A simple guide to container gardening
1 Start with a plan
Make sure you have all the garden necessities before you start. You’ll need a container, plants, potting soil, fertilizer and a watering can. Choose plants with similar environmental needs, as they’ll be sharing the same home for the next few months.
2 Choose your containers
Not all containers are created equal. Terra-cotta pots tend to dry out faster, while cheap plastic pots can deteriorate in the sun. Lightweight pots made of fibreglass, polystyrene or resin are made to look like stone, concrete or terra-cotta and are a great alternative. If you’re improvising and using a whimsical container such as a tire or birdhouse, drill drainage holes in the bottom so your plants won’t have wet feet. When choosing the plants, make sure you consider the plants’ mature size. They may look small right now, but by the end of the summer they’ll have filled out nicely.
3 Sterilize your pots
Cleaning your pots is best done in the fall, so you don’t have to do it in the spring when you’d rather be planting. For terra-cotta pots, scrub them with a steel wool and water and vinegar to remove any fertilizer salt (that icky white residue on older terra-cotta pots). For those unique containers that you found at the antique market or garage sale, simply rinse them with water and vinegar and let them dry.
4 The importance of soil
Soil is the key to your container gardening success. Garden soil may seem adequate, but it’s often filled with weed seeds and, once wet, it remains heavy, drowning the roots of your plants. Potting soil is the right soil for the job. It contains peat moss, vermiculite and other ingredients that make it lighter than garden soil.
5 Time to plant
If you’re using terra-cotta or other porous pots, soak them in water before adding soil. Fill the container three-quarters of the way with soil. Add fertilizer and work into the soil. Loosen up the roots and place the plant in the container. Add soil to fill in the holes as you go. Depending on your intended design, graduate foliage texture, height and flower colour. Leave a few centimetres between the edge of the pot and soil surface to allow for watering.
6 Keep on watering
The number one reason why container gardens are unsuccessful is lack of watering. You have to water your containers more often because the containers don’t retain water like the rest of your garden does. Wind, sun and plants in close confinement all contribute to thirsty roots. Keep watering until you see water leaking out the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot. If you’re looking for a lower maintenance solution, try self-watering containers. They have a reservoir at the bottom of the pot that will keep your plants happy for a few days.
7 Don’t forget to fertilize
To get the most out of your container garden, feed it regularly throughout the season. Time release organic fertilizer is perfect for plants in pots. Every time you water, a small amount of fertilizer will be fed to the plants. Many garden centres sell specially designed fertilizers for container gardens either in a concentrated liquid form or granular pellets. Whichever you choose, your plants will thank you with big beautiful blooms.
8 Location, location, location
Before you place your newly planted container anywhere, make sure you know what it’s in for. How much sun and shade will it get? How windy will it be? By taking a few extra minutes to figure out the conditions, you can ensure that the plants flourish in their new home. Don’t forget about your container gardens if you’re going away on summer vacation. Move them out of direct sunlight and wind and water them thoroughly before you leave.
9 Pest patrol
Keep an eye on the plants in your containers for pests and diseases. Look for chewed or discoloured leaves, stunted growth and undeveloped flower buds. Remove any diseased plant material regularly to prevent it from spreading. Aphids, whiteflies and spider mites are common pests, but an organic insecticidal soap can be used to deal with all three of these insects.
10 Winterize your containers
If you have the room, move your containers inside. Herbs like rosemary and basil and annuals such as marigolds and geraniums will continue to flourish indoors, but make sure you move them inside before you turn the heat on. Plants that are accustomed to outdoors need time to adjust to their new environment. Potted shrubs, trees and perennials left outdoors year-round need to be protected from the cold. Move them to a sheltered location and cover them with burlap.