Probably no other form of gardening allows more versatility than container gardening. Growing plants in containers makes it possible to garden in situations where there is no yard or soil available: on a rooftop, a high-rise balcony, a deck, a fire escape, or even in an area that's covered with concrete.
Container gardening can be an ideal solution for people with physical limitations that prevent them from working down at ground level. It can also be the answer for those with soil problems. For anyone, growing annuals in containers can provide an extra dimension of gardening pleasure, both outdoors in summer and indoors in winter. All that's essential with container gardening is that the container be capable of holding soil as well as allowing excess water to drain away. Keep in mind that plants thrive more readily in larger amounts of soil, because the soil temperature and moisture level fluctuate less as soil volume increases. Unless the gardener is extremely vigilant, plants are more likely to suffer frequent drying out and overheating when planted in small pots.
In this article we will focus on how to plan and plant your container garden, the variety of plants that can be used in container gardens, the correct care for container gardens, which materials are suitable, and finally we have some inspiration for creative gardening ideas.
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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:
Foliage Plants for Containers
Foliage plants are a must when planting a garden in your yard, as they fill out spaces with lush greenery, and provide a lovely backdrop for showier flower and plants. Well, foliage plays the same role in your container garden. These plants look great when they're mixed with flowering plants in pots. Here are just a few of the foliage plants which you should consider when creating your container garden:
So, you've picked the plants you want to use in your container garden, and you've got them planted. That's only the beginning! now it's time to start caring for your garden, and while caring is half the work, it's also half the fun. Find useful tips for proper and successful container garden care on the next page.Want more information on creating a garden? Try:
Container Garden Care
Care of container plantings takes little total time, but it does require daily attention. The following are tips to keep your container garden thriving.
- Soil moisture needs to be checked every evening. When the weather is dry and windy, you may even need to check soil moisture morning and evening. To test the moisture level, rub a small amount of the surface soil from each pot between your thumb and finger. Ideally, you want to re-water each planter before the soil becomes bone dry. On the other hand, the soil should not be constantly soaking wet or the plants will drown. Therefore, it's necessary to keep track of the moisture level very conscientiously. To be sure that water reaches all of the soil in the container, fill the planter to the rim with water several times, allowing it to soak in completely. If no water comes out of the drainage holes, fill again. Repeat this process until water starts to drip from the bottom of the container.
- To keep the plantings looking full and to encourage abundant blooming, remove dead flower heads promptly. At the same time, check for any signs of insect or disease problems. Once every ten days to two weeks, water with a mild fertilizer solution.
- Set a narrow perforated PVC pipe in the center of a strawberry pot or large container before filling in around it with potting mix. When you need to water your plants, run the hose gently into the pipe, and the water will ooze out from top to bottom, inside to outside, giving every plant an even share.
- Use slow-release fertilizers to keep plants growing and blooming all season. Because peat-based mixes contain little or no natural nutrients, plant growth depends on a regular supply of fertilizer. Slow-release fertilizers keep working for several months to a year, depending on the formulation.
- Seal the bottoms of clay saucers with polyurethane to keep them watertight. Then they will be safe to use on floors and carpets. Or, instead of buying clay saucers, you can buy watertight plastic saucers made to look like clay. When one is sitting beneath a pot, it's hard to tell the difference.
- Put clay and plastic pots in the garage before cold winter weather arrives. This will help keep them from cracking and chipping when the weather turns bitterly cold.
- Wrap heavy urns and pots that are too bulky to carry indoors in plastic for winter protection. Do this on a dry autumn day, securing the plastic across the top, bottom, and sides of the pots to prevent moisture from getting inside. Moisture expands when it freezes. This causes terra-cotta, ceramic, and even synthetic stone and concrete containers to chip and break.
- Store pots under a tarp for protection in mild climates. This will save space in your garage or basement and keep the pots handy for when you need them in the spring.
- Look for self-watering planters if you aren't home enough to keep potted plants from drying out (or if you forget to water every day or two). Self-watering planters have a water reservoir in the bottom that's connected to the pot by a water-absorbing wick. When the soil begins to get dry, the wick pulls up more water from the reservoir.
Find a list of the best and most common materials for containers on the next page.Want more information on creating a garden? Try:
Materials for Containers
You can pretty much choose any type of container you like, no matter what it's made out of. Here are some of the best options:
- Compressed fibers
- Compressed peat moss
Now that you've got the basics down, you can learn how to to even more with container gardens. In the final section of this article, we have some suggestions on how to get creative with your garden containers. Want more information on creating a garden? Try:
Creative Container Gardening Ideas
When creating your container garden, the actual containers you use can be as plain or elaborate as you wish. Clay or plastic pots; wood, plastic, or metal window boxes; decorator pots of ceramic, terra cotta, alabaster, or wrought iron; recycled plastic or metal pails; wire frames lined with sphagnum moss; a child's cast-off metal wagon; hanging planters; a plastic-lined bushel basket -- any of these can be used. Here's a chance to give your imagination free rein!
- Hanging baskets provide another almost endless source of color. You can group them at different levels on a porch; hang them from tree limbs; or add half-baskets to brighten a blank wall or bare fence. You can even create tall pillars of color by hanging baskets from an old coat rack or other suitable recycled stand.
- Plant annuals in a big bag of potting soil for a quick, easy balcony garden. This method, commonly used in England, is still a novelty here and will make a great conversation piece:
- The plastic wrapper will help to keep the soil inside moist. But when it does begin to dry out or needs water-soluble fertilizer as a plant pick-me-up, carefully drizzle water or water-soluble fertilizer inside to moisten the entire bag.
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