By Linda Ly
Learn all there is to know about container gardens, from growing vegetables in containers to how to care for a container garden.
Container gardening is exactly what it sounds like—growing plants in containers rather than in the ground. It is easy to do and can eliminate concerns about poor soil quality or lack of space. It can be fun for both the experienced and the novice gardener.
For creative gardeners, part of the thrill of container gardening is finding unique and fun containers to use. Container gardens need much less water than in-ground gardens, making them popular in drought-stricken areas. However, if planting a container garden for the first time, note that while plants potted in containers do need less water, they also need to be watered more frequently (up to twice a day in extreme heat) since moisture will evaporate much more quickly in containers versus in the ground.
Picking the right type of container is simple. Just decide on the style, look and feel you are going for and then decide what to plant. The options really are unlimited, and the only real considerations to think about include:
The more traditional route to planting in containers is to use terracotta pots, but when looking to save some money yet still wanting a beautiful vessel to plant in, don’t be afraid to think outside the terracotta box. Many household items, such as old crates, bowls and baskets, are perfectly suitable as plant containers, especially if they are no longer functional in their original forms.
Terracotta – Those ubiquitous terracotta pots seem to be the container of choice for many gardeners, and for good reason. They’re breathable, economical and long lasting. Their warm color and rustic look work well in almost every landscape. But several sizable high-quality terracotta pots can get pricey if you’re planting with a budget in mind.
If reusing a terracotta pot, be sure to scrub both the inside and out to remove any debris or dirt. Fill with soapy water and about 1 tablespoon of bleach and let the pot sit overnight. This will help prevent the spread of disease and fungus. Rinse the pot clean, move it to the location it will live and raise it on clay feet or bricks to allow for ample drainage and air circulation underneath. If the pot will be moved after planting (filled pots can be quite heavy), casters make wheeling even a large pot easy. If not planting immediately after washing and soaking the pot overnight, soak it again before planting to saturate the inside, which will help keep soil moist.
After planting your terracotta pots, water thoroughly and then daily or every few days, taking care to keep soil moist and new plants happy.
Glazed – Glazed pots provide superior moisture retention and are best for plants needing near-constant watering or soil that is always moist. They can be more expensive than some other options, but they will last for decades. They are also available in a variety of colors, shapes and sizes. If a colorful, fun look is the goal, glazed pots may be the way to go.
There are a few downsides to glazed pots though, including their weight once filled and planted. If containers need to be moved regularly, these may not be the best choice (although casters could help here, too). Other negatives include the fact that colors can be difficult to match if buying at different times. And keep in mind, these pots may not weather the winter well, as they might not withstand freezing and extreme temperatures.
Planting in a glazed pot is very similar to planting in terracotta. The only exception is that soaking is generally not needed. A glazed pot is not as porous and will not lose moisture as quickly as an unglazed terracotta pot. Water after planting and be sure to check soil daily to ensure it is not drying out. Water plants as directed and prune or trim when needed.
Pallet Garden – The pallet garden is a beautiful, unique and practical DIY garden display. Start with a shipping pallet, which can be found at any local garden store. Before beginning, check the pallet for chipped wood, loose nails and other debris. Use sandpaper to smooth any rough areas. Then cover the bottom, back and sides of the inside of the pallet with landscape fabric. Staple the fabric in place, and staple again along the spine of the pallet or anywhere soil might fall out.
Pour potting soil into the pallet through the open front slots and place plants in each open slot. Gently move the pallet to an upright position and fill in loose soil with leftover potting mix. Water thoroughly with the gentle shower setting of your Front Control Watering Nozzle, taking care not to disturb the soil or harm newly planted plants with a strong spray setting. Continue to water regularly—daily or every couple of days, depending on the plants’ requirements—and revel in a job well done.
Succulent Terrarium – A terrarium is a miniature indoor garden inside a glass container. While all the rage and easy to find in stores these days, it is just as easy (and fun!) to save on a pricey store-bought terrarium by making your own. Start by cleaning a glass container with soap and water and then wiping it dry. Add a layer of pebbles to the bottom of the container for drainage, then add a layer of potting soil. Put plants in the soil, checking the bottoms to make sure the roots aren’t tangled (release tangled roots by gently teasing them downward).
Once plants are placed, cover the soil with moss. Moss should touch the edges of the glass container. Next, gently pour water into the terrarium until it reaches the top of the pebble layer. Check the water level regularly and refill as needed.
Once the terrarium is established, begin adding decorative embellishments. Create a themed terrarium with plastic figurines or trinkets like shells or colorful rocks, or decorate seasonally with holiday-related items. Easy to assemble and simple to maintain, a succulent terrarium is the perfect outside-the-container project—no matter your gardening skill level.
Porch Planter – A porch planter is an easy but creative way to add a pop of color to any outdoor or sitting space—without having to install a permanent fixture. Planters that perch on the porch railing are readily available at most home and garden stores. If you don’t have a porch railing, a raised planter box can achieve the same effect.
Fill the planter with a mix of colorful flowers, some with bright bulbs and some that will grow dangling branches. Water a porch planter much like you would any other container—short watering sessions with a gentle spray from your nozzle every day or every few days, depending on location, weather and type of plant. Sometimes it is the smallest garden additions that bring the most joy.
