Container Gardening Guide
By Veronica Sliva
Container gardening is for everyone, whether you live several stories up and your patch of paradise is a small balcony or if you tend a large country lot. Potted plants are easy to move around, so you can place them anywhere. You can even grow veggies and herbs in containers (look for varieties that are specially bred for small spaces).
Almost anything that holds soil can become a container, but to be successful keep the following in mind:
- For plants to thrive the container must be large enough space for the root system to grow and develop.
- Be sure there is a hole in the bottom for drainage. Few plants (other than water plants) can survive soggy conditions.
- For decorative pots without drainage holes, use a smaller container with a drainage hole for planting and then set it inside the decorative pot. Be sure to empty any water that accumulates in the bottom.
- Dark coloured containers attract more heat and may not be the best choice for locations that get constant direct sunlight. The planter can overheat and dry out or even burn the roots.
Pay special attention to the planting mix you use.
- Never use soil from the garden in containers. Garden soil compacts easily and prevents oxygen from getting to the roots. As well, garden soil may harbour insects and disease.
- Choose a good quality commercially prepared planting mix composed of materials such as peat, vermiculite, bark, and coir (ground coconut hulls).
- The mix needs to drain well, but retain enough moisture to support growth. And, it must be light enough for the roots to easily penetrate.
- For annuals choose a totally soil-less mix.
- For perennials, shrubs or trees, I add 50% sterilized potting soil because a soil-less can be too light to support more vigorous root systems.
The choices are endless, but keep in mind:
- Be sure to group plants together that have similar cultural requirements. For example, don’t put plants that prefer dry soil conditions (like cacti and succulents) together in the same container with more moisture loving plants.
- Avoid mixing sun-loving plants with shade lovers.
- When possible, choose plants that have been bred for use in small spaces.
Containers are easy to look after when you know how:
- Most planting mixes do not contain plant food so you must regularly apply fertilizer.
- Add time-released pellet fertilizer at planting time. Nutrients are released gradually throughout the growing season and then fertilize weekly with a diluted liquid fertilizer to keep the plants growing vigorously (follow the label directions).
- Do not let containers dry out. Be sure to check your containers frequently. Containers dry out quickly in hot or windy conditions. This may mean watering daily during the summer.
- Remove dead flowers regularly to increase flower production.
- Prune or pinch plants to encourage a bushy shape.
A Few Design Guidelines
For containers with wow factor:
- Experiment with colour. For visual excitement, try complimentary colours together, for example, purple and orange or yellow and blue.
- For a harmonious colour palette, pair blues and pinks or reds and yellows together.
- Combining greens, whites and silvers project a sophisticated look.
- Use three types of plant shapes… tall plants as focal points, rounded or mounding plants as fillers and trailing plants to spill over and soften the edges.
- For interest, combine different sizes, shapes and textures.
- Odd numbers of plants (3, 5, 7, etc.) create a more balanced look.
- Mix perennials and annuals. At the end of the season, plant the perennials in the garden to enjoy next year.
- Stuff your containers so that they are full and voluptuous to start with.