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All About Container Gardening  

You can grow practically every type of plant in containers - from flowering and foliage annuals and perennials to vegetables and herbs to trees and shrubs.

Container planting is a great way to add color to your garden, curb appeal to your home and enjoyment to your life. It's a versatile way to liven up your personal space and have lots of fun doing it. With pots, you can let your imagination run wild. There are endless combinations. And best of all, you can do it easily and affordably.

Don't let lack of experience, space or time put a damper on this gardening project. All you need is an hour or two, a suitable container, some lovely plants, and a sunny or shady place on your patio, deck or porch.

If you don't have space for a vegetable garden, or if your outdoor space doesn't provide the necessary elements to produce the flower garden you've always wanted, consider the possibility of "container gardening." A patio, deck, balcony, or doorstep can provide enough space for a productive, attractive display.

If you live in an apartment with limited outdoor space, you might consider doing a little indoor gardening. By using sunny window sills, you can grow a number of herbs.


Benefits of Container Gardening

Convenience - While space (or lack of it) is an obvious reason to try container gardening, that's not the only reason people choose this method. Often, convenience plays a big part, especially for vegetables and herbs. Having these essentially at your fingertips is a tremendous advantage. The mobility of container gardening makes it easy to rearrange and resculpture your garden and to add new elements of interest and beauty. Container plantings provide great flexibility and versatility as well. It's easy to rotate plants to update the look of your space and makes it incredibly simple to care for them.

Time - For busy two-worker families who don't have time to produce a large garden, a number of well-placed pots on the deck often can do the trick. For the elderly who can't garden anymore, sometimes a simple tomato plant conveniently located by the back door may be enough to satisfy the craving for fresh vegetables and to recall memories of days past.

Economy - Smaller spaces result in smaller costs. Initial set-up costs may be a little more, but once the appropriate containers and materials are purchased, costs are minimal. You will be buy fewer plants, less media, and less fertilizer than for traditional gardening.

Display - Just as a garden can be a work of art, a well-planned container garden can too. Carefully selecting plants will result in a beautiful, yet functional, display with function.


What you'll need to get started:

Appropriate Containers - The first step in planning your container garden is to decide on a container. Just about anything that can hold soil and offers drainage qualifies. All containers, whether clay, wood, plastic, or ceramic, should have an adequate number of holes in the bottom for proper drainage. (Unless you are looking to do a container water garden or fountain where a water-tight container is preferable.) Additional holes should be drilled or punched in containers that do not drain quickly after each watering. Gravel or rocks can also be placed in the bottom of larger containers to sevre as a reservoir. Setting the container on a solid surface, such as a cement or patio floor, reduces drainage. Raising the container one or two inches off the floor by setting it on blocks of wood or clay feet will solve this problem.

The container's size will be determined by the plant(s) select, so select your plants first. Generally, most plants grown in the soil can be grown in containers as long as ample space is provided for them to develop roots. Most all plants you will find at the nursery can be grown in pots and containers, however, some prefer growing in the ground. Shallow-rooted plants like many annuals and perennials, lettuce, peppers, radishes, and herbs need a container at least 6 inches in diameter with an 8-inch soil depth. Bushel baskets, half barrels, wooden tubs, or large pressed paper containers are ideal for growing tomatoes, squash, pole beans, cucumbers, and deep-rooted perennials and shrubs.


Planting Media - A fairly lightweight mix that holds water more evenly is best for container gardening. We offer Pennington Professinal Potting Soil at the nursery. Sometimes, when planting ornamentals in containers, we'll mix in a little cheap grade potting soil to heavy the mix. Soil straight from the garden usually cannot be used in a container because it's too heavy. Clay soil holds too much moisture when wet, resulting in too little air for the roots. Also, it pulls away from the sides of the pot when dry. Container medium must be porous in order to support plants, because roots require both air and water.

Fertilizer - We usually fertilize container plants with a water-soluble fertilzer such as MiracleGro however for ornamental shrubs we use a granular shub and tree fertilizer. Always refer to instructions on package for rates of application. An occasional application of fish emulsion or compost, such as mushroom compost or composted cow manure will add trace elements, vital nutrients and organisms to the soil. Do not add more than the recommended rate of any fertilizer. Doing so may cause fertilizer burn and kill your plants. Unlike garden plants, container plants do not have the buffer of large volumes of soil and humus to protect them from over-fertilizing.

Water Requirements - Pay particular attention to watering container plants. Because the volume of soil is relatively small, containers can dry out quickly during the hotter summer months, especially if they are on a concrete patio in full sunlight. Daily or twice-daily watering may be necessary. Apply water until it runs out the drainage holes.

Clay pots and other porous containers may need water more frequently, as they allow additional evaporation from the sides of the pots. Small pots also tend to dry out more quickly than larger ones. If the soil appears to be getting excessively dry (plants wilting every day is one sign), group the containers together so that the foliage creates a canopy to help shade the soil and keep it cool. You may also add a light layer of mulch to help slow evaporation.

The best way to check to see if a container needs water is the finger test - feel the soil to determine whether it is damp.

