Grow Your Best Container Gardens Yet

Container gardening is a fantastic way to bring the joy and beauty of plants onto your patio or deck. It is ideal for those with little space on their property to plant gardens and for those with lots of space, but just want to enjoy plants up close.

Container gardens offer versatility to gardens, decks, walkways and patios. Container gardens also help define spaces and soften hardscape surfaces. Plants in containers offer instant color and texture. The containers themselves provide architectural interest and can even provide artistic flair. Used singularly or in groupings, container gardens bring a special feel to whatever space they fill.

What Defines A Container

Here’s the great thing about container gardening; almost anything can be a container! Of course, the trusty terra cotta pot is always a tried and true container, as are the more decorative pots sold just about everywhere these days. Ceramics, plastic pots that look like other materials, concrete, metals, there is a huge diversity in what pots are made out of. All sizes and shapes are available as well.

Photo Credit: Maryanne Cherry

If you want to think outside of the box, consider objects such as metal tubs, barrels, old wheelbarrows and even old rubber gardening boots! The sky is the limit as to what will work for a container.

One rule about containers to keep in mind. If you live in an area that freezes in the winter, make sure that the material the container is made out of can withstand freezing, or plan to bring the container indoors before cold weather sets in.

It All Starts With The Soil

It’s all about the soil.  Container gardens are very small, self-contained environments. Therefore, having the correct soil and enough of it are two of the most important considerations for a successful garden. After all, soil is the foundation in which plants grow.

When it comes to growing plants in containers, the goal is to have a fluffy, porous, sterile potting soil that allows water and air to reach the roots of the plants. The best potting mix for container gardening is one that is light, and won’t become compacted in the container. The mix should drain well, but also hold moisture.

Although there are many good potting soils available at nurseries, some of them do tend to dry out quickly. It is easy to create potting soil by mixing 2 parts peat moss, 2 parts compost, 1 part perlite and ½ part vermiculite. This recipe will provide nutrients, drain well and not dry out too fast.

Good Drainage Is Key

Drainage holes are another essential component of successful container gardening. If the pot does not drain, the soil will become waterlogged and the plants will die. The drainage hole does not need to be large, but large enough that water can drain out properly. If the container does not have a drainage hole, try drilling one yourself.

Plant Selection

When it comes to what to plant in containers, one is only limited by one’s imagination. Obviously annuals and perennials are at the top of the list, but also consider shrubs, small trees, tropicals, ornamental grasses, herbs and even vegetables.

Keep in mind that the same basic rule of light requirements apply to container gardens as in-ground gardens. Plants that need full light still need to be in full light, those that need shade still need to be in the shade.

Container gardens can have just one plant or a combination of many plants. Either way, make sure the container is large enough to accommodate.

If creating a container garden with several plants, consider those with colored foliage, interesting textures and forms that compliment each other. Foliage colors that contrast each other tend to really bring out the individual colors. Also select a few plants that will hang over the sides giving the appearance of a container overflowing with plants.

Rolling With The Seasons

Most people only consider summer plantings for containers but there is opportunity all year long. In early spring, use pansies, violas and dianthus. In the full, chrysanthemums, pansies, ornamental cabbages and kales look great. In the winter, consider using pine cones, ornamental grasses, as well as branches from Red Twig Dogwood, Contorted Willow or any conifer.

On-Going Care

Unfortunately, container gardens are not “plant it and forget it” gardens. They do require ongoing care.

The most important care is proper watering. Containers dry out quickly. Check the soil daily by sticking your finger at least an inch into the soil. If it is dry, water thoroughly until water is coming out the bottom of the pot. Containers in full sun will require more watering.

Container gardens also require regular feeding. Use a well-balanced water-soluble fertilizer ever two weeks.

Finally, to keep blooming annual plants flowers for as long as possible, pinch or remove spent flowers often. This will prevent the plant from putting energy into seed production and encourage it to create new flowers.

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