While Japanese high-rise homes aren’t always known for their size, there is nothing stopping you from creating the perfect botanical refuge for yourself on your very own balcony. From choosing your flower or fruit-bearing friends to the unfortunate bugs who may set up camp alongside your garden, read on to discover how to hone your own green thumb this summer.

Creating Your Gardening Toolkit

The first step in starting your own small patch of greenery is shopping for some tools. Luckily, starter kits (small pots, pipettes, etc.), planters of varying sizes, a trowel, gloves, watering cans, and soil don’t have to be expensive. In fact, 100-yen stores have affordable versions of all these things so that your gardening experiment doesn’t have to break the bank. If you have extra money to spare though, there is no denying that your plants will be healthier if you use seeds and soil that comes from gardening centers.

Here is a brief list of must-have beginner gardening tools:

  • Watering can
  • Pipette (for watering sprouts)
  • Gloves
  • Trowel
  • Planters of varying sizes
  • Soil (buy according to the preferences of the plants you are choosing, below)

Planning Your Potted Paradise

The next exciting stage of starting your very own garden is the planning. In quarantine, kitchen gardens and growing edible plants to supplement your groceries have become increasingly popular. Tomatoes, peppers, green onions, citrus and beans grow happily in pots on verandas. The same goes for many herbs such as basil, sage, parsley, rosemary, and mint. Or maybe you would like to try Japanese vegetables, fruits, and herbs? Shiso, Shishitou peppers, and mikan will all thrive in a potted garden.

Perhaps you are more interested in flowering plants? Japanese peonies, roses, begonias, morning glories and anemones are all good bets. Morning glories especially are fun for children since they grow from seed easily and quickly, providing you with beautiful vines adorned with many colored blossoms every morning of the spring and summer. They are often planted by preschool and kindergarten classes for this very reason.

Choosing Your Plants

When choosing plants for your potted paradise, taste is not the only factor. You also need to consider maintenance as well as the amount of balcony space that you have to work with. Is your veranda blessed with morning or afternoon sun or is it mostly shaded? Is it sheltered from winds? Are you comfortable watering daily? Is weekly better? Or do you prefer plants that can go for long stretches without being watered? When looking at plants as your mansion companions, their preferences and the environment that you’ll be placing them in matter. Summers in Japan are hot, especially in the south and west of the country. Succulents like aloe vera, snake plant, and palms, therefore, could be a great investment. Remember to water in the morning or at night and not when the hot sun is beating down on your plants. This way you can avoid damaging them.

Another important choice you need to make is whether you want to start your garden from seed, seedlings or only using mature plants. Starting from seed is the cheapest way, but it requires the most labor. The seeds need to be germinated, watered carefully, and, if successful, transplanted in stages to larger planters. Sprouts and small immature plants are somewhere in-between. They can be harder to find, especially outside of garden centers. If you decide to go down this route, combining several small plants in the same container can be both attractive and save on space, provided they all like the same growing environment. Buying plants which are already mature is significantly more expensive but can be a great hack if you’re starting out your garden later in the season or have less time to put into it. The instant bloom is also very satisfying.

Meeting Your Nemeses

Although it would be wonderful to see your carefully planned oasis grow happily and uninfected, it’s always good to be prepared. Your seeds are finally growing into little sprouts and seedlings, when suddenly, disaster strikes. You go to water your plant babies one morning and discover some insects have taken up residence! There are two common types of insects that you should be on the lookout for.

If the bugs are small, green, and covering almost the entirety of your seedling, then you probably have aphids. Aphids feed on the sap inside your plants. While this is not an issue for mature and established plants, they’ll most likely wither your precious seedlings.

If you see tiny brown or red bugs and notice dustiness or webbing on the underneath of the leaves, then you probably have spider mites.

Both types of insects need to be removed immediately to secure your plants. Here are some quick options: Buy an insecticidal solution from your local gardening center or if you prefer a home remedy. Then, combine small drops of soap and hot chili oil with water in a spray bottle. When I used this home remedy, it got rid of both types of insects quickly. You may have to repeat the process and remember, it’s best to isolate those affected (i.e. bring them inside or move them to another room) to avoid contaminating the healthy ones.

Some Useful Places And Links

The home and garden centers have the best tools, earth, and plant quality that I have discovered. See which ones have locations near your.

Also consider 100-yen stores for affordable tools, and in a pinch, soil and seeds.

For flowering plants and herbs, these flower shops have great quality small plants at a slightly higher price point. Alternatively, see if your neighborhood has local florists.

See more guides on how to make the best of your Tokyo home: