Cambodia’s tropical weather and Phnom Penh’s architectural leanings (big balconies, terraces, courtyards and spaces to grow plants) makes gardening an easily accessible home improvement hobby with plenty of benefits.
The nice thing in a small city like Phnom Penh is that most options are a short bike ride away from each other.
There are three main places in the city to buy plants. All of them sell basic clay pots. If you want larger or nicer pots, Chhor Vy Pottery is the place to go.
Finally there is O’Russey Market up north, where you can find fertilisers and ant bait.
As you make your gardening plan it’s a good idea to keep O’Russey Market in mind. This is the surest place in the city to get some essentials.
Walk directly through the front doors and straight past the stairs. There you will find a cluster of shops selling seeds, fertilisers and ant deterrents.
All of the garden shops sell the same bagged soil, which comes loaded with enough nutrients to last several months. However, at least a few times a year you should feed both your indoor and outdoor plants with fertilisers, which you can get at the O’Russey shops.
The biggest problem you will likely face with a balcony garden is ants. While ants do not harm plants themselves, their presence is a concern.
Ants protect pests (like aphids, mealybugs and whiteflies) from their natural predators. As a byproduct of feeding on plants, these insects produce honeydew, which ants use as food. Therefore when you see ants swarming your plants it is often a sign of an infestation that will sap your plant’s vitality.
By stopping the ants, you let natural predators in to kill plant pests. In Phnom Pemh, the best solution we found to deter ants is a combo:
First, sprinkle Ant Killing Bait along ant trails – tha ants will take the bait back to the nest and poison the group. Second, mop religiously with Lix Antibacterial cleaner. It’s billed as anti-ant and in our experience it works.
While you can buy clay red pots at all of the gardens listed in the map, the only place in town we have come across to get a wider variety of pots is Chhor Vy Pottery. Aside from selling indoor and outdoor plant pots of all sizes, they also sell water fountains, dirt and vases.
The following plants are easy to care for, readily available in local shops and grow wonderfully on Phnom Penh balconies.
The two 7-footers pictured above cost $30 each – well worth the value if you need shade or privacy screens for your balcony.
Golden cane palms can be placed indoors in sunny rooms, or outdoors in either partial or full sun. They are generally pest resistant and don’t need fertiliser more than a few times per year. Water semi-deeply and then let dry out. On a balcony in full sun, watering every 2-3 days should be the sweet spot.
Also called by its scientific name ‘plumeria’, the frangipani is known locally as krahom. Native to Central America, the plant was long ago naturalized in Asia and commonly associated with Hindu and Buddhist temples.
The flowers have five petals and are very fragrant. The two common local variants produce blooms of white or reddish-purple flowers. In temples, these are used as offerings to deities, for various religious ceremonies and as an ingredient for home remedy medicine.
You can buy these in local gardens at around two feet tall. Put them in large pots, since they can grow as high as eight feet in a home garden.
They need plenty of sun. Water moderately and then allow to dry out before watering again.
Adenium desert rose plants are easy to grow, pest resistant wonders that enjoy full sun and produce brilliant blooms of red flowers – with little effort.
Originally from East Africa, these do very well on sunny Phnom Penh balconies. Simply place in full sun, water moderately and enjoy the magic.
Gardenias are ornamental shrubs that grow fragrant white flowers and lush green foliage. They are finicky plants, but growing them is rewarding.
In Phnom Penh you should place them in an outdoor spot that receives a few hours of direct morning sun and then shade for the rest of the day. Keep the soil moist (don’t overdo it though) and fertilise 3-4 times per year using the 15-30-15 fertiliser mix.
The biggest challenge you will face is pests – sweet gardenia flowers attract aphids and spider mites. Many gardenias for sale in Phnom Penh gardens have ant infestations (a sure sign that you also have aphids or spider mites). After bringing your gardenia home, keep a close eye on it and use our suggested tips to ensure ants aren’t a problem.
The Rangoon creeper (aka drunken sailor) is a really quirky sun-loving plant that is versatile, fun to grow and bursting with clusters of fragrant blossoms during flowering.
At a glance, it looks like a really thin tree. In fact the Rangoon creeper is a woody climbing vine with green to yellow leaves. The spectacular blooms start white and then explode into pink and finally red at maturity.
In the wild, the creeper attaches to trees and then stretches up through the canopy to reach the sun. On a Phnom Penh balcony, the easiest methods would be to tie the vine to a vertically-affixed broomstick. In the pictured example above, we hung it using a rope tied to a ceiling brace above the plant.
Consider the size and lighting levels of a balcony as a criteria before renting an apartment in Phnom Penh. Plenty of older apartments offer massive balconies that you can have lots of gardening fun with:
The benefits you will get from setting up a garden include physical activity, cognitive stimulation, greater awareness of natural surroundings and rewards for your hard work.
Once we started balcony gardening, greater awareness of our natural surroundings accelerated – the entire city is a garden!
As you start to become more aware of the plants and trees, you will also notice that most homeowners are also passionate about keeping the city green and well planted:
That’s because the weather and conditions in Phnom Penh are ideal for growing tropical plants.
As this article shows, the Phnom Penh home gardening scene is solid, and provides easy entry for anyone to start a gardening hobby project on their balcony.
Broader benefits of home gardening:
- Reduce stress: taking the time to tend your garden will provide a peaceful focus and calming stress relief.
- Boost self-worth: spending your time planting, nurturing and paying attention to your plants, you find yourself developing into someone more in tune with the earth and capable of growing living things to vitality.
- Power your own herbs: herbs that are grown from your own time and energy will provide a massive boost to your home cooking. Herbs that thrive in Phnom Penh’s heat and humidity include basil, dill, rosemary, thyme, sage and mint.