If you're thinking about container gardening, don't feel overwhelmed. This article will provide you with simple container gardening ideas for selecting outdoor container plants and proper ways of maintaining them. The practice of growing plants in plastic or terracotta pots and window boxes instead of in the ground has several advantages. A container vegetable gardening beginner will find the following article a good resource when starting out.
Container gardening is mostly used for ornamental purposes in areas where the soil or weather prohibit the plant from growing, where only concrete is present, or where you're faced with limited space. Since you're in control of the the type of soil the plant resides in, you can eliminate soil-borne diseases as well as weeds and are also able to regulate the sunlight, moisture and temperature levels.
From small trees to small herbs, there are a ton of plant choices for your pots and containers. First determine the location and if the containers will be used for ornamental decor or for growing herbs and vegetables. Next choose the appropriate container or pot for the situation. You can choose from materials like glazed ceramic, plastic, wood, terracotta and concrete based on your preference and the application. Concrete containers are mostly used in places where they are a permanent fixture year round while terracotta is favored by gardeners and glazed ceramic containers are more widely used for houseplants.
Selecting the right container for your plant will ensure it will grow to its potential and decrease the amount of work you have to exert. Since a plant's root system can sense its surroundings, it will grow proportionally to the size of the container. To produce maximum yield when container gardening, follow these size guidelines for pots and containers:
24-in diameter: large pepper, summer squash, tomato, cucumber, artichoke
18-in diameter: broccoli, cauliflower, large cabbage, small eggplant, small pepper
14-in diameter: herbs, cabbage, collards, spinach, lettuce, arugula
10-in diameter: small herbs, strawberry
When using containers for an ornamental purpose, the gardening rule of thumb for grouping container plants is to select some plants that are "thrillers", some that are "fillers", and others that are "spillers". A thriller plant will be the focal point of the container. Usually tall with a distinct shape and eye catching angles which contrast the flowing curves of the "spiller" plant.
While the thriller plants add height, the spiller will usually tumble out of the pot and provide a blending affect with the container and its contents. To complete the grouping, add plants which will fill in the area between the thrill and the spill. These compliment the focal point plant with attractive foliage or blooms, but do not overwhelm the container.
To add visual interest, you should include a pot or two with only a single plant. Grouping containers and pots creates an illusion of a mini garden. A pot with a single plant provides a clean contrast to the grouping of plants in other containers. In addition, choose containers of different heights and sizes when grouping different pots together. Here are some recommendations for outdoor container plants:
THRILLS: Palm Lily (Cordyline), Yucca, Dracena, Hibiscus, Fountain Grass, Princess Flower, Cycad, Boxwood, Canna, Feather Reed Grass, American arborvitae, Elephant Ear (Alocasia esculenta)
FILLS: Impatiens (Sonic Paste), Lantana, Ornamental Cabbage and Kale, Mums, Iresine (Blood-Leaf), Caladium, Celosia (Plume Flower), Fuchsia, Basil, Cuphea (Firecracker plant)
SPILLS: Sweet Potato vine (Margarita), Calibrachoa (Million Bells), Cobea (Cup and Saucer Vine), Creeping Zinnia, Bidens, Ivy Geranium (Perlargonium peltatum)
Below from left to right: "Filler" Lantana, "Thrill" Palm Lily, "Spill" Sweet Potato Vine
Perhaps you're more interested in indoor container gardening? My article on low light houseplants should provide you with the information you are looking for.
Container plants require more tender love and care, but your efforts will be rewarded year after year. Regular watering is essential for the health of potted plants. Some will even require daily watering which can be influenced by the type of material your container is made of.
Since container plants have a tendency to accumulate salt in their soil, water the plants until at least 10% of the water is flushed through the pot. This will dissolve and wash away any build of salts and other harmful chemicals. Also, watering in the morning will ensure the soil won't be moist before nightfall, minimizing the chances of a disease forming.
Perennial containers will require some grooming to maintain a clean appearance and to promote a regrowth of the flowers. Deadheading is the practice of removing spent blossoms to encourage new blooms to form. When deadheading, take the chance to remove any dead stems or foliage.
Supplement the soil with a liquid fertilizer every month to keep your plants healthy or add a bit of rich soil to boost nutrient levels. A good place to find nutrient rich soil is around fire pits where ash accumulates or in the woods by decaying trees where the soil benefits from the demise of the tree.
One drawback of container gardening is that the hardiness of the plant becomes compromised. Since the roots of container plants have much less insulation than plants firmly established in the ground, they have a much harder time surviving the winter. For this reason, most gardeners will treat their perennials as annuals and replace them each year. If you just can't part with that perennial that you have been tending to all year or it just makes more economic sense, there are a few options.
Bring the potted plants indoors into a warmer area like the garage or shed. If you're low on indoor space, put the container into the ground with the rim sticking slightly above the soil level and add mulch to increase insulation. Another option is to replant from the container into the ground. Perhaps the most logical method is to select perennials which are hardy enough to survive the winter. To do this, choose plants which adhere to USDA planting recommendations.
According to the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map, here in Southeastern Pennsylvania we are located between zones 6a-7b. Each zone tells us the average minimum temperature in the specific area. Therefore, for container gardening, it is recommended to plant perennials which are rated two USDA zones colder than your area.
With a little practice and the tips I have provided your container gardening game should reach the next level! Your neighbors will be peering through their blinds in an attempt to learn your secrets and you will be enjoying the charm and elegance your containers add to your home. Happy Gardening!