Light Requirements - The amount of sunlight your container garden spot receives may determine which crops can be grown. Check light requirements for specific plants. Gain access on our site to listings for all the various annuals, perennials, herbs, and more in the Garden Center.

Plant Material - Plant breeders have helped to make container gardening more practical by breeding plants having compact growth habits. Almost any vegetable, annual or perennial plant, and many spring bulbs and summer bulbs can be adapted to container culture. The possibilities are endless.


Here is a listing of vegetables great for growing in containers:

Beans / Bush Beets / Carrots / Cabbage / Cucumbers / Eggplant / Kale / Lettuce / Leaf Mustard Greens / Onions / Peppers / Squash / Tomatoes / Turnips



Annual Herbs: Anise / Basil / Chervil / Coriander / Dill / Summer Savory
Biennial Herbs: Caraway / Parsley
Perennial Herbs: Chives /Fennel / Lavender / Lovage / Marjoram / Mints / Rosemary / Sages / Tarragon / Thyme / Winter Savory

Herbs Available at Wilson Bros. Nursery in Spring and Summer



Here are some fruits suitable for planting in containers:

Strawberries / Blueberries / Raspberries / Blackberries

Annual Plants in containers are great for use on decks, patios, porches, around pools, and just about anywhere you can think of.

Container Combination Ideas Using Annuals l Annuals for Sun I Annuals for Shade


Perennials Plants are great for use on decks, patios, porches, around pools, in the perennial garden or just about anywhere you can think of to use them.

Perennial Home Page I Perennials for Sun I Perennials for Shade I Perennials For Butterflies I Perennials for Hummingbirds I Perennials for Fragrance


Exotic Foliage / Tropical Plants

This group of plants is excellent for use on decks, patios, around pools or jacuzzi's, near sitting areas, and around ponds.

Alamanda / Banana Trees / Caladiums / Canna Lilies / Elephant Ears / Hibiscus - Tropical or Hardy / Mandevilla / Palms / Yuccas


Bulbs you can force many spring bulbs in containers for indoor use. Plant summer bulbs in containers to be placed on decks, patios, porches or whever else you might enjoy them.

All ABout Summer Bulbs I All About Spring Bulbs


Trees When planting trees in pots, you obviously have to proportion the tree to the pot. You definitely don’t want to try to grow some gigantic oak tree in a pot, but there are a variety of trees that will work quite well in containers.

Japanese Maples / Crape Myrtles / Tree Form Hollies / Tree Home Page




Planting in Containers

Plants - Plant container plants at the same time you would plant them in a regular garden or flower bed. Go to Planting In Containers for basic step-by-step guidelines.

Seed - Sow seeds according to instructions on the seed package or plant tag. After planting seeds, gently soak the soil with water, being careful not to wash out or displace seeds that have been planted. When seedlings have sprouted to two or three leaves thin then out if necessary to obtain proper spacing. If cages, stakes, or other supports are needed, provide them when the plants are very small to avoid later root or branch damage.

In Summary

Container gardening gives you endless possibilities for beautifying your home–inside and out. While many people focus strictly on pots for indoor use, there are many creative ideas for outside use as well. Open your mind to new unique ideas...your own ideas, and you’ll soon discover that with pottery and contaniner gardening, you are only limited by your imagination!

FAQ's about container planting

Q: Can my clay or concrete planters be left outdoors for the winter?
A: Yes, but these types of containers absorb moisture and if it freezes, expansion may cause them to crack.

Q: Can my planters be painted?
A: Yes. Before painting clay pots, use Pennington's Clay Pot Sealer. Choose a paint used for porous surfaces. Craft stores will most likely carry this type of paint.

Q: What determines the size of a planter? How do you measure this size?
A: General consensus is the right inside lip to the left outside lip, although this too may vary by manufacturer.

Q: What size saucer should I use for my planter?
A: The saucer should be equal to the top diameter of the planter. This ensures a proper reservoir.

Q: How do I clean my conatiners?
A: Use a solution of vinegar and water.

Q: How do I use a clay planter that does not have a drain hole in it?
A: Use the planter as a decorative dressing for your pre-potted plant, or you may fill the bottom of the planter with pea pebbles or gravel, and then add a medium that drains well - or you could choose to use it for making a container water or bog garden. Another possibility is to use a small drill bit to drill a hole in the planter; however you should use caution when doing this as some planters may not withstand the drilling.

Q: How can I tell if my planters have enough water in the soil?
A: There is a slight change in the color of terra cotta planters when the soil inside the planter is moist. Over time, you will be able to tell these differences and know exactly when your plant needs additional water. For other types of planters use the finger test to check for soil moiture.

Q: I have a very big planter that is hard for me to move inside during the winter months. What can I do to make this move easier on me?
A: You can do several things that will make this planter easier to move. You may fill the bottom of the planter with a Styrofoam square that will take the place of unnecessary compacted soil. This will make the pot lighter and easier to move. You may also put the planter on a plant dolly. These plant dollies can be found alongside planters in most retail environments.



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