As homes get bigger and yards get smaller, and with more people leasing homes or living in apartments these days, the container gardening trend has revived itself!
Container gardens are ideal for small spaces. They can be grown where traditional gardens are not possible – apartment balconies, small courtyards, decks, patios, and areas with poor soil.
They are ideal for renters, people with limited mobility or those with limited time to care for a large landscape. They are perfect for beginning gardeners intimidated by large landscape projects.
Container gardens are also great for advanced gardeners who are interested in showcasing particular plants or gardening skills.
What is a good container for gardening?
The sky is the limit, depending on the type of plants you want in the container – and the design of the container itself.
If you prefer a rustic style, then cast-iron tubs, whiskey barrels and even old tires make for unique containers.
If a modern style is preferred, then more contemporary containers made from concrete, fiberglass, plastic, metal and terracotta might be considered. Traditional pots made of ceramic and clay are also nice choices.
Potting soil mixes are highly recommended whether you mix your own or buy it ready-made in a store. Dirt from your garden is not recommended for container plants!
Potting soil should be free from weed seeds, insects and disease organisms. The ideal potting mix retains water, yet is porous enough to drain properly.
Most commercial potting mixes contain ingredients such as vermiculite, perlite, compost and sphagnum peat moss. When buying potting soil mixes at the store, stay away from old bags that have been sitting around, as they may bear soil-borne diseases. Be cautious of using any potting soil from a previous growing season. Look for mixes that include time-release fertilizers and expanded shale, as well as coconut coir.
For large pots planted with shallow-rooted plants, you can reduce the weight and save money on soil mix by filling the void with other products, including empty plastic bottles, lava rock and upside-down containers placed in the larger pot.
Always leave about one inch from the top of the soil to the rim of the pot to water without overflowing. Surround the roots with enough soil to ensure they won’t dry out. For additional water retention, you can add sphagnum moss around the inside of the container.
When planting a container using multiple plants, choose plants with similar needs, such as water, light and temperature tolerances. Typically, popular choices for container plants are annuals (they will not grow back next season). Recently perennials have made a huge impact on container gardening trends with spectacular results.
It is often said that “there are no rules” when it comes to designing container gardens. With a compact amount of space, you can create spectacular displays of color and texture. Common design techniques recommend placing taller, bolder plants in the center, followed by medium-sized plants.
The plants on the rim may flow over the edge. This technique is sometimes called “a filler and a spiller.” The plant selection is based on how much attention you want to give your container gardens.
Ornamental grasses, vegetables, herbs and succulents are ideal to start with. Get creative and whimsical with objects like tea cups, old boots, old lunch boxes, briefcases, wheelbarrows or any creative item laying around that will provide proper drainage when holes are added to the bottom of the container.
Almost all container plants require daily watering, even twice daily in the hot summer. Water slowly, totally drenching the plant until you see water pouring out of the bottom. Because of such watering, most nutrients and fertilizers that came with the soil will quickly become diluted and wash away. A helpful hint is to add liquid seaweed or fish emulsion. Too much watering is just as bad as not enough water. A sign of overwatering is yellowing of the leaves or leaf drop (sometimes it appears to look wilted, as if it has not had enough water). Do a finger test on the soil.
Here are a few tips for responsible watering of your container garden:
- Choose larger containers; they require less frequent watering.
- Avoid dark containers; they evaporate moisture in sunlight faster than lighter colors.
- Mulch the surface of the soil to reduce water loss.
- Provide as much shade as can be tolerated during the hottest time of the day.
- Combine plants with similar light and water requirements.
- Select plants that are drought-tolerant; succulents are a good place to start.
- Place saucers under pots to reclaim water for reuse.
About the author: Michael O’Keefe is president of local garden center Creative by Nature, Inc.