to grow slowly in partial shade, though they do prefer more sun. Happy Gardening!
Find out which Spinach variety is best for growing indoors here: “The Secret to Growing These 3 Superfoods in Your Window.”