During hot August days, working in the garden can be more of a chore than a pleasure. But container gardening can allow you to enjoy growing plants in places that you thought impossible or unthinkable. Poor soil, unpredictable weather and limited space are no longer excuses for not being able to enjoy the simple pleasures of gardening.
Containers can be used to provide focal points, divide spaces, create privacy, screen objectionable views, accent the landscape or grow tasty herbs, fruits and vegetables. Containers can change the entire look of a landscape by providing instant color anywhere at any time. Even better, it provides greater control of the amount of water you use.
Your choice of container (along with choice of plants) communicates feelings and sets a mood. It can be amusing, classic, creative, stylish, primitive, country, environmentally friendly and more. Of course, container size needs to match the size and weight of the plants you are using. Larger and heavier plants will require bigger pots made of stronger materials.
The type of plants you choose to put in your container will depend on location, light and temperature. Make sure you choose plants with similar growing requirements. How you arrange them depends on how you will be looking at the pot. If you will be looking from all sides, the classic approach is to place tall plants in the center and surround them with shorter mounding plants and finishing off with trailing plants along the edges. If it will be viewed from the front, locate tall plants at the back and work forward with shorter plants and then trailing types.
In choosing plants, a good rule is to pick a “thriller, filler and spiller.” The thriller should be eye-catching, colorful and the focal point of your container. The fillers and spillers need to have the same growing requirements as the main plant, but can be different colors and shapes. Examples of fillers and spillers are baby’s tears, blue star creeper, creeping thyme and Irish moss. While it is easy to focus on ornamentals, edibles work just as well. A mix of spring greens, kale and spinach will add to your salads and look great in your container.
When you have selected your container, plants and soil, you are ready to pot up your container. First, cover the drainage holes with mesh, window screening or even coffee filters to prevent the soil from washing out onto your patio or deck. A common mistake is to put a layer of gravel in the bottom, but this actually impedes drainage and reduces the amount of space for roots. Fill the pot with soil to within a few inches of the top. Add slow-release fertilizer to the top and work it in well to a depth of 6 to 8 inches.
Plant the large plants first and add smaller plants as you move toward the edges of the pot. After your plants are placed, add more soil, making sure that the roots are covered by no more than half an inch of soil.
Maintaining your container garden requires some work. Because container-ized plants have limited soil volume, proper watering and fertilizing are critical. The frequency of watering depends on the time of year, location, how long the container has been planted, type of container and plants. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to watering. You have to check your containers on a regular basis and know the plants’ requirements. The easiest way to test for moisture is to poke your finger into the soil to feel how moist it is. If you have a drip system in your yard, consider adding your potted plants to it. Then your pots will be automatically watered.
Some grooming is needed to maintain an attractive container. You may need to pinch back, trim, deadhead or replace plants to keep your container looking its best.
Pick your location, container and plants. Experiment with color, form, texture, size and shape. Let the fun begin!