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Planting a Container Garden

Basically, you can start your container garden with any potting mix, picking the perfect blend for the plants you want to grow. Then set the pot where it will have the ideal amount of sun or shade. You provide water when nature comes up short, and you schedule the fertilization.

Is that it? Well, not quite. Read on for more specific tips to help you plant a beautiful container garden.

  • To grow plants successfully in containers, good drainage is essential. Drainage holes need to be covered to keep soil in place: Pieces of broken pottery, fine screening, or a coffee filter are all good choices. You can also add a layer of small stones, perlite, or coarse sand in the bottom of the container. Indoors, or on a porch where dripping water would do damage, place a drip tray under the container to catch excess water. When using a decorative container with no drainage holes, place a well-drained pot inside of it in which to actually grow plants. Raise the inner pot on a layer of pebbles to keep it above water level. Peat moss in the space between the inner and outer pots would provide insulation to help stabilize soil temperatures.
  • Sterilize old pots with a 10 percent bleach solution before using them for other plants. Saving old pots from flowers, vegetables, poinsettias, even shrubs transplanted into the yard is a great way to economize. But you have to be certain to eliminate any pests and diseases that may have come, like extra baggage, with the previous occupant.Begin by washing out excess soil, bits of roots, and other debris with warm soapy water. Mix 1 part household bleach with 9 parts water and use the solution to wipe out the pot. Rinse again, and the pot is ready to plant.
  • Create your own custom potting soil. Use a peat-moss-based potting mix as the foundation. (It works well for houseplants, seedlings, and many other plants as is.) Peat-based mixes won't compress like true soil, which is a big advantage in pots. But they are low on nutrients and liable to dry out quickly, complications that can be minimized with special potting blends.To make a richer mix for annual flowers or for perennials like daylilies, you can blend 2 parts peat mix with 1 part compost. For a more fertile, moisture-retentive soil for tomatoes or lettuce, blend 1 part peat mix, 1 part garden soil, and 1 part compost. For a lighter mix for propagating cuttings or growing succulents or cacti, add 1 part coarse sand or perlite to 1 part peat mix.
  • Premix a wheelbarrow full of potting blend. If you have plenty of houseplants that need repotting, or you like to put more than just a few pots or window boxes of summer flowers outdoors, this will save you time and effort. And if you buy the peat mix and extras in large, economy-size bags, it also will save you money.
  • Premoisten peat-based mixes in a large tub or wheelbarrow. Prewetting peat moss, which soaks up a surprisingly large amount of water, ensures there will be enough moisture left over to supply new plantings.Premoistening is easily done with a garden hose. Sprinkle in a generous amount of water, and work the moisture into the peat mix with a trowel (or a hoe if you are making large batches). Continue to add more water until the peat clumps together in a moist ball. Then it is ready to go in a pot. Don't let the mix get soggy.
  • Use water-holding gels to reduce the need for watering, especially when planting in quick-drying, peat-based mixes. These gels -- actually polymers -- look like crystals when dry and safely sealed in their package. But once you add water, you'll be surprised to see them swell into a large mass of quivering gelatin look-alikes. You can blend the gel into potting mixes, following blending instructions on the package.
  • Keep a succession of new flowers blooming in pots throughout the seasons, so your home and yard will never be short on color. In spring, enjoy cool-season flowers like forced bulbs, primroses, and pansies. In summer, grow tender perennials and annuals like impatiens and begonias. In fall, enjoy late bloomers like asters, mums, and ornamental grasses.

Of course, flowers are great for containers. However, you should also consider using foliage plants in containers to add a little interest to your garden. Find a list of annual and perennial foliage plants well-suited for containers on the next page.Want more information on creating a garden? Try: