Container Gardening for Beginners


Growing plants in containers has many advantages. You can control the quality of the soil, move them from a sunny spot to a shady one if needed and hide them out of sight when the plants are dormant. The pot itself is a sculptural piece of decoration, brightly colored or muted, sleek or fancy. Vegetables, trees, bushes, bulbs and flowers all are possibilities for patios and decks.

Choosing Your Containers

Just about anything that can hold soil can be a planting pot. People have used old shoes, teapots, baskets and tin cans but some sort of drainage hole is essential. A teapot, for instance, can have a smaller pot set inside it on a layer of gravel. If you're growing small vegetables such as radishes or annuals such as petunias, you can use a low container with as little as 4 to 5 inches of soil. Shrubs and trees, however, with their larger root area, need pots that are deep and wide. You can also mix a rose, for instance, with petunias to utilize both the upper and lower zones of a planter. Be aware that porous materials such as wood and unglazed pottery dry out more quickly than those with an impervious surface. This can be an advantage when growing cactus and succulents but a disadvantage with fuchsias and other flowers that need a constantly moist soil.

Soil Mixes

Use a bagged potting mix without adding soil from your garden. The mix is lighter, with more air spaces, and drains more quickly, a definite plus in the confined area of a pot. If you're growing succulents, look for a special mix that has extra sand or other quick-draining material. If you're growing azaleas or rhododendrons, find a mix for acid-loving plants or add some peat moss to a basic mix.

Regular Maintenance

Watering is your most regular chore. Soak the soil completely each time you water and then leave it until the surface of the soil is dry. If it's a large planter, wait until the top inch or so dries out before watering again. Never over water; the roots of the plants will rot. You can fertilize with a liquid formulation according to the directions or add a slow release fertilizer such as Osmocote at the beginning of the season. Once a week, go over your plants and take off any yellow leaves and spent flowers. This keeps them blooming longer and looking tidy. Pinch back long shoots by taking the tip off each one to encourage bushy new growth.

A Few Cautions

Trees and shrubs in containers will be slightly less hardy than they would be in the ground. Protect them from extra-hard freezes. Combine plants with similar needs for water and sunlight in the same container. For instance, ferns, impatiens and hostas all prefer moist semi-shade. A sunflower planted in the same container and given the same conditions would grow spindly and thin without flowering.

Landscaping With Containers

Suit the style of your pots to the patio or entry around them. The plants can be changed frequently, but the pots are your permanent furniture. Use large decorative containers in shrub borders as focal points. Keep a group of pots in the back yard with flowers that are coming into bloom and switch them into the entry when they reach their peak.

Keywords: pot gardens, planting in containers, basic container gardening

About this Author

Over the past 30 years, Mara Grey has sold plants in nurseries, designed gardens and volunteered as a Master Gardener. She is the author of "The Lazy Gardener" and "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Flower Gardening" and has a Bachelor of Science in botany.