Available in a multitude of sizes, shapes, colors, and textures, containers allow you to garden just about anywhere you choose. With container plantings, you don’t have to let the weather, occasion, or space requirements restrict your garden. Container gardens allow your mood and interests to dictate your planting design.
When planning your container garden, it’s important to select the right type of container and the right type of plants for the container.
To select the right container, just keep these ideas in mind:
Be sure the container is sturdy enough that it supports the soil, water, and plants throughout the growing season.
The container should be clean and free of any traces of leftover soil from last year. Using a clean container prevents the spread of plant diseases.
The container should always have a drainage hole in the bottom. It is important for the container to have adequate water drainage, so that the water does not collect in the container.
The container should complement the plants you intend to grow, but it should not dominate them.
Putting together a container garden is more like assembling a flower arrangement than planting a garden. For a successful container garden, the plants you select should provide height, foliage color, a cascading effect, and plenty of blooms to your container.
A variety of plants at your local nursery or garden center fall naturally into these categories. Some plants can even fill two categories at once. For instance, a leafy plant such as a spiky dracena or a tropical-looking canna, can add height and foliage color to any container. A small rosemary plant trained into topiary form can lend an element of height, as well. Shorter leafy plants, such as the silver-leaf dusty miller and brightly colored coleus, lend not only color but textural interest to any container.
Don’t forget about cascading plants; these creeping and trailing plants add whimsy and charm to any container planting. The plant that provides the leaf color can also be your cascading plant as well. A plant like this plays an important role in your container garden design. A cascading plant, such as English ivy, softens the space between the rim of the container and the plants. A trailing plant can also help solidify your container garden by linking it to the patio or porch where it is placed or, in the case of a hanging basket container garden, by drawing the eye down from the top of the container to the bottom. Cascading plants can also add a burst of color to your container as well. A creeping zinnia, such as the sanvitalia will fill in the space like a ground cover, yet trail gently over the edge of a container.
Sun-Loving Container Plantings
Sun-Loving Container Gardens
Expand your horizons when choosing plants and containers for a sunny spot in your yard or garden. Mix together flower colors, plant shapes, and plant heights to create a lush and abundant feel to your container garden. A bronze-colored dracena, for instance, can provide height and dimension to an impressive container arrangement. Some plants are natural sun worshipers; they flourish in spaces that receive sun for six or more hours a day. Plants such as the lantana, verbena, dianthus, helichrysum, portulaca, bachelor’s buttons, and geraniums thrive in sunny container gardens.
A variety of container shapes and sizes can also contribute to an eye-catching design. If your yard space is limited, your garden can be a composition of interesting plants and containers. Bright white containers lead the eye up to view the flowers and foliage. Neutral-colored containers blend in more easily into your surroundings, so that the plants, not the pots, dominate. Keep in mind that different containers will respond differently to sunlight. Light-colored containers, such as white clay planters, act like a white T-shirt outdoors; they absorb less heat than dark-colored containers, like green, keeping the roots of your plants cooler and moister. Wooden containers, like those made out of pressure-treated lumber, will stay cooler than terra-cotta.
Regular watering is essential to the success of any container garden, especially if the garden is in the sun. It’s important to remember that different containers will respond differently to watering. Soil will dry out more slowly in plastic containers than in clay or terra-cotta containers. Clay is more porous than plastic, therefore you will need to water more often for plants in clay containers than plastic. If you have a habit of overwatering your plants, you might consider using unglazed terra-cotta containers, since these will allow excess water to drain out.
Maintaining soil moisture is essential in a sun-loving container garden. Be sure to use a potting mixture that will retain moisture for the roots but allow excess water to drain. Peat-based soil mixes are especially good for this purpose. In addition, a mulch layering to the top of the container not only helps retain moisture but also lends some sophistication to a container planting.
The size of the containers also determines the amount of moisture that will be conserved. A deep container will dry out more slowly than a small container. When selecting containers, be sure to keep the size of the containers in mind. For small vegetables and flowers, the container should be at least 12 inches in diameter. For large vegetables and flowers, a 2 1/2-to-5-gallon container works best.
Shady Container Plantings
Shady Container Gardens
Container gardens in the shade don’t have to be boring displays of ferns and ivy. Select plants you like and create shade gardens in large containers by stocking them with a casual mix of shade-loving plants. Plants such as the calathea, caladium, New Guinea impatiens, bedding begonia, kalanchoe, and pink clover are just some of the many shade-loving plants available at your local nursery or garden center. When choosing your plants, just be sure to purchase those that like the same growing conditions, such as full shade or partial shade. For greater visual interest, group different types of containers together. Consider placing a container of mixed succulents next to a container of tropical foliage plants, or just place several small containers of pastel-flowering annuals and jewel-toned coleus plants together.
When selecting plants for your shady container garden, remember these principles of container design:
Use cascading or trailing plants and vines to drape over the edges of the container, allowing them to soften the edges.
Place a tall, vertical plant in the center or slightly off-center to give the arrangement height and dimension.
Choose bushy, fine-textured plants as filler plants in the middle of the container arrangement.
Create a color scheme–a simple combination of two or three colors works best in a container garden.
Combine and contrast fine-leaf foliage plants with bold-textured foliage plants for an eye-catching effect.
Combine and contrast silver or bronze-colored plants with green-leaf plants for long-lasting color throughout the growing season.
Container Garden Tips:
A large container filled with soil can be almost difficult, if not impossible, to move at a moment’s notice. You can keep a large container lighter by filling the bottom of the container with Styrofoam “packing peanuts” so that the container is 1/4 full. You can then add the potting soil to the remainder of the container.
If you have a large container in the sun, set it on top of a frame that has movable casters. Then, whenever the sun gets too hot, you can move the container to a cooler spot with ease.
A layer of pebbles on top of the soil in a container does more than just add a charming touch to your container. They prevent the soil from spilling out of the container when watering and they also act as a moisture-retaining mulch.