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Everything You Need to Know About Container Gardening

The use of pots, tubs, and half-barrels for container gardening is not only appealing to the eyes and the soul, but is also practical. Not everyone has ample gardening space, so many have to settle by using the little areas with sunlight. Sometimes it’s on a sunny spot in the driveway or in balconies, and sometimes it is a sliver of space in their backyard. Container gardening is not only an ideal choice for someone with a little gardening space, it is also a great method of growing a variety of vegetables, including chives, thyme, and basil.

Container gardening plants can also reach places regularly planted flowers and shrubs cannot. While outdoor plants lend instant color to the house, and become the focal point in the garden or blend in with the house architecture, potted plants can be hung from window sills, or set on porches, the ground or on a pedestal. A pair of matching containers deliver great decoration around doorways and windows.

Large containers can be used for outdoor decorations, but small pots with plants arranged in groups can provide a colorful look for any garden. These small pots can feature small evergreens, perennials, or even greens that can be used for cooking. Another idea is to use window boxes or hanging containers in various locations to add instant appeal and color.

Containers can be planted with a single plant species, like ornamental grass or rosemary, or with a mix of plants, which offers an unlimited amount of gorgeous combinations. The best types of combinations include handsome foliage and flowers which bloom over a long season.

One strategy of choosing a combination of plants is to put together “a thriller, a spiller, and a filler”. The thriller is the focal point plant, the spiller is one that “spills” over the edge of the pots, and the fillers are plants with smaller leaves and colors. These help fill in the rest of the space in the arrangement. Some good thrillers include coleus or geranium. Fillers can be petunias, ornamental sweet potatoes, creeping zinnias, and bacopa. Some good filler choices are salvias, ornamental peppers, verbenas and wax begonias or foliage plants like licorice and parsley. You may want to consider including a plant for height. About 5 or 6 plants typically fit nicely together per container.

Container Sizes

Large containers are easier for growing plants because they hold more soil, and it stays moist longer, resulting in better resistance to temperature changes. Small hanging baskets’ contents can dry out quickly and would need to be watered frequently (twice daily at least) in the hot summer months to stay alive.

You should also consider the size and shape of a plant’s root system when deciding on container size. Rootbound plants tend to occupy the majority of the available soil and do not do well in these settings. Make sure you use a larger pot when planting a mix to allow ample room for the roots of all of the contents. Also, keep in mind that light color containers will keep the soil cooler than dark ones.

Consider the weight of the container you are using. That largely depends on where you are going to be placing it. If placed on a balcony or a deck, make sure you are aware of any weight restrictions.

Container Drainage

One essential aspect of any content is the drainage system. Without being able to drain accordingly, the soil becomes waterlogged and plants could die. The holes do not need to be large, but they need to have enough space to allow excess water to drain. A container without holes can house a smaller container drainage holes. These cachepots can serve as a more decorative exterior for the lighter inner container allowing to move the inner container from one external one to another easily.

Container Minerals

There are pros and cons to every type of container. Clay or terracotta containers look nice, but are fragile and easily damaged by recurring frost and thaw cycles. In Northern areas, these need to be stored in warmer locations to prevent damage and therefore are not suitable for year-round outside plant housing.

Cast concrete containers are very durable and are available in many sizes and styles. However, they are very heavy and challenging to move. Their weight is not conducive to balcony or porch uses either. There are concrete blends, however, sometimes mixed with vermiculite, perlite, or fiberglass.

Plastic and fiberglass pots and planters are a good choice. They are light, inexpensive and available in different shapes and sizes. It is best to choose flexible and sturdy containers. Thin and stiff ones become brittle in the cold and with age.

Polyurethane foam containers look like terracotta or concrete containers but are 90% lighter. They do not crack or chip, not to mention serving as great insulators for cold and hot temperatures.

Wood is natural-looking and protects roots from extreme temperature changes. If building a wood container, choose naturally rot-resistant wood like locust or cedar. Metal containers are sturdy, but they conduct heat which will expose roots to temperature changes.

Container Preparation

Before filling containers with soil and plants, decide where they will be placed as they are heavy to move after being filled. If watering the plants daily will be an issue, make sure to put them in places where the morning sun will be able to reach them, but the afternoon will bring a level of shade, which will reduce the moisture the plants need.

If the drainage holes are too big, you can place paper towels or newspapers underneath the pot to keep it from losing soil. If the container is too deep, you can put a layer of gravel or styrofoam in the bottom of the pot to reduce how much soil needs to go in there.

Plain garden soil is not ideal for container gardening because it is too dense. Containers that are up to 1 gallon use a houseplant soil mixture. For larger containers than that, use a relatively coarse soilless planting mixture. You will want to make sure the soil is uniformly wet before planting in it. When planting mixes, plant densely, and prune the plants once they fill in. Trim off any circling roots from trees and shrubs. You will want to make sure that the pots aren’t filled to the top with soil so you have ample room for watering.

Selecting Plans For Containers

Basically any vegetable, herb, shrub, flower or small tree can grow in a container. Smaller pots work best for dwarf and compact cultivars. It is also important to select plants based on the amount of sunshine they will receive relative to where the container will be placed. If you are planting fragrant plants, place their containers in a place not susceptible to breezes, which will disperse the perfume.

Don’t forget that container gardening can be changed from one season to the next, so have fun trying out different combinations of plants together. Keep in mind that plants will be less hardy than they typically are due to their roots being exposed to fluctuating temperatures. Non hardy plants will need to be moved to a warmer location in the winter, a fact that is good to keep in mind when considering the weight of your container and its mobility.

Growing Vegetables

Certain vegetables can be grown in containers. Anything from a large pot to a 5-gallon bucket or a half barrel will at most accommodate one tomato plant or several smaller veggies like cabbage broccoli. Tomatoes, pumpkins and winter squash are more suitable for container gardening.


Looking for plants that remain attractive for the duration of the summer? Look for warm-weather annuals that bloom throughout the summer and have foliage. Wax begonias, coleus, marigold, geraniums, scarlet sage, and flowering tobacco are all great choices, with many others that can be found in seed catalogs and gardening centers.

Perennials and Shrubs

Hostas and daylilies are great choices for container gardening plants, but many other perennials will work well too. European wild ginger, lavender, lungworts, lamiums, sedges, and ornamental grasses are all great choices as well.

Container Gardening Care

How often you water the plants depends on several factors such as weather, pot size, and plant size. You want to be sure to not let the soil dry out because it is hard to rewet. For an extra aesthetic appeal spread a layer of mulch as you would in a garden, and in doing so you will help the soil retain moisture.

Container gardening plants should be watered with fish emulsion, compost tea, and seaweed extract. Start by feeding them in this manner once every two weeks, and adjust how frequently you water based on the response of the plant.

Keep in mind that the containers tend to be focal points in your garden, so they will need special attention to keep them looking their best. Pruning back plants that get leggy or no longer bloom, removing tattered leaves and deadhead flowers, and digging out some plants that don’t grow well. It is also wise to keep an eye out for pests like mites and aphids which can ruin the plants.

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