Container Gardening ~ 12 Tips for Success

Container Gardening ~ 12 Tips for Success

There are dozens of reasons to grow plants in containers. You might want them to soften and decorate hard surfaces or create privacy on decks or porches. If you have no space for a vegetable garden, you might want to grow edibles in pots on your patio or outside your kitchen door. Containers – be they fabric Smart Pots or plastic tubs, can be placed on driveways or other hard surfaces. You can create small flower or rose gardens in pots, or plant an assortment of foliage plants. No matter what type of plants you want to grow, here are 12 tips and ideas for a successful container garden.

  1. Use fresh soil for annuals, especially when putting many plants in the same pot. New soil drains well and plants can quickly grow roots into the loose potting mix.
For annuals it’s good to use fresh potting soil in your containers in the spring. If you want to reuse some of last year’s potting mix, dump it out into a wheelbarrow, break up the clumps of old roots, and add fresh mix to the old. Older potting soils don’t drain well, so refurbishing or replacing frequently is a key to success.

2. Don’t put rocks in the bottom of pots and don’t cover the drainage hole! Be sure all pots that you are growing in have drainage holes.

Back in the day it was the practice to put rocks or shards in the bottom of pots “for drainage.” We now know that this is not only unnecessary, but it’s bad for plants! Fill pots with soil only…no other debris in the bottom of pots. When your plants stretch their roots to the bottom, they will thank you for putting soil there!

3. It’s possible to grow all sorts of plants in containers. If there is a particular variety that you love and there isn’t room, or the right amount of light, in your gardens, consider growing them in pots.

If you love roses but have no beds in the sun, you can have a rose garden in containers.

4. If you know that you’ll be bringing a plant inside for the winter, be sure to plant it in a light weight container.

This Mayer Lemon tree goes outside in the summer and comes indoors for the winter. It’s in a lightweight plastic pot so that it’s more easily transferred in and out.

5. For containers filled with flowering annuals, make your fertilizing easy by combining equal parts of a time-release synthetic and a slow-release organic product. By mixing these into the soil before planting, your plants will have all the nutrients they need for summer-long flowering.

Shake ‘n Feed and Plant-tone are good for annuals because both have higher percentages of nitrogen. Annuals bloom on new growth, and what stimulates new growth? Nitrogen! For a pot that’s 12 – 16 inches in diameter, use two tablespoons of each. For a pot that’s 24 inches in diameter, use a third of a cup of each. Mix these into the soil well before putting the plants in the pot.

6. Match the flowering plants in a container with the amount of light where the container will be placed.

These are some of the annuals that do well in shady locations. There are orange and yellow flowering begonias in this pot, with purple Oxallis, and red-leaf Coleus. All of these thrive in the shade.

7. If you want containers on two sides of a house, porch or driveway, watch carefully to see how much sunlight both areas receive. If one side is shady and one sunny, you will need plants that do well in both situations. Solenia begonias would bloom in both sun and shade, and sweet potato vine thrives in a variety of conditions as well.

You’ll notice that the Mandevilla vine on the right is filled with flowers, but the one on the left has no blooms. That’s because the plant on the left doesn’t get much sun.

8. Yes, you can grow shrubs and small trees in containers. If you want them to stay in pots outside all winter, the plants you choose should be hardy two zones colder than where you are. So plants that live in containers outside on Cape Cod should be hardy in a Zone 4 or cold-Zone 5.

Dappled willows are often grafted onto straight trunks to make small trees. These do well in containers but do need to be watered frequently in hot weather.

9. It’s possible to grow vegetables in containers. Use larger pots and place one plant per container.

Look for determinate tomatoes for pots because they stay smaller. Celebrity and Patio varieties do well in containers. Plant one tomato per pot. For indeterminate tomatoes, plant in a larger pot. Indeterminate varieties grow to at least five feet tall and need a larger pot and a strong, tall staking system.

10. Smart Pots can be placed along the edges of paths, in driveways, or in plastic saucers on the deck. They make it possible to grow vegetables in the sunniest place you have, even if you can’t place the plants in the ground in that location.

Here are Smart Pots filled with potatoes, growing on the edge of a mulched path.

11. Plants in window boxes can grow up as well as down! Consider vines as well as other flowering annuals.

This Mandevilla vine is being trained to grow around a window.

12. If you’re not able to water a container frequently, choose plants that can go dry without dying. There are many succulents and some annuals that tolerate dry soil.

Portulaca (light and dark pink flowers) purple heart (Tradescantia pallida) with purple leaves, and silver Echiveria grow happily with a Madagascar Palm (Pachypodium lamerei) in this urn that gets quite dry between watering sessions.

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