Container-grown plants can be an addition to an already flourishing
landscape or a garden all by themselves. By planting in nursery pots, buckets, whiskey barrels, grow bags, or whatever else you find around the house, you’ll be adding aesthetic interest and practicality to your yard and home.
Container gardening is useful when:
- You want to move plants into the house for the winter.
- Controlling the soil quality is desired.
- There isn’t much space available.
- You want to grow year-round herbs and vegetables (or pretty flowers).
When selecting plants, you need to consider both what you want and what the plants need.
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What You Want in a Plant
Almost anything can be grown in a container, even many trees! But, before you rush out to the nursery to buy whatever suits your fancy, take a moment to think about what you want your container garden to achieve.
– Are you looking to grow foodstuffs such as vegetables or herbs?
– Do you want to add color to a drab garden?
– Does your yard need height and texture?
– Is your growing season short and you are looking for something that can come inside?
If you are taking an aesthetic approach, look for plants that:
• Balance and contrast each other
• Are suited to the size of the container
• Suit your color tastes
• Provide a focal point
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Although the container gardening field is wide open, some plants are better suited to pots than others. These include:
What a Plant Wants
After you’ve thought about what you want, consider what you can provide the plants given your environment, space and time commitment. Of course, plants need light, food, air and water, but the quality and quantity varies from plant to plant. (Read more about plant requirements here.)
Read seed packets, plant descriptions or online references and then grow plants with similar requirements together.
Find out how big your plants will be when mature and make sure your container can accommodate that. Dwarf varieties usually do well in containers since they are small by nature.
Ideal for growing indoors or out! Roots Organics® Potting Soil is a ready to use mix made from quality natural and organic ingredients. The unique recipe enables better drainage and encourages a vigorous root structure. Available in a 1.5 cu ft bag.
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Container plants do best in a potting mix rather than in garden soil which can compact easily. Often garden soil contains weed seeds, pests and other critters you don’t want in your containers.
Look for a mix that is light, fluffy, drains well and contains enough organic material to hold water and nutrients. You can purchase a pre-mixed potting soil or make your own.
When purchasing potting soil (not really soil at all) read the package carefully. Instead of buying something labeled “topsoil” or “compost” which could be made of just about anything, invest in high quality organic potting soil.
If you choose to make your own, find a good recipe and experiment. A classic soil-based mix is:
• 1 part peat moss or mature compost
• 1 part garden loam or topsoil
• 1 part clean builder’s sand or perlite
Watering plants in containers is different than watering plants directly in the soil. Potting soil is often less dense than garden soil and thus holds less water. Additionally, the pot restricts the amount of soil to hold water. And because the pots are above ground, they don’t have all that mass around them to keep cool.
Too much or too little water will kill your plants. The idea is to keep the soil moist throughout, but not wet. Many container-grown plants need to be watered once or twice a day when it is hot.
Going on vacation? The Scheurich® Bordy is an attractive and effective automatic plant waterer. Not only a handy plant companion but this cheery little bird makes its mark as cute home decor. Simply fill with water and rest assured that your plant will be perfectly watered for up to four days.
Use a watering can or garden hose to wet the soil directly (not just the leaves!). If you still can’t tell how much water is needed, consider a digital moisture meter for an exact reading.
If you plan to be away from home for several days a drip irrigation system can keep your plants happy. Purchase one or make your own (Learn how to make your own pop bottle irrigation system here).
You can also retain water longer by adding “agro-polymers” (sold under the name Soil Moist) to the soil or potting mix before you plant.
Adding organic mulch to the top of your containers will retain moisture on warm days and add nutrients to the soil (remember that nutrients leach out each time you water and need to be replaced.)
Most plants need 7-12 hours of sunlight a day (especially herbs and vegetables with fruits). If you don’t have that, look for shade tolerating varieties like spinach and chard.
Read seed packets to determine the amount of light an individual species needs. Here’s what the packet terms mean:
Full Sun: Between 6 and 8 hours of direct sunlight per day.
Partial Sun: Plants require between 4 and 6 hours of sunlight a day, preferably in the morning and early afternoon.
Shade: Less than 4 hours of direct sunlight per day, with filtered sunlight during the rest of the day.
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When you move your containers indoors for the winter, you may need to give them an extra sunlight-boost with plant grow lights. These specially designed lights simulate the sun and help plants thrive through the dark of winter.
Plants grow best at temperatures between 55 and 75° F. Without the insulating earth around them, the roots of container plants get hotter and colder more quickly than their in-ground counterparts.
Move containers inside before it frosts. Provide shade (consider grouping pots together to shade each other) when it gets too hot. Some folks “plant” their containers part way in the ground for insulation.
Nutrient solutions such as compost teas, worm teas made from worm castings, as well as liquid organic fertilizers, fish emulsion and kelp meal provide needed nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium in addition to micronutrients and organic compounds.
Better than synthetic fertilizers, these organic fertilizers won’t burn your plants and supply the necessary macronutrients as well as many micronutrients, minerals, amino acids and vitamins. Most release their nutrients slowly — a good watering gets them started — giving you long-lasting, healthy results. At Planet Natural, we carry a variety of organic formulas — including guanos — designed to encourage growth, blooms and bountiful harvests.
Use to stimulate exceptional budding and blooming on all flowering
Derived from Atlantic fish, phosphoric acid and potash, Alaska MorBloom stimulates exceptional budding and blooming on all flowering plants. Brightens colors in flowers and foliage and promotes vigorous root growth, too! Mix 1-3 Tbsp per gallon of water to encourage budding in flowers, vegetables and ornamental houseplants.
Timing is everything when fertilizing as plant nutrient needs change as the plant grows. Annual plants, for example, benefit most when fertilized with a solution high in nitrogen when they are first planted (for growth and leaf development) and then switched to a low-nitrogen, high-phosphorus solution to encourage blooming.
Since nutrients leach from the soil every time your container plants are watered, it is important to add fertilizer every week or two.
You’ll need to devote some time most days to your containers. Between watering, pruning, dead heading and harvesting your crops, container gardens need your devotion.