Container gardening doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated. In fact, with the a little knowledge, the right tools, and a few tips and tricks, anyone can create beautiful container gardens. Whether it’s hanging baskets you love, or colorful metal garden planters filled with fragrant petunias, getting started is easy and fun.
Start by deciding where you want to place your homemade container garden. Depending on whether you place your garden in direct afternoon sun, partial shade, or full shade, you will want to choose plants and containers that work well under the conditions you select.
If you are creating full sun containers, choose plants that grow well in afternoon light and heat, such as daisies, petunias, marigolds, alyssum, and any other annuals that have a full sun logo on the plant tag. Choose a soil mix that is heavy enough to hold water for more than a moment (not too much peat or sphagnum moss), and a container with a matching drainage dish.
Clay pots are especially good for full sun conditions because they absorb water and release it slowly into the soil itself. Because you will be watering your full sun planting frequently, you will need good drainage. Ideally, you should have a small hole in the bottom of the pot or container (whatever it is made from) and a dish to set it on to collect the excess water.
When planting a full sun pot, first place some rocks or stones about one fifth of the way up the bottom of the pot, then fill the pot with potting mix. Place your tallest plants in the center of the pot or towards the back, the shorter ones around those, and any trailing plants or foliage around the edge.
It’s easy to over-plant any container when you are first getting started. Keep in mind that your flowering plants will grow larger and will spread, so read the tags and leave an appropriate amount of space around them so they can do that. Container plants can be placed a bit closer together than plants in an open garden bed, but you still need to leave room for them to reach their full size.
Water your plants using a high-phosphorus root-stimulating plant food to get them off to a good start. (If you don’t keep a supply of liquid root stimulator on hand, ask your garden center professional to direct you to a good product. Many are available.) Once your container gardens are established (usually within a week or two) you can switch them to a plant food specifically designed to encourage container blossoms.
Full sun planters should be checked for water every single day. Stick a finger into the soil about an inch down. It should feel moist. Other signs that container plants need water are drooping leaves and flowers or crunchy leaf edges and brown leaves.
Some plants will literally ‘deflate’ when they need water and look as though they are dead, but they plump back up within minutes once you water them. Other plants will indeed die if you neglect them even once. Don’t make your plants ‘ask’ for water this way. Keep an eye on them daily and keep the soil evenly moist.
Pinching off spend blossoms will encourage new ones, so when you water, gently remove dead flower heads with your thumb and forefinger, or carry a small pair of garden scissors to keep them trimmed and clean. This practice will also discourage insects and disease.
Partial and full shade container gardens can be planted up the same way and sunny ones, but you can use a slightly lighter potting mix for full shade since it will hold water longer.
Potting mixes are now available that are made specifically for sun or shade container garden conditions. It’s a really good idea to spend a few extra dollars for one of these specific mixes, especially if you’ve never worked with container gardens before. Many even contain plant food so you don’t have to feed them or worry about the correct kind of fertilizer.
One word of warning: plants that like full shade may die in full sun, so keep this in mind when choosing which plants to include. Plants that are happy with partial shade are often fine in full sun, depending on how you care for them and how hot the sun gets in your part of the country.
Keep in mind that a container is an artificial environment that is affected by heat more quickly that a traditional garden bed. In general, partial sun plants are happier with morning and evening sun that they are with full-on afternoon heat and light.
Before choosing your container gardening plants, check the many online plant catalogues and gardening resources and educate yourself on what is available in your area and what works. The best way to guarantee success when planting in a container or a bed is to understand your plants and their needs and make sure you select the right plants for the right place.
Once you’ve made your selections, water your container garden and enjoy it! It’s easier than you think, and it’s a great way to bring a little color into your life.