Many people who live in apartments or condos forego the pleasures of gardening because they think they don’t have the room. Container gardening is an easy and efficient way to enjoy many of the same benefits as traditional gardening and anyone can do it regardless of where you live. Fill a pot, basket – even an old tire with colorful flowers for a foolproof, hassle free garden. All you need is a little TLC and a bit of guidance and you’ll have a container garden that all of your friends and family will envy.
First of all, become familier with the different types of containers so that you choose one to best fit your needs. Containers can be anything – traditional ones such as clay pots or wooden window boxes to the not-so-traditional, like old tires, baskets and wheelbarrows. I once planted flowers in one of my nephews old tennis shoes! The main thing to remember is that all containers must have good drainage. Regardless of the type, they must have at least one drainage hole. Then it is best to put some kind of “feet” under the container (bricks or a terra cotta saucer.) This is so the water can drain easily out of the bottom. It also helps to cover the hole inside the pot with a bit of broken pottery to facilitate steady drainage. Clay pots are classic, but they’re very pourous, so water evaporates quickly in the heat. Plastic containers are lightweight and easy to move around. Wood and ceramic are also good choices. Let your pots make a statement, much as you would a new piece of furniture for your home. Remember – a cast iron urn says “formal” while a wooden barrel says “rustic.”
You should fill your container with three key ingredients – a good quality potting soil or soilless potting mix, water-retaining crystals and a slow-release granular fertilizer (try to choose one specificially for containers.) You shouldn’t use soil from your garden because generally plants in your garden are different from container plants. Leave one or two inches between the soil and the top of the pot so there’s room to water without soil spilling out of the container. When placing plants in the container, a good rