Though you may already have an assortment of tasteful plants throughout your house, in most cases your beloved plants aren’t interchangeable between the indoors and outdoors. “Houseplants are kept indoors because they like to live in a certain environment and require special care, such as extra humidity or warm temperatures,” explains Kay Ismail of Plant Boutique. Angela Slater, a horticultural expert for Hayes Garden World, agrees. “By their very nature, many houseplants are only suitable to be indoors, as most of them come from tropical climes,” Slater says. “However, there are a few plants which can cross this boundary and be grown both in the garden and indoors.”
But the kind of plant best suited for your space will depend entirely on what direction it faces and where in the country you live, according to Tim Sherrratt, founder of Anther + Moss. You can easily figure out which direction your patio faces by using the compass app on your phone or noting its position based on where the sun rises and sets each day. “You may get away with more tender species in the south on a city balcony or enclosed patio, as cities are generally a couple of degrees warmer than more open landscapes,” adds Slater.
In order to find the best possible options, we spoke to 11 experts, including landscape gardeners, plant-shop owners, and gardening writers, to find out the best outdoor plants for every kind of space.
What we’re looking for
Light exposure: According to Ismail, you should look out for “plants that naturally prefer low-light conditions or that can live in tropical climates” when choosing one for your balcony. That might include plants that prefer shady spots or plants that quite like a bit of sunshine every so often. We’ve listed each plant’s preferred level of light exposure below, but you should check which direction your space is facing first to figure out how accommodating it will be. James Folger, founder of the Stem, adds that plants that thrive in light shade will enjoy a shady balcony or patio, though you should be mindful of frost and cold snaps later in the year. All but one of these plants are just as good indoors as they are in your outside space — so consider bringing them in during the winter months.
Low maintenance: While hardcore plant parents might like a detailed spreadsheet of their plants’ watering schedules or feeding needs, we’ve chosen ones here that won’t judge you if you forget to give them a drink every now and then. Most of our experts differentiated between “infrequent” or “frequent” waterings, but all advised checking the dryness of the soil before deciding whether your plant needs watered. And most plants here will benefit from a spritz from a mister, too.
Best overall plant for patios and balconies
Suitable for most light conditions | Prefers infrequent watering | Good in tight spaces
Because it can handle the broadest range of outdoor conditions, the snake plant (also known as sansevieria or “mother-in-law’s tongue”) is our choice for the best overall outdoor plant. According to Esmail, “it enjoys growing in most light conditions,” whether a sun-trap patio or a shady balcony corner, and it is known for its “tremendous survivability — many people use this plant to create striking borders.” The plant’s hardiness means it will survive windy spots, and if you have a tiny patch of outdoor space, fear not — the snake plant has practically evolved to enjoy tight spaces, according to Alice Bailey, co-founder of Forest. “They enjoy having really cramped roots — they want to be crammed into a small pot,” she says. “ You can have the same one in the same pot for five or so years.”
Stacey Rockliffe, owner of online plant shop Mawusi Plants, said she recommends it because it retains a lot of water. “Generally, they don’t need to be watered frequently at all.” She said they are also low-shade tolerant, meaning they can be placed pretty much anywhere. “I (naughtily) left mine in a room with no water or light when I went away for five weeks,” she admits. “And I came back to it looking as green and healthy as ever. It’s been my favourite ever since.” Jennifer Panxhi, owner of Jen’s Plants & Florists in Spitalfields, warns that “it does not like its leaves to be watered,” so if possible, try to keep it out of wide open spaces where it might get caught in the rain. Panxhi also says to wait until the soil has completely dried out before watering.
Best plant for sunny patios and balconies
Bright, indirect light | Shelter and shade | Prefers infrequent watering
The corn plant, also known as a dracaena, came recommended to us by Folger as an easy-to-care-for plant that enjoys a spot of sunshine. “It’s an easy-care plant native to tropical Africa, and looks great anywhere in the home — especially on the patio or balcony.” He says it can tolerate “most light conditions, but it will thrive in bright, indirect light,” and he suggests keeping it out of direct sunlight. This plant is drought tolerant, meaning it will need to be watered infrequently, ideally once the soil has dried out completely.
Best plant for shady patios and balconies
Prefers low light | Prefers infrequent watering
There were a few contenders for the best plant for shady areas. Esmail recommended an aloe vera plant, while Isabelle Spandler of Wiltshire Garden Design suggested ferns. But we settled on the aspidistra, fittingly nicknamed the “cast-iron plant,” as it’s the lowest maintenance of the three and came recommended by the most experts. While ferns need regular misting and watering, “this plant is impossible to kill,” said Panxhi.
We first featured it in our look at the best plants for beginners for its ability to withstand different environments, and experts told us it can handle being outside too. “It is one of the easiest plants to look after,” says Folger. “It has arching, glossy green leaves and looks great on a patio or balcony. Keep it out of direct sunshine and water only when the soil dries out. It can tolerate a range of temperatures — but bring it inside in the cold weather.” As the owner of two aspidistra myself, I can attest to their iron will — they are big and striking to look at but require little to no maintenance. The one thing that they seem to dislike is heat — I accidentally had one hanging out by my radiator during winter, and it did not enjoy it at all. So I’d recommend them most for a balcony rather than a patio unless you can offer partial shade.
Sherratt agreed, adding that the plant likes dimly lit corners, thriving when it isn’t overexposed to lots of direct sunlight and when the soil isn’t completely saturated. “Ideally, water it every couple of weeks, except for winter, when once a month is fine.”
Best trailing plant for patios and balconies
Low light | Cooler environment | Prefers infrequent watering
Five experts told us ivy was an excellent trailing plant for outdoors. Esmail specifically said she likes English ivy, which “looks great trailing off a balcony, or potted in a decorative pot on a table. Being native to England, it prefers to be placed in a cooler environment and should be watered regularly in the summer months.” Other experts liked different varieties, such as devil’s ivy (also known as a pothos). Rockliffe said it’s a particularly good option “for a beginner that wants some interaction with their plant” as it changes appearance and grows quite quickly. ‘The great thing about them is their resilience; they can handle a missed watering day quite well.”
Alice Vincent, author of Rootbound and How to Grow Stuff, said, “It puts up with low light and intermittent drought, but nevertheless rewards with swift growth.” She added that “it’s a doddle to propagate — which is always fun.”
Best palm for patios and balconies
Prefers light shade | Dislikes cold | Prefers frequent watering
Folger likes the tall kentia palm for outdoor spaces, saying the small footprint but dramatic foliage makes an instant impression. “It can grow up to 150 centimetres high, which will add height and interest to a patio or balcony. It should be kept in light shade and watered when the top soil has dried out, and a slightly damp climate or regular misting will keep the leaves fresh. It is most happy in bright light — but keep it out of direct sunlight. Bring it inside in the cold weather.”
Though my kentia palm remains inside, I would recommend it for anyone who likes a plant with dramatic growth — in the three years since I bought it, it has nearly tripled in size. Despite this, they don’t like to be repotted, owing to their delicate roots, so they’re best in corners or, as Folger recommends, “Next to a wall is perfect”.
Best border plant for patios and balconies
Dislikes cold | Prefers partial shade | Prefers frequent watering
Design consultant Sam Norris recommends bamboo for its “small footprint and epic growth,” adding that “it can provide a natural screening, either for exposed areas or to help create dedicated areas in your garden.” Norris notes young plants grow quickly, and their shape means they can accommodate any kind of space — but they dislike competition, so are better placed away from other plants, therefore would be best suited for larger spaces. “Young bamboo plants are more suited to the climate seen in the southern half of the U.K.,” he says, adding that the cold, drying winds can scorch their leaves. Bamboo should be watered regularly to help establish growth, and bamboo in containers is also prone to drying out.
Alice Bailey, co-founder, Forest
James Folger, founder of the Stem
Sam Norris, design consultant
Kay Ismail, Plant Boutique
Jennifer Panxhi, owner, Jen’s Plants & Florists
Stacey Rockliffe, owner, Mawusi Plants
Tim Sherrratt, founder, Anther + Moss
Angela Slater, horticultural expert, Hayes Garden World
Isabelle Spandler, Wiltshire Garden Design
Alice Vincent, author
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