Container Gardening


Container Gardening, More Than Just Hanging Baskets!

by Peggy Bier, Horticulturist

Perennials are as beautiful and happy in containers on a deck, patio, or balcony as they are in an established bed.

What you need

A nice container - There are many wonderful types of containers available on the market today. Choose one that is perfect for your situation but make sure it has adequate drainage. 

Polymer additive - An additive such as Soil Moist absorbs water and reduces the amount of watering needed for your container. You can find this at any full service garden center. 

A sheet of landscape fabric to cover drainage holes will reduce soil loss and reduce the mess. 

Pea gravel, small stones, or broken shards of pots to promote adequate drainage 

Choose a quality soil mix

Slow release fertilizer - Osmocote. 

Mulch or pea gravel to cover top of soil. 

How to Create a Container Garden

Cut a piece of landscape fabric that fits closely into the bottom of the container over the drainage holes. This will prevent earthworms from clogging the drainage holes.

Place a 2" - 3" layer of pea gravel or broken shards of pots on top of the landscape fabric.

Pre-mix your potting soil, adding a polymer (according to package directions) and fertilizer. Mix these thoroughly.

Add this prepared potting mix to your container until about 3/4 full.

Arrange your plants in the container and add potting mix until you are within 1" to 2" of the top.

Water gently but thoroughly until all the soil in the container is completely wet.

Cover the soil with pea gravel or fine mulch to retain moisture and reduce soil loss.

For proper drainage and air circulation, place your container on a saucer filled with pea gravel. The use of pot feet allows additional air circulation and prevents water damage to surfaces.

Check for watering daily until a routine is worked out. Only water when necessary.

With annuals, fertilize with liquid fertilizer every two weeks for optimum plant growth. 

Overwintering Your Container

Winter hardiness of containers depends largely on the size of the containers and the materials from which they are made. The winter hardiness of the plants in your container is also different from plants planted in the ground. Exposure of the container to the winter elements are factors that influence plant survival. 
Generally speaking, you should protect your containers when the temperatures will drop to 28o F or less. This will protect both the container and the plants. 
Wrap the container with micro foam and/or bubble wrap to protect it. You can then cover the wrap and the pot with burlap or other fabric to make it more attractive. 
If the planter is not to be planted over the winter, store it in a shed or garage out of the elements. 

Planting Moss Baskets

Moss baskets, whether they are hanging, free standing, or half baskets for hanging on a wall, are especially beautiful and easy to create. 

Start by lining the basket. You can buy preformed moss liners or create your own liner by using long fiber spaghnum moss. Wetting the moss first works the best.

Fill with potting soil (amended with polymer and fertilizer) from the bottom, tucking in plants through the wire and moss and into the soil as you work your way up to the top of the basket. When you reach the top, fill with plants and cover with moss for a nice even look of moss all the way around. 

Planting Strawberry Pots

Start from the bottom placing your plants into the soil as you work your way to the top.

For easier watering, place an empty paper towel roll or PVC pipe down the center of the pot. Create a channel of pea gravel by filling the roll or pipe with gravel, and gradually easing it out as the channel is formed and the pot is filled with soil. This allows water to seep throughout the pot from top to bottom allowing all the plants access to water.

Remember to add Soil Moist (or other polymer) and slow release fertilizer to your soil.

Hot Trends in Container Gardening

Make a Hypertufa

Selecting Plants

Bulbs - Spring and summer bulbs can provide short term seasonal changes. Plant these in smaller clay pots and insert them into your larger combination pots. These can be easily removed and replaced with another plant after the bulbs are finished blooming. 

Perennials - Select long bloomers, e.g. CoreopsisEchinaceaGauraPerovskia, and use ArtemisiaHostaLysimachia ‘Aurea‘, and grasses, among others for their beautiful foliage. 

Annuals - These are really tropical bulbs and tropical perennials. They are quite valuable for long periods of flowering. When combined with perennials and foliage, they are very effective. The following is a list of excellent varieties of "annuals" to use in containers.

Abutilon 'Bella Mix' 
Begonia hiemalis 
Specialty Begonia - Charisma, Illumination, Panorama, Pin-Up and Spectrum
Dwarf Dahlias 
Double Impatiens 
Geranium - Ivy geranium and zonal geranuims

Lotus vine - Red Flash
Nemesia - Blue Bird and Compact Innocence
New Guinea Impatiens 
Petunia - Million Bells
Petunia Wave series 
Scaevola - New Wonder
Sweet Potato Vine 
Torenia - Summer Wave Blue 
Verbena bonariensis 

For Fall, Winter, early Spring
Pansey varieties 
Viola varieties