Deciding on where to place containers for a garden should be based on the light and general space available. Patios, window boxes, side yards and balconies are all great locations to perk up with brightly colored flowers or tasty herbs. Keep wind force in mind and try to place containers against a support structure or wall if wind will potentially be an issue.
Window Box – Window boxes can add a beautiful contrast against homes or walls. Choose a sunny window that is easy to access so watering won’t be too difficult.
Indoors – Indoor container gardening can offer year-round plants and flowers to enjoy. Find a spot in your home that gets ample light, and be sure to protect floors, shelves and other furniture by placing a drip tray under the pot to catch any leaking after watering.
Outdoors – From balcony to patio gardening, growing a garden in pots is easy and doesn’t rely on a lot of space or prep. In fact, choosing a sunny, accessible place in the yard may be the hardest part about it. Keep watering in mind, too, as a spot that is easy to get to and accessible by hose will make maintaining a container garden that much easier.
Group Small Containers for Maximum Effect – Tight on space? Rather than having one large pot dominate what little room is available, go with several smaller pots in varying diameters and heights to add interest to any container garden. Not only does this take the pressure off keeping one large focal plant happy (you can simply replace a smaller plant that is not doing well as often as you need or want to), it also allows for a quick change of plants seasonally, or the ability to rearrange them with more ease.
Many plants and vegetables will do very well in containers. And, container vegetable gardening can be even easier (and less time consuming) than a large in-ground garden.
Herbs – Most herbs will thrive in pots, both indoors and out. Some can even be grown indoors in pots year-round. Perhaps the biggest reward to growing herbs in containers is the convenience of being able to just step out to a pot and snip an aromatic herb to add to dinner. The biggest thing to be aware of when growing herbs in pots is that some need more water than others. Be sure to plant like-minded herbs together in the same container to avoid over- or under-watering. Also, most herbs have very shallow root systems, so using a smaller container is usually fine, but be sure the bottom of any container has holes that offer good drainage.
Broccoli – Didn’t think that broccoli would be a great contender for container planting? It is actually very well-suited to growing in pots, but keep in mind it will spread wide. It is important to have a wide enough container so it doesn’t choke itself out while maturing. A little more labor intensive than some other plants, growing broccoli in container gardens means frequent feeding and regular watering.
Carrots – Growing carrots in pots is easy. A huge garden isn’t needed to enjoy sweet carrots all season long. Choose a container that is wide and at least 12” deep, as this root crop will need depth to grow downward. Feed carrot gardens bi-weekly with a low-nitrogen, high phosphorus and potassium fertilizer.
Peppers – Peppers do wonderfully in containers, especially if growing in a colder climate. Pepper plants need warmer soil to thrive, so wide containers that are 10 – 12” deep will allow for 2 – 3 smaller plants to grow nicely. Place pots in the sunniest spot available and keep them sheltered from extreme wind. High-quality soil is key when growing peppers in a pot, so soil should be rich in organic matter, well drained and fertile. Water regularly and take care not to let soil dry out completely in between watering. Be sure to fertilize peppers in containers about twice a month. Tomato fertilizer works great on pepper plants.
Flowers – A gorgeous pop of color can add contrast to, dress up and transform any outdoor space. Certain flowers are better suited for container planting as they don’t need much space or depth to thrive. Be sure whatever type of flower you are planting has adequate drainage, which is imperative for flowers to grow and bloom in pots. Flowers that do particularly well in containers include azaleas, calla lilies, daffodils, dahlias and zinnias.
Container gardening really isn’t all that different from gardening in the ground. However, it is important to know the subtle differences to be aware of if you are hoping for a lush, productive container garden.
Watering—Plants that are grown in pots will need more frequent watering than in-ground gardens. Soil in small, confined spaces can dry out much more quickly than when in larger in-ground beds.
QUICK TIP: If the top 2” of soil are dry when sticking your finger into the soil, it is definitely time to water.
Soil Preparation – Much like in-ground gardens, proper soil preparation is important for plants to thrive in containers. For the foundation, use soil that is peat moss-based, which won’t compress like other soil. What you add to the peat moss depends on what will be growing in the container. For example, annual flowers do well in 2 parts peat moss mixed with 1 part compost; tomatoes and lettuce need fertile soil full of moisture, so blending 1 part peat moss with 1 part garden soil and 1 part compost is ideal.
QUICK TIP: Mix a large wheelbarrow of the type of potting blend you need if planting more than one pot.
Sunlight – Plants, flowers and vegetables need sunlight to grow. Deciding where containers will live largely depends on what will be planted and how much sun is needed every day.
QUICK TIP: If planting more than one type of plant, group together plants that need similar amounts of sun to place in the same area. Matching light conditions is important, so be sure not to plant sun-loving flowers or plants with shade-loving ones.
Size Matters – The size of container that is used will be a factor in both what is planted and how well a plant grows. If planting varieties that spread, wider containers should be used. Deep-rooted plants will need a taller container. Thinking about what to plant before you decide on the container can save a lot of time and effort.
Growing a garden container can be a rewarding experience. Don’t let limited space or poor soil quality stop you from enjoying pretty foliage, flowers, vegetables and herbs that can brighten a space and transform a dull yard into a thriving one.
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