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What am I doing wrong / good beginner resources?

Brooklyn, NY

[Long Message - Sorry]

For a long time now I've wanted to have a great garden, but as I live in a major city I haven't had the option. Instead, I've tried to pepper my apartments with plants, often with failed results. I've gotten better, learned tricks for drainage and so on, but still have problems and I'm hoping that some of you all with better skills than me may be able to let me know what I'm doing wrong/guide me in the right direction to not doing this anymore. Similarly, I have some questions that I've TRIED to look up, but with confusing results. I now have some outdoor space, though, and would like to make it as green as possible.

First things first, I live on the east coast, 2012 zone 7a/7b (right on the cusp) or 1990 zone 6b. My outdoor space is a balconette, south facing. I'd say 5 x 20 feet? I'm on the 4th floor of my building and so far there's decent sun. There are a couple of slim buildings going up that may be taller than my building, but they won't steal all the light.

So, my historical issue: things die. I feel like I'm overwatering because things rarely get brown and crispy, but even when I don't water as much I have the same problem... for example, I bought a couple of ornamental peppers recently, watered them once and put them out in the sun on the balconette, and within days one plant had lost all its leaves and the fruit was dropping. One even began to molder. A little bit later the other plant was doing the same thing, though it's holding out better. Still probably won't make it. The peppers are getting wrinkly and squishy. Admittedly, at one point we got some pretty wicked rain while I was at work, but there was sun the next day and I feel like the plants should have dried out. I can provide photos later if that would be helpful, but I'm currently not at home. I was less harsh on myself about this until I somehow managed to kill a philodendron, which is just abnormal. I have managed to keep some ponytail palms alive (though stunted), something I believe to be bamboo palms (though I recall their name starting with an N when I first obtained them), a new philodendron (combined with one I'd sprouted in water off the aforementioned dead one), and some succulents, plus a couple other things I can't identify. I assume there are some similarities in these plants that mean I can't murder them if anyone has some insight there.

I'd really like to get a variety of vining plants for my balconette. I spent some time looking up winter-hardy plants that fit in my zone and came up with the following (please correct me if I'm wrong on these): Jackman Clematis, Winter Clematis, Climbing Hydrengas, Trumpet Creeper, and Cross Vine. So, am I correct in these? Are they friendly together, are they actually hardy, etc. I understand that the hydrangeas need partial shade and are thus probalby not the best choice for my area, but thought I'd toss them on for good measure. If I were to attain live plants now, could I leave them outside and let them get started over the winter or is that just foolish? Additionally, would something like ivy bounce back from year to year? I understand it's not necessarily a winter-loving plant, but how much upkeep would it be to revive it in the spring?

And finally for this post (I have so many other questions, but I'll start with these for now), are there any good, online resources for beginners like me? I like these forums, but I also learn well by reading, and wouldn't mind spending one of these cold, upcoming weekends just running through a 101 class, so long as better gardeners respect and trust the info, too.

Thank you, in advance, to anyone who answers part of or all of this!

Poughkeepsie, NY(Zone 6a)

Your problem may be that you're not acclimating the plants to full Sun. You need to introduce them to the Sun SLOWLY. An hour a day first, then 2, then 3, etc.

Also you need to chose plants that will LIKE the spot where you want to grow them. Don't put low light loving plants in full Sun. I hope this helps.

Brooklyn, NY

Thanks, tommyr2006!

I generally do research on what amount of light the plant likes but had never thought about/heard of acclimating them to the sun. I will be sure to do this from here on out!

Danbury, CT

Hello Meelio,
you might want to check if the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens have any classes for the types of topics you want to learn. I'd like to know more about what you want to learn. I teach classes in CT on basic gardening subjects - organic veg gardening, composting, container gardening - but your needs would help me figure out what other classes I might be able to offer; in exchange, I'll give you advice.

Vancouver, Canada

As was already mentioned, acclimation is very important! In regards to mold, even if you're doing everything right in regards to watering, keep in mind the humidity of your location can vary drastically within your growing region! If you're like me and relatively close to the coast (although I'm a West coaster myself), it's likely even on a hot and sunny day you're dealing with a pretty high humidity. Draft and wind resistance also plays a factor - some plants need lots of air circulation to survive whereas others are quite sensitive.

Check your cities humidity averages, and keep in mind how windy/drafty your balcony tends to be. Best of luck to you!

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