For those who are accustomed to planting their roots firmly in the garden, container gardening might seem like a foreign and overwhelming concept. But in addition to your reliable garden favorites, containers provide a new and exciting element to your landscape design. They’re versatile and impermanent, creating a fun and creative gardening avenue for novice and experienced gardeners alike. Containers have the ability to transform your garden, landscape, and outdoor living areas into picture-perfect spaces for you to enjoy all summer long!
CHOOSING PLANT CONTAINERS
What makes container gardens so unique is the portable pots they’re grown in! Picking the right container is important for a variety of reasons. Of course, you want it to make your plant look good and blend with your overall aesthetic, but there’s more to it than that. Containers are small vessels that hold a big amount of life in them. Their contents provide the single source of energy and nutrients that keep your beloved plants alive. You want to choose a container that fits your look, but that also creates the right growing conditions for your plants. Here are some things to consider when you’re shopping for containers:
The size of your planter is crucial to the development of your plants’ root systems. Your container should strike a balance between being large enough to hold growing root systems, but not so large that they get lost inside. With pots that are too small, soils will have a hard time retaining moisture, leaving your plant parched all the time. Its roots will likely become rootbound, which will eventually stunt growth. In large containers, soils will dry much slower, increasing the risk of root rot. If a new plant seems to be doing alright in the container it’s in, keep your options to one of that same size. When you’re ready to upgrade, only increase by about 2-4 inches in diameter. It’s much better to transplant often than to overstep it and have your plants suffer!
Drainage is one of the most important aspects to consider. Inadequate drainage leads to pooling water near the root zone, and it’s safe to say most plants don’t like wet feet. Soggy soil is a breeding ground for disease and often leads to lethal root rot. Pass up any container that doesn’t have drainage holes poked in the bottom, unless you can add them in yourself. If you’re really lovestruck by a pot that isn’t the most conducive to your plant’s needs, there is a way to make it work. Double pot your plant with a more functional container on the inside for the best of both worlds!
The material your container is made of matters — it is in direct contact with your plant’s’ roots after all. Many gardeners are drawn to classic looks like clay or terra cotta. We get it, these pots are timeless, but they’re also extremely porous. Porous materials absorb moisture right from your plant’s roots and should be saved for desert-dwellers like succulents or cacti. Glazed ceramic containers are popular, but make sure they have adequate drainage before taking them home. Synthetic containers like resins and fiberglass are durable and great for root systems but can be expensive. We recommend plastic pots as a happy medium. They’re lightweight and low-cost, and you can always lay them inside a prettier pot.
CONTAINER GARDEN DESIGN
Once you’ve picked the right container, it’s time to fill it! You can always keep it simple with one single plant, but if you’re up for the challenge of a container garden, there’s a foolproof design formula: the thriller, the filler, and the spiller. Plant one (or more!) plants that fit these purposes for a gorgeous container brimming with blooms and foliage!
First, choose your thriller. This is the eye-catcher— the focal point of your container. Good thrillers usually have some stunning aspect that sets them apart from the rest. Most flowering plants can serve as thrillers, but striking plants like canna lilies and lantanas bring some extra drama. If you’re more interested in showy foliage, coleus, heart of Jesus, or ornamental grasses are also great options.
The bulk of your container comes from filler plants. Often medium-sized, mounding plants, they fill in open spaces and bridge the gaps between towering thrillers and trailing spillers. Though they have a more subtle presence compared to their thrilling counterparts, fillers add volume with attractive flowers and foliage. For a multi-floral look, pick smaller flowering plants like heliotropes or trailing petunias. Herbs like hyssop and basil are great options, too.
Finally, fill in any remaining gaps and soften the edges of your container with spiller plants. These anchor your overall design and complete the look of your container garden. Place them close to the edge of the pot so their long or trailing stems are allowed to flow over. Trailing plants, like bacopa, ivy, and sweet potato vine spill beautifully over the edges, adding height to your container. Flowers like calibrachoa or petunias are effective spillers too, but you might need to leave them extra room for height.
CONTAINER GARDEN CARE
When our annuals and perennials are exposed to sunlight and planted firmly in the earth, mother nature does a lot of the work for us. Container gardening is different, because planters provide a closed system, so it’s up to us to monitor and regulate moisture and light levels.
Light requirements are simple to achieve in containers because you can move them around. Whether it’s full sun or full shade, pay attention to what your plants’ needs are, ideally placing plants with similar needs together. Be careful of too much direct sunlight, which will dry up the soil and may burn the foliage of your favorite plants!
Maintaining the right moisture of your container’s soil can be a little more tricky. The first step is to use soils that are appropriate for the plants they’re going to nurture. Most plants do best in normal potting mix, but others, like succulents, need something a little drier. Different plants have different water level needs, but since containers are closed systems, be prepared to water plants a little more often than you would if they were out in the garden— just don’t over do it, because soggy roots are a no-no.
All plants need energy and nutrients to sustain their growth, so consider adding organic material and fertilizers. Again, the amount and type of each is dependant on the plant, but be prepared to fertilize heavy feeders like fast-growing annuals quite often.
The key to a flourishing container garden is to consider your plants’ needs first, and then build those aspects into a cohesive design. While it does take some effort and creativity, you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous, glowing containers to light up your landscape and draw attention to all of it’s best aspects.