Container gardening has many advantages over traditional methods of gardening and landscaping your lawn. You can experiment with color, insure that your plants have great soil, and raise the garden to a comfortable level for weeding, fertilizing, and pruning. Containers full of bright flowers, lovely foliage, and colorful vegetables can fill empty spots on your deck or front steps, or create borders and privacy screens.
The first step to insuring your container garden’s success is to choose the right pot. The container should have drainage holes to keep the roots from sitting in water and provide aeration for healthy root growth. If you have a ceramic container you just must display, consider using inexpensive plastic flower pots with drainage holes as liners, or place one or two inches of gravel in the bottom of the container. Set the container on brick or blocks a few inches off the ground to promote complete drainage.
When choosing a container, consider where it will be placed. Will the planter receive full sunlight or will it be in a shady or partially shady spot? Will you want to move the container from one spot to another or will it stay put? Containers in full sun will heat up and dry out more quickly. Wood is an excellent container material that has good water retention. Hardwoods are more resistant to rot but other woods can be used if treated with a copper napthene preservative. Avoid using woods treated with creosote or Penta wood preservatives, as these contain chemicals which are toxic to plants as well as humans. Metal containers heat up quickly and are usually heavy. Terra cotta containers are attractive but dry out quickly in full sun. Fiberglass and resin containers are light and durable, and many are molded to look like natural materials. Plastic containers are light weight and conserve water well but the UV rays of the sun will eventually break down plastic. Concrete planters are attractive but extremely heavy. If you want to use a heavy container that may need to be moved for convenience, place it on a dolly to save breaking your back, or the container!
Balance the size of the plant with the container; a tall plant will need a container not more than twice its height, and the fullness of the plant should not be more than 1-1/2 times the width of the container. Plants that grow upright will need a wide base for balance. Sprawling plants will need a deep pot so they may drape over the edge.
You may choose to plant one type of plant in each container, or different plants for a colorful display. When mixing plant varieties, be sure to choose varieties that have similar watering, feeding, and sunlight requirements.
Use a good potting soil, not garden soil, to fill your container. Potting soil will not compact like earth, will retain moisture longer, and will be free from pests. If you are filling a rather large planter, purchasing premixed potting soil can be expensive; you may choose to mix your own from equal parts of peat moss, garden loam, and builders sand. Many premixed potting soils will contain fertilizer, although some do not, but eventually watering will wash the fertilizer away through the drainage holes. Since the roots won’t be able to grow into additional soil to look for nutrients you will need to fertilize your plants regularly.
Container gardens dry out quickly and will probably need watering at least once a day, and perhaps twice on very hot days. Grouping containers of plants will provide some shade to the soil and help retain moisture. Consider growing drought-resistant plants that can tolerate the intensified heat and dry soil.
One of the luxuries of container gardening is that as blossoms fade, the plants can easily be replaced with new ones whose blooming season has begun You can enjoy your beautiful container garden from early spring to late fall!