Container gardening is great for homeowners who don’t have a plot of land for planting to get their grow on. But what exactly is it?
“Container gardening is when you cultivate flowers, greenery, or vegetables in pots and containers instead of the ground,” says Desiree Thomson from Gardening Services London in the United Kingdom. “It’s a space-saving way to add living color to a patio, balcony, deck, or even an indoor windowsill.”
A streamlined way to liven up your space no matter how big or small it may be? Sounds right up our alley! But are certain plants and flowers strictly off-limits for container gardens? Not really.
“You can grow pretty much anything—succulents to tomatoes—as long as the vessel you pick is big enough and has the appropriate drainage,” says Amy Enfield, a consumer horticulturist at Scotts Miracle-Gro in Chicago.
Even gardeners with large yards love container gardens for many reasons: They can save water and reduce or eliminate weeding time. Containers lifted high off the ground means less bending. And container gardens can be portable. So, you can protect your plants from hungry, nocturnal creatures by bringing your containers inside at night.
And here’s the greatest part: You don’t need the greenest of thumbs to get started.
When it comes to picking containers, you can get mighty creative.
“Almost anything that holds soil and offers drainage makes a good planter,” says landscape designer Angela Price of Eden Condensed in Los Angeles. “I’ve planted in vintage coffee tins, old toolboxes, empty paint cans, and even old rubber boots. To prep for planting, I created holes on the bottom of each with a power drill.”
The vessel you choose to plant in can be as unique as the plants you choose to grow, but keep one rule in mind: Make sure the container you pick is the right size, depth, and material. Choose a pot based on the plant’s mature size, not the size it is now.
“Galvanized tubs work great for growing root vegetables such as radishes, carrots, and sweet potatoes because they’re often deep and wide,” says Rhianna Miller, a trend forecaster and the in-house garden design expert at Rubber Mulch in Lakewood, NJ.
Plants with shallow root systems (e.g., succulents) don’t need a lot of depth to grow so a small pot will suffice. On the flip side, a small cucumber plant will require a 5-gallon container.
Before you head to your local garden center, here are the important things you need to know.
Plants: Plan to sow several in a single container? Make sure each one requires the same amount of sunlight and water.
“Don’t plant shade-loving plants with sun-loving plants, or plants that need consistently moist soils with plants that prefer dry soil,” Enfield says.
If you’re not sure which plants can be potted together, check their plant tags. It will detail the amount of light, water, and space they’ll need to thrive.
Soil: It doesn’t pay to skimp. For happier plants, the pros say you should stick to quality potting soil and organic fertilizers. The best options are typically specialty soils created for specific plants. Many home improvement stores sell options for roses, succulents, vegetables, and more.
Containers: Size matters.
“People using supersized containers for plants with shallow roots is a common mistake that wastes a lot of soil. It also creates a couple of problems,” says Kyle Varona, general manager at Fahey Pest & Lawn Solutions in Sarasota, FL.
“Large containers packed with soil aren’t very portable, so they’re a hassle to move,” Varona says. “It’s also easy to overwater or underwater plants in overly big planters.”
Arrangement: If you’re looking to create a pretty arrangement in one container, consider the “thrill, fill, spill” setup. Choose three different types of plants that will complement one another. The thrillers are the tall plants that add height—think tall, ornamental grasses placed in the center or back of the arrangement. Next are the fillers, the shorter rounded plants such as perennial blooms. The finishing touch is the spiller that pours over the edge of the container. Trailing vines are a good option.
Growing edible plants
Don’t limit your container garden to dahlias and succulents—vegetables and herbs also flourish in this environment.
“You can grow most types of vegetables in a container garden, as long as you’re aware of the growing conditions,” says Varona.
Beginners may want to stick with less finicky edible plants. Think cherry tomatoes, zucchini, and herbs.
“Most vegetables require at least six hours of sunlight per day. Salad greens and herbs can usually get by with less,” Varona adds. “Tomatoes, peppers, beans, and other sun lovers will appreciate as much light as they can get.”
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