Container Gardening

How to grow flowers and foliage plants in containers

I like to pick a morning, when all danger of frost is past, and pot up all my containers at once. It saves so much time that way. Put your potting soil in a wheel barrow or some other large flat container so it is easy to mix. Fill the containers approximately halfway with potting mix then add your plants. Check the plants to see if they are root bound. If the roots are wrapped around themselves in a circle, gently try to pull some of the roots apart before planting. This helps them to get better established in the containers, but to be honest, I rarely do this unless they are severely root bound. Add soil around the plants until you are about 1-1/2"-2" from the top of the container. The plants should also not be planted any deeper than they were in their original container. Press the soil down and water thoroughly to remove any air pockets from around the roots. I like to also add a thin layer of mulch to my containers. This will help to retain moisture and also to keep soil off your plants during rains and regular watering. I prefer to use finally shredded bark, but you can use what is readily available in your area or what is appropriate for that particular plant.

Container Location
The location of your container is strictly up to you, but keep in mind the plant's sun requirements when choosing a location. Most plants grown in containers will benefit from some afternoon shade. I've found that when my containers are planted with sun loving annuals and get 4-5 hours of morning sun and then shade or dappled sun/shade the rest of the day, they do extremely well. Many shade loving annuals seem to do well in my area when given a bright shade with no direct light for the entire day, such as a under tree or a covered porch. If you live farther south, you may need to provide your plants with more shade than someone in the far north.

Ornamental Container Gardening GuideI also like to group my containers together. This makes it easier to water them as well as making a bigger statement. Group pots with similar or complimentary styles and colors together taking into consideration their different heights. A group of three containers with heights of 20", 16", and 10" is more appealing to the eye than grouping all the same size pots together. If all your pots are the same size, then use other objects to elevate the pots off the ground at varying heights. Upside down clay pots work well for this as do scraps of lumber and old bricks. Just make sure your pots are supported well on the base so they don't tip over and you can use the smaller pots to camouflage the base of the elevated pots.

If you are limited in the number of containers you have, then place them where you will see them most often so that you can enjoy the fruits of your labor and also so you don't forget to water them. Entrances to your home or patio and deck areas are good locations to get you started. I also like to place containers throughout my regular garden area to help fill in bare spots or just to add some height and interest. It's also a good way to test drive a new plant. For example: Maybe you are looking to add a spiky plant to an area planted with hostas, and are not sure if you will like it there. Pot up the plant in question and set it in different spots around the garden until you find the right one, then it can be planted directly in the garden.

Watering and Fertilizing
Watering may need to be done everyday, especially when the heat of summer kicks in. I check my containers every morning and again in the later afternoon by either sticking my finger into the soil to see if it's dry or by simply lifting the pot to feel how heavy it is. A very lightweight container indicates that it needs watering.

Watering CanAlways water the plant until water comes out of the bottom of the container. If the container has a saucer on the bottom, allow the water to drain into the saucer and then dump out the water. Never allow your plants to sit in water. If you are using self watering containers, fill the reservoir with water as needed. In extremely hot conditions, I have also had to water them from the top. You can do what's best for you and most come with instructions from the manufacturer.

Always check your containers even if it has been raining. You'll need to empty the saucers at the very least and many times, they will need watering anyway. The pots never seem to get watered as much as you think they will.

I prefer to use an organic water soluble fertilizer, at half strength, once a week to supplement the slow release fertilizer that was added to the soil. This is especially important for flowering annuals. But check the requirements of the plant before assuming it needs fertilizer. Nasturtiums prefer not to be fertilized. If your plants are producing more foliage than blooms, but otherwise appear healthy, consider cutting back on high nitrogen fertilizers.

Depending on the types of plants you have chosen, there will be a small amount of maintenance involved with your containers. Besides the usual watering and fertilizing, you should also deadhead your spent blooms to keep your flowers blooming well and to keep your containers looking neat and tidy.

You may also find that some plants just look plain raggedy after a long hot summer. You can remove these plants and replace them with new plants at any time. Over the years, you'll find what plants work best for you. Some plants may also get leggy over time, such as with petunias and coleus. Pinching these plants back an inch or two every few weeks will promote a more compact bushier growth habit.

Plant Suggestions
Following are some of my favorite plants to use in containers.

View photos of some of my containers here and here.

Plants for Sun

  • Cardinal Flower
  • Chrysanthemums
  • Cosmos (Dwarf Varieties)
  • Dahlias (Dwarf Varieties)
  • Dusty Miller
  • Geraniums
  • Hens and Chicks
  • Licorice Plant
  • Marigolds
  • Morning Glories (Use a Trellis)
  • Ornamental Millet (For Large Containers)
  • Nasturtiums (Prefer Cooler Weather)
  • Nicotiana - Flowering Tobacco
  • Ornamental Peppers
  • Petunias (Especially Wave Variety)
  • Portulaca
  • Salvia
  • Snapdragons (Cool Weather Plant)
  • Spike Dracena
  • Sunflowers (Dwarf Varieties)
  • Sweet Alyssum
  • Verbana
  • Vinca Vine
  • Zinnias (Dwarf Varieties)

Plants for Shade

  • Begonias
  • Caladiums
  • Coleus
  • Elephant Ears
  • Fuchsia
  • Hosta (Perennial, but do well in pots)
  • Impatiens
  • Nasturtiums (Bright Shade)
  • Nicotiana (Bright Shade)
  • Pansies (Cool Weather Plant)
  • Polka Dot Plant
  • Violas (Cool Weather Plant)

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