Container Gardening Basics
Container gardening is fun for everyone and easier than most people think. Containers are easier to maintain in areas where space is limited, easy to move around depending on the light requirements, can be rotated depending on the season, and will break up the monotony of a deck, patio, or terrace.
It is entirely up to you, the gardener, whether to select the container before or after the plants are chosen. Just make sure the plants and the container complement each other in size and color and remember that drainage in the container is a must!
Container gardens require a soil mix that is light and well drained. Many potting mixes also have fertilizer added and contain ingredients to help retain moisture, both of which are helpful for container plants. It is best to purchase soil labeled exclusively for container gardening. These mixtures are usually made from ingredients that—oddly enough—don’t include soil, thereby making them “soilless” mixes. If you find the bag too heavy to pick up it’s probably too heavy to use in a container.
Plants with the same growing conditions and water and light requirements should be planted together. Consider using non-flowering plants for unique leaf texture and color along with flowering plants, perennials, herbs, and even vegetables. This type of planting is called “fusion” gardening in the green industry. Perennials used in containers during the season can then be planted in the garden bed for the following year.
For a great looking display, a mixture of tall, medium-sized, and trailing plants is important. Tall plants can be planted in the center, off to the side, or at the back of the pot. Shorter plants can be placed around the tall plants and trailing plants close to the outside edges.
The plants will only receive nutrition from you so using a well balanced fertilizer is important for overall plant health. Top dressing with a slow release fertilizer helps get the plants off to a good start. The more water you add to the soil, the more fertilizer the plants will need. An all-purpose food mixed with water is an easy and fast way to feed your plants.
A daily watering check is a must, especially if the container is displayed in full sun during the summer months. Watering in the morning is best. Plants will be able to quench their thirst through the warmer parts of the day and the risk of foliar diseases will decrease if the leaves are kept dry in the cooler temperatures at the end of the day.
Many varieties of plants need to be deadheaded to remove spent flowers and encourage more branching and new flowers. Routine maintenance will also alert you to any diseases or pest problems that may occur in the container garden.
Inspire yourself to bring color and excitement to every area around your home through the wonderful world of container gardening. Start out small and simple. Gardening is a perfect way to achieve some quiet time and interact with nature. Discover how fulfilling and fun container gardening really can be!
-Jill Gonzalez, Smithsonian Gardens Horticulturist