Container Gardening for Small Spaces

In 2019, it was estimated that 21.2 million U.S. households participated in container gardening, and it has only gone up from there. And it makes sense! Container gardens provide the option to move plants around, so you can find the optimal spot for plant growth. You can take them with you if you move, the list of plants to grow in containers is endless, and you don’t have to know what is in your soil. Container gardens carry less risk of passing on soil-borne diseases. We call that a win-win-win.

So, how does one become a pro at container gardening? It does not happen overnight, but we’ve got some great tips to share.

Choosing the Right Vessel and Site Selection

  1. Choose planters that work for you and your plants. This will range from color scheme, textures, materials, sizes, etc. Bigger pots are easier to maintain, they hold more soil and therefore more water. (Check out our Perfect Pot for Every Plant blog for tips on this!)
  2. Drainage holes are critical. Choose pots with drainage holes, or drill some. Keep the holes 1” from the edge and about 2” apart. Tip: Put a paper coffee filter over big holes to keep the soil from coming out.
  3. Keep flat pots off the ground. Elevate pots on wheels, sturdy pot feet or bricks for better drainage and air circulation. Trays with wheels make it easier to rearrange and lessen the chance of water damage like rot, fungus and bacteria growth.
  4. Place them first. Put pots in place before filling them, or they may be too heavy to move. Use a potting mix that feeds plants and helps control moisture in the soil. You may need specially formulated mixes for some plants, such as palms and citrus. Consider the plants’ needs before placing pots, as some plants need full sun, part sun or shade.
  5. Watering schedules differ from plant to plant. Some materials, like terracotta, tend to soak up more water, so be sure to keep an eye on your plants for signs that they are thirsty. You can use a drip irrigation system to make watering easier.

After finding the perfect pot, you need to choose the perfect plant(s). We have container combos ready-made for you to grab and go each season. This is easy for the gardener on the go; simply pop out a new assortment each season and get back to doing what you love. Or, for the DIY gardener, create your own container combos.

Containers planted with a single species — rosemary or a bold variegated ornamental grass, for example — can be stunning accents to any landscape. Containers planted with a mix of plants are even more fun to create. The ideal combos depend on choosing the right plants for your container – plants that feature handsome foliage and flowers produced over a long bloom season.

The 3-Step Formula for Gorgeous Containers: A Thriller, a Spiller, and a Filler

  1. Start with one focal-point plant (the thriller), such as coleus, geranium, or purple fountain grass. Add a trellis or pillar to a container and you can even use a vine to add height to your container.
  2. Add several plants that spill over the edge of the pots (spillers) such as petunias, bacopa, creeping zinnias, or ornamental sweet potatoes.
  3. Finally, add plants with smaller leaves and flowers that add color and fill in the arrangement all season long (filler). Good fillers include salvias, verbenas, ornamental peppers, and wax begonias, as well as foliage plants like parsley or licorice plants.
  4. You’ll need a total of five or six plants for an 18- or 24-inch container, for example.

Best Plants for Containers

  1. Edibles: You can grow almost any vegetable, fruit or herbs in individual containers — from large pots to half barrels. Look for dwarf or petite forms of larger vegetables such as tomatoes, pumpkins, and winter squash. A combination herb container is always fun – try a little Italy with basil, rosemary, thyme, and oregano.
  2. Annuals: The classic container plant. Annuals look good all summer long without much fuss. Choose warm-weather annuals that bloom all summer or have foliage that remains attractive. Geraniums, marigolds, wax begonias, coleus, scarlet sage, and flowering tobacco are all good choices. Experiment, and if one plant doesn’t work out, don’t worry about it — just pop it out and try again!
  3. Perennials: Containers planted with hardy perennials and shrubs can be grown and enjoyed from year to year. Hostas and daylilies are great container gardening plants, but many other perennials work as well. Try ferns, European wild ginger, sedges, lavender, sedums, and ornamental grasses.
  4. Trees and Shrubs: Choosing a tree for a container depends on its size, growing requirements, and location. Smaller species and dwarf varieties are good candidates. Choose trees based on year-round appearance, size, and maintenance requirements. Evergreens and nearly any other dwarf conifer would be an ideal choice as well as boxwood, yew, dwarf camellias, holly, dwarf Alberta spruce, Japanese maple, star magnolia, river birch, crepe myrtle, and many types of fruit trees.

It may be hard to know which containers will work best for your small space garden. We’re here to help. Email us at [email protected], or visit our stores.

And please follow us on social media and share photos of your favorite container plants! Because we love plants as much as you do!