Container Gardening 101

Here in Washington, when Cherry Blossom season arrives, you know Spring is right around the corner.  Pretty soon there will be gorgeous flowers  in every color popping up all over town, not to mention nice weather.  Have you ever been to Washington in May? It is divine!

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Containers of all shapes and sizes can add brilliant color and texture to your landscape. They can freshen up the front porch, add pizzazz to your patio or add a punch of color to the poolside. The colors, textures and varying heights of flowers, plants, and accessories, (such as obelisks), provide an attractive contrast to the lines and architectural details of your hardscaping and add a focal point to any space. Container gardening is also a great way to garden in small apartments or homes with no yards. Plants in containers can offer great versatility as they can be moved around and the containers themselves can become part of your outdoor décor.

Gardening Tools

As with any job, having the right tools is half the battle.  Here is a nice starter set that even comes with a tote, gloves and a plant mister.  All of which you will need.  Its also on sale too!

Choosing the Right Container

When looking at containers, make sure to take into account the mature size of the plants and their growing habits. Upright growers will need a wide base for balance. Sprawlers will need a pot deep enough to drape over.  All pots should have some type of drainage hole at least 1" wide; smaller holes might clog with soil and prevent the water from draining.

As the plants grow, the root systems will fill the pot and the soil will dry more quickly. It's okay to fill the diameter of the container with plants, but make sure there is plenty of room for the roots to move downward into the soil.

Also, where will the pot be located?  What are the colors surrounding the pots?  Make sure to take your surroundings into consideration when choosing a pot.

Here are a few of my favorite styles:

Choosing the Right Soil

Always fill your containers with a quality commercial potting soil.  Never use soil from your garden as it will harden to a rock when it dries out.  A good potting soil will include some, if not all of these elements: compost, peat moss, perlite, vermiculite, and/or rotted manure.

Some potting mixes come with fertilizer already mixed in. Some don't. Either way, container plant roots can't spread out looking for additional food in the soil nearby, so you will need to replenish soil nutrients regularly. Good choices are a time released fertilizer mixed in when planting or a water-soluble fertilizer every 2-4 weeks.

Pick Healthy Plants

You can grow just about anything in the right container, even trees and shrubs will thrive in a large enough pot.  When choosing plants for your pots, make sure to take the following into consideration:

  1. Quality of Nursery or Garden Center
  2. Foliage
  3. Shape
  4. Insects & Disease
  5. Root System
  6. Stem Damage
  7. Weeds
  8. Buds & Flowers

Sun Exposure

When selecting your plants make sure to read the plant tags before you purchase. Select plants that will be happy with the same amounts of water, sun, heat and food. Some flowers love shade, others need a minimum number of hours of sun a day.  You don't want to mix these in the same pot.  Some favorite annuals for sun include petunias, geraniums, calibrachoa, and verbena.  Shade loving annuals include: begonia, caladium, impatinens, and torenia.  Love fresh herbs? Designate at least one pot for your favorite herbs but make sure  to reserve a sunny spot as most herbs need a minimum of six hours of sunlight a day.   

Pick a Variety

Container gardens look best when the plants are in balance with the container. Try to make sure your tallest plants are not more than twice the height of the container and that the fullness of the plant material is not more than half the width again as wide.  Use at least one-third foliage plants to set off flowering plants to their best advantage.  Here are some great examples of plant and container combinations. I especially love the re-purposing of the bird bath as a home for the assorted succulents. 

Water Frequently

Container plants require frequent watering.  Water whenever the soil surface feels dry to the touch.  During hot, sunny periods you may need to water twice a day.  I love a pretty watering can.  Take a look at these beauties:

Remove Faded Blooms

Annual and perennial flowers will look better and grow faster when their old, faded blooms are removed.  This process is called "deadheading."  With larger flowers, simply remove the dead flower head with your pruning shears or pinch off with your fingers.  For more delicate flowers, such as sweet alyssum, shear back the entire plant by about 1/3 with scissors.

For those of you that need a bit more help, one of my favorite how-to books, Container Gardening, will be sure to inspire with their beautiful photos and step-by-step instructions.

There have been hundreds of studies documenting the benefits of gardening  Read here for the good news.

So what about you - are you inspired to celebrate Spring and add a beautiful container or two to your home or garden?