Do not be afraid to experiment placing different plants near each other when creating a garden that uses several different containers. Mix and match plants of different sizes and types. For instance, try a tall plant in a bigger container or a vine that tumbles over the side of a lower one. Last year, the cluster of various-sized flowerpots next to the stairs leading up to my front porch held a variety of annuals. Bright green jalapeño peppers, hot pink begonias, pastel purple wavy-style petunias, crimson red salvia, and leafy coleus tinged with pale red flourished with the right amounts of sunlight and water. Friends and neighbors paid complements to the arrangement all summer, and the only real maintenance took place once every few days when it was time to relieve the stems of their dead blooms or pick freshly ripened peppers.
However you choose to container garden, make it your own and don’t be afraid to let it reflect your unique personality. You could add some seashells and a small piece of driftwood for a seaside effect. Add a little moss and some smooth stones or pebbles for a woodsy feel. Is your china cabinet or other shelf of mementos overflowing with inexpensive figurines and other trinkets? Send them off for a vacation in your container garden! One of my favorites is a glass owl that hides behind a spider plant growing in a metal bucket hanging from the side of my deck. He is out of sight unless the sun hits him the right way and then brief rainbows of color shoot out in all directions. If you have a favorite container idea or story to share, why not leave a comment? We’d love to hear from you!
There are things to remember with container gardening that may not apply to ones planted directly in the lawn. Light-colored containers are less likely to absorb heat, and more likely to keep roots cool during extremely warm months. Put heavy or oversized pots on a platform with wheels and you will find it easier to move when the time may come. Using good soil is important, but garden centers also often sell soilless potting mixes. These tend to weigh less and make containers easier to move. Plants with thin leaves need less water, but ones with thicker leaves might benefit from a handful of mulch to help soil retain its moisture. If moving containers inside for the winter, be sure to choose a spot that allows plants the benefit of adequate natural sunlight. However, two things to avoid when selecting containers for plants include narrow openings and cheap plastic. Narrow openings hinder a plant’s full growing potential, and cheap plastic dries out with extended exposure to the sun.
The most important thing to remember when planting in containers is this: be sure that the size of the plant complements the size of the container. For example, you can expect a small pot to hinder the growth of full-sized tomatoes. These beauties need stakes and room to grow to their full potential. Be sure the container you select anchors the weight of the plant when heavy laden with plump, ripe fruits to avoid spillage. On the other hand, planting garlic in an oversized pot is probably not a good idea unless you have plans to use a lot of the sharp-tasting herb. Garlic has short roots and because it takes up very little space, it thrives in shallow containers like dish gardens.
Begin by adding potting mix to the container until the container is about 3/4 full. (If you use a dry, peat-moss-based mix, you must first moisten it by placing it in a plastic tub or a wheelbarrow and slowly adding water until the mix is moist but not soggy.) Next, set the plants on the mix one by one, spacing them much more closely than you would when planting them in the ground. Put the tallest plants in the center of the container. Surround them with the shorter, mounding plants, and put trailing plants along the edge. When you are pleased with your arrangement, add potting mix to bring the level to within an inch or so of the container’s rim and firm lightly. Finally, water thoroughly.
Well prepared garden soil is great for growing things in the ground but when it comes to growing things in containers, soil as you know it needs to be changed. Soils for containers need to be well aerated and well drained while still being able to retain enough moisture for plant growth. When choosing what to use to fill containers, never use garden soil by itself no matter how good it looks or how well things grow in it out in the garden. When put into a container both drainage and aeration are severely impeded, and the results are that plants grow poorly or not at all.
Soils for containers are always modified in some way to ensure proper drainage and aeration. Container soils are often referred to as soilless or artificial media, because they contain no soil at all. They are often composed of various things such as peat, vermiculite, bark, coir fiber (ground coconut hulls) in a variety of recipes depending on the manufacture and the type of plant material being grown. They can be found under a variety of trade names and in sizes ranging from a few quarts to bales that are many cubic feet in size. Sometimes the choice of media will be directed by what type of plants you are growing. Succulents, herbs, and perennials tend to prefer soils that are well drained and not retaining a lot of moisture over a long period of time. For them you might choose media that are courser in texture containing more bark, perlite or sand. For tropicals and foliage plants, you might choose a media with more peat and less course material as these plants tend to prefer moisture growing conditions.
Whether you are growing indoors or out, fertilizer is essential to the success of container gardens. The easiest way to go about fertilizing potted plants is by preparing a nutrient solution and pouring it over the soil mix. The fertilizer is absorbed by the roots and quickly adds what is missing from the existing soil. Even if your potting mix is perfect from the get-go, it will soon become depleted of nutrients as they are constantly used up by plants and leached out by watering. The faster a plant grows the more fertilizer and water it will require. Consequently, as watering is increased so is leaching and nutrient loss.
Once you’ve selected a fertilizer (make sure you use an organic one!), you’ll need to apply it about once every two weeks for container grown plants. This assumes that you’re growing in a high quality, compost rich potting mix that will help retain nutrients. With that said, some gardeners prefer to fertilize with a weak nutrient solution every other time they water. If this is your preference, make sure to use about 1/5 the amount called for on the label.
Tip: When adding fertilizer to potted plants use organic blends (derived from many nutrient sources). Organic fertilizers are just as effective as chemicals, will not burn, and supply the required macronutrients (N-P-K) as well as a large selection of minerals, micronutrients, amino acids and vitamins.