Not only are containers a wonderful way to garden in a small space but have become an important part of the landscape.
Selecting a Container
Commercially there are many choices in size, shape and color as well as materials such as terra cotta, wood, plastic, stone, cement, wire and metal. All of these can be used very successfully. Another option is using something you may already have in your house, garage or basement. Items such as baskets, buckets, wheelbarrows, washtubs, crates, old mailboxes or even an old tree stump will create an interesting container garden. When choosing a container keep in mind the following:
- Select a container large enough to allow root development and adequate moisture retention. It is always tempting to fill the container with many small plants in the beginning, but you will soon see that the growth of the entire container will be inhibited, so check the requirements of each plant for proper spacing.
- Adequate drainage is very important for outdoor containers. Water-logged soil will inevitably kill your plants. Most containers have drainage holes in the bottom, you may have to drill one if it does not. Placing a screen or a shard (a broken piece of clay pot) over the hole will keep the soil from falling out and prevent the roots from blocking the hole. If drilling a hole is not an option, several inches of gravel, shards, or packing peanuts will hold any excess water.
- Some containers are more porous than others. Unglazed clay, raw wood, and moss-lined containers allow moisture to evaporate through the sides. Plants that require drying between watering should use these types of containers. Non-porous containers such as plastic, glazed clay, treated wood or metal will hold moisture longer.
Filling Your Container
Choose a good potting soil or container mix with sufficient organic material, one that contains peat moss, compost, sand, perlite or vermiculite. Several brands of potting soil contain slow release fertilizers and there are moisture retaining additives available as well.
A successful container will have colorful plants with interesting leaf texture and form, as well as varying heights and shapes coordinating with the propotion and style of the container. When choosing plants for your container make sure that they are appropriate for the location. If your container will be getting five or more hours of sun, look for plants that are sun lovers; otherwise, use plants that thrive in the shade. Keep in mind the mature size of the plants you choose and remember not to overcrowd your container with too many plants… they will grow! Top off your container with a thin layer of mulch, gravel or moss. This will help retain moisture, keep the soil from washing out and give it a finished look.
Maintaining Your Container
After you have planted your container garden, water it in thoroughly… usually until the water drips out of the drainage holes. Plants under watered are stressed and will die. Over watering plants causes root rot and deprives the roots from air. It is always best to frequently check your container, especially as it gets hotter or your container is in full sun.
Some plants differ in food requirements. There are several different fertilizers available. A well-balanced food is a slow release fertilizer. This ensures plants are fed as they need it and remain healthy and vigorous. Choose a fertilizer that is most convenient for you. To keep your container looking it’s best remove spent blooms and withered leaves, pinch back or prune leggy growth and replace seasonal plants if needed.
Container Plant Ideas
- Lotus: Soft, needlelike cool blue-gray foliage provides excellent texture. Likes sun and good drainage.
- Bacopa: Covered with small, white flowers all summer. Likes filtered to part sun, afternoon shade recommended.
- Million Bells: Small petunia-like flowers in many colors spill over sides of any container. Likes full to part sun.
- Scaevola: Deep green leaves covered with blue fan-shaped flowers all summer. Tolerates heat, likes sun.
- Sweet Potato Vine: Vigorous with large leaves of bright chartreuse green or purplish-black. Likes full sun.
- Dichondra “Silver Falls”: Bright silver foliage flows elegantly from containers or window boxes. Likes full to part sun.
- Vinca Vine: Variegated green and white or gold and green foliage, easy to grow. Likes full to part sun.
- Verbena: Variety of colors, blooms all summer, easy to grow, attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. Likes sun.
- Angelonia: Gorgeous tall spires of small snapdragon-like flowers in blue or white, tolerates heat and humidity. Sun.
- Dracaena (spike plant) and Cordyline: Adds height and grace to a container garden. 18 – 24 inches tall. Many new variegated varieties and colors available. Likes full to part sun.
- Red Fountain Grass: This annual grass adds height, color, and texture. Plant in full sun for best color.
- Annual Vinca: Variety of colors, tolerates heat and drought, a great low-maintenance choice. Likes full to part sun.
- Dwarf Zinnia: Variety of cheerful, vibrant colors, tolerates heat. Likes full sun.
- Geraniums: A garden tradition. Large flower heads in shades of white, pink, orange, and red. Likes sun to part sun.
- Lantana: In brights and pastels, mounding or weeping, depending on variety. Laughs at heat and drought. Full sun.
- Marigolds: Easy to grow, bright colors, attracts beneficial insects to the garden. Likes full to part sun.
- Melampodium: Starry yellow flowers bloom in abundance on well-behaved, bushy plants. Likes full sun.
- Mexican Heather: Petite purple flowers bloom continuously on heat-loving bushy plants. Likes full to part sun.
- Pentas: Beautiful clusters of star-shaped flowers in shades of white, pink, red, and lavender. Likes full to part sun.
- Petunia: Varieties and colors to suit any design, easy to grow, attracts hummingbirds. Likes full to part sun.
- Salvia: Showy flower spikes in a variety of colors, easy to grow, attracts hummingbirds. Likes full to part sun.
- Dusty Miller: Upright mounding plant adds contrasting silver accent to designs, easy to grow. Likes full to part sun.
- Setcresea “Purple Heart”: Stunning purple foliage with small pale pink flowers, can be kept bushy or left to trail over sides. Likes full to partial sun.
- Euphorbia “Silver Fog”: delicate white flowers bloom all summer into fall, lending an airy touch to any container. No deadheading necessary; low maintenance in sun or part sun.
- Dragon Wing Begonias: Amazing non-stop bloomers in red or pink, with an arching habit and a tropical look. Thrives in bright shade.
- Begonias: White, pink, or red flowers on sturdy, mounding green or olive-maroon foliage. Also grows in sun.
- Non-stop Begonias: Huge, double flowers in shades of pink, orange, red, white, and yellow.
- Caladium: Large tropical-looking leaves in whites, green, pinks, and reds add height and interest.
- Coleus: Amazing array of foliage colors to compliment any design, easily grown. Most varieties will also grow in sun.
- Ferns: Add texture and character to your design, especially asparagus fern for its light and airy quality.
- Impatiens: Great range of colors, easy to grow, the best for heavy shade. Elfin varieties will stay more compact.
- New Guinea Impatiens: Stunning variety of both flower and foliage colors. Best in partial shade and moist soil.
- Rex Begonia: Fascinating foliage in mixtures of mint green, burgundy, pink and silver with a metallic sheen.
- Torenia: Trumpet shaped flowers in shades of blue and white or yellow, on either upright bushy plants or long, trailing varieties. Likes afternoon shade and moist soil.
(*varieties will vary seasonally)