Gardening with containers and pots
Gardening in containers is ideal for those with little or no garden space. In addition to growing flowers, gardeners limited to a balcony or only a patch of sun on their driveway can produce a wide variety of vegetable crops in containers.
Container plants also add versatility to gardens large and small. They provide instant colour, are a focal point in the garden and tie in the architecture of the house to the garden. A pair of matching containers on either side of the front walk serves as a welcoming decoration, while containers on a deck or patio can add colour and ambiance to such outdoor sitting areas.
You can use single large containers for outdoor decoration, but also consider arranging groups of pots, both small and large, on stairways, terraces, or anywhere in the garden. Window boxes and hanging baskets offer even more ways to add instant colour and appeal.
Containers planted with a single species or a bold variegated ornamental grass can be stunning garden accents. Containers planted with a mix of plants are fun to create and offer almost unlimited possibilities of combinations. The best combinations depend on plants that feature beautiful foliage and flowers produced over a long bloom season.
One easy guideline for choosing the plants to combine in a container is to include at least one focal-point plant, such as coleus or a geranium with multi coloured leaves, combined with several plants that spill over the edge of the pots, such as petunias, and the fillers, which are plants with smaller leaves and flowers that add colour and fill in the arrangement all season long.
Good fillers include salvias, verbenas, ornamental peppers and wax begonias as well as foliage plants like parsley. You may also want to include a plant for height, such as an ornamental grass like purple fountain grass. Add a trellis or pillar to a container and you can use a vine to add height to the composition.
When choosing a container, keep in mind that it’s easier to grow plants in large containers than small ones. That’s because large containers hold more soil, which stays moist longer and is less subject to rapid temperature fluctuations. Small hanging baskets are especially prone to drying out, and during hot summer weather, you may have to water them twice a day to keep plants alive.
Whatever container you choose, drainage holes are essential. Without drainage, soil will become waterlogged and plants may die. The holes need not be large, but there must be enough so that excess water can drain out.
If a container has no holes, try drilling some yourself. A container without holes is best used as a cachepot, or cover, to hide a plain pot. Grow your plant in an ordinary nursery pot that fits inside a decorative cachepot so you can move them separately.
Clay or terracotta containers are attractive but breakable and are easily damaged by freezing and thawing.
Cast concrete is long-lasting and comes in a range of sizes and styles. These can be left outside in all weather. You can even make attractive ones yourself. Plain concrete containers are very heavy, so they are difficult to move and not suitable for using on decks or balconies.
Plastic and fiberglass pots and planters are lightweight, relatively inexpensive, and available in many sizes and shapes. Choose sturdy and somewhat flexible containers and avoid thin, stiff ones as they become brittle with cold or age.
Preparing your containers
Since containers are heavy once they are filled with soil, decide where they will be located and move them into position before filling and planting.
If keeping them watered during the day is a problem, look for sites that receive morning sun and are shaded during the hottest part of the day, even if you are growing plants for full sun. Afternoon shade will reduce the amount of moisture plants need.
While your containers must have drainage holes, it’s not necessary to cover the holes with pot shards or gravel before you add potting mix. Instead, prevent soil from washing out by placing a layer of paper towel or newspaper over the holes before adding mix. If your container is too deep, you can put a layer of gravel or Styrofoam in the bottom to reduce the amount of potting soil required.
Premoisten soil either by watering it before you fill containers or by flooding the containers with water several times and stirring. Be sure the soil is uniformly moist before planting.
Plant in containers as you would in the garden. If you are planting a mixed container, ignore spacing requirements and plant densely; you will need to prune plants once they fill in.
Caring for your plants
Water container plants thoroughly. How often depends on many factors such as weather, plant size, and pot size. Don’t let soil in containers dry out completely, as it is hard to re-wet. To keep large containers attractive, spread a layer of mulch as you would in the garden. This will also help retain moisture. Be sure to keep mulch an inch or so away from plant stems.
Since containers are focal points in the garden, you will probably want to give them special attention to keep them looking their best. Remove tattered leaves and deadhead spent flowers. Prune back plants that get leggy or stop blooming.
To keep mixed pots attractive, dig out or cut back any plants that don’t grow well or that clash. You can add something else or let other plants in the container fill the space. Keep an eye out for pests like aphids and mites.