The Green Thumb Almanac

YOUR ONLINE GARDENING INFORMATION CENTER

Container Gardening

Even those with limited space can enjoy the experience of gardening.  Everything from fruits and vegetables to beautiful flowers and even trees and shrubs can be grown in containers.  Container gardens give you the ability to refresh and enhance your landscape by changing out pots and plants quickly.

 

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On This Page!

  • Types of Containers
  • Planting and Care of Containers
  • Container Garden Recipes
  • Build Your Own Fairy Garden

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Types of Containers

Containers for growing plants come in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors.  Anything that will hold soil can be used as a container garden. When choosing a container keep in mind not only the aesthetic quality of the container but the growing requirements of the plants you will be potting.  It is important to provide your plants with drainage and proper space for root growth.  There are a variety of different types of containers for indoor and outdoor use.  These include plastic, ceramic, wood, fiberglass, metal, clay/terra cotta, moss and concrete.  Each of these materials has certain advantages and disadvantages.

Plastic:  Plastic containers are very common and inexpensive.  They come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Plastic pots are light weight and easy to move.  They also are non-porous which means that they will hold moisture longer because water cannot leach through the sides of the pot.  This can also be a disadvantage because plant roots need oxygen and plastic pots do not "breathe."  Make sure your plastic pot has drainage holes to allow water to escape and air to enter.

Ceramic:  Ceramic planters can be rather expensive.  They may or may not come with a drainage saucer.  Moisture may leach out of a ceramic pot that is not "sealed" on the bottom.  Make sure you have a saucer, "floor saver," or plant caddy to set your pot on so that you don't ruin your wood floors.

Wood:  Wood containers are the least common type of container.  They are generally used outdoors.  Wood containers must have a plastic lining because wood can stain and rot if water-soaked.  We recommend using cedar wood for your planter.  Other types of wood may be treated with a chemical preservative which can be harmful to plant roots. 

Fiberglass/Fiberclay:  Fiberglass pots can also be rather expensive.  These types of pots are light weight and easy to move.  They are also tolerant of freezing temperatures and can be left outside during the winter without fear of cracking.

 

Metal:  Metal pots come in a variety of different types of materials, brass, copper, stainless steel, aluminum and wrought iron.  These types of containers require more maintenance in order to prevent tarnishing and rust.  We caution you about using metal pots in full sun situations as metal can get very hot.  This causes high soil temperatures which may be harmful to your plants.  Try potting your plants in plastic pots and simply setting them inside your metal containers.


Clay/Terra Cotta:  This is the most common type of container used for potting plants.  Clay pots come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Clay can be used inside or out.  It is porous which allows for proper aeration.  Unfortunately clay pots cannot be left outside during the winter months as they can crack easily from the cold.

Moss:  Moss and coconut fiber are often used to line metal wire containers.  Moss containers are primarily used outside because moss "leaks."  Because this material is so porous it is important to check your containers often because they can dry out quickly.

 

Concrete:  Concrete pots are generally used outdoors.  They are very durable and can be left outside during the winter.  Concrete can be painted, stained or left "natural."  Be careful when moving your concrete containers as they can be very heavy.

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Planting and Care of Containers

A good container must provide for the eventual size of the plant as well as good drainage of excess water.  Over-watering is the #1 cause of death of container grown plants.  Plant roots should not sit in water as this causes root rot and decay.  A good container should have drainage holes in the bottom of the pot.  If your container does not have holes try putting your plant in a plastic pot and simply setting it inside the container.  Remember to "tip out" the excess water from pots without holes.  It is not necessary to add rock or other filler to pots with drainage holes.  Do not water your plants on a "regular" schedule like once a week.  Always feel the soil first or use a moisture meter to determine if your plant needs water. 

 

Plants which are put into containers which are too large will experience under watering.  This is because the plant roots do not fill the pot.  Water will run down the inside wall of the pot leaving the root ball dry.  When potting individual plants only go one pot size larger than the container it is in.  For instance a 6" pot should be put in an 8" container, an 8" pot should be put into a 10" container, and so on.  Multiple plants can be put together into a container.  The following guidelines can be used when potting up multiple plants:

Container Size
 Number of Species of Plants
 Total # of Plants
12  - 14"
 2 - 3
 5 - 7
 16 -  18"
 4 - 5 or 3 - 4 if agressive
 6 - 12
 20 - 26"
 5 - 7 or 4 - 5 if agressive
 8 - 15

 

 

Unlike plants in the ground, container grown plants depend upon you for their water and nourishment.  When planting your container it is VERY important to use a good quality soil-less potting mix.  As mentioned earlier plant roots need oxygen.  Good quality mixes are fluffy and allow for good aeration and water retention.  Do not use a mix which feels heavy or hard in the bag. 

At the time of planting we recommend adding a slow-release fertilizer granual.  Mix it into the potting soil so that it will be down around the roots where the plant can use it.  Good potting mixes are sterile and don't contain any nutrients.  That is why it is important to add it at the time of planting.  Slow-release fertilizers last longest when the weather is cool. During hot weather it is important to also use a liquid fertilizer when watering.  If you follow these tips you will have healthy and beautiful container garden.

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Container Garden Recipes
Looking for ideas and inspiration for creating your own container garden?  The people from Proven Winners have a great resource for you!  Visit their web-site http://www.provenwinners.com/ and click on "Container Recipes."  There you will find hundreds of photos and instructions for creating your own work of art.  Here are a few sample recipes: 

Full Sun

Part Sun to Sun

Part Shade to Shade

Full Shade

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Building Your Own Fairy Garden:  A container garden activity

 What You'll Need To Get Started:

A Container - a great re-use for an old birdbath but a simple saucer will work fine.  Snoop through the basement or garage to find creative possibilities.

 

Pea Gravel - a necessity if your container does not have drainage holes.  Also makes a perfect top-dressing.

 

Potting Mix - never skimp on the soil, use a good quality potting mix.  Use enough to really mound it up in your container.

 

Plants - plants suited for terrariums work well.  A basic arrangement of one low creeper, one mid-size plant and one upright, taller plant is a good starting point for a 10" saucer.

 

Accessories - don't forget the fun stuff.  Add in your personality with extras like arbors, benches and fairies.  Be creative! 

(An assortment of fairy garden accessories at Family Tree Nursery, Overland Park.)

Plants:

Baby Tears

Selaginella (Club Moss)

Ferns

Hypoestes (Splash Plant)

Neanthe Bella Palm

Aluminum Plant

Wire Vine

Creeping Ficus

African Violets

Fittonia

Spider Plant

Dwarf Conifers

Experiment with any small leaved plant

Time To Plant:

  • Spread about an inch of gravel in the container.
  • Add soil.
  • Pull plants out of their pots and tease roots.  Press into soil.
  • Top dress with pebbles and fill in with gravel if desired.
  • Add design elements.

Care:

Inside - medium to bright indirect light is best.  Allow the soil to dry slightly between waterings.

Outside - place in a shady and somewhat protected spot.  Mist daily during the hot days of summer.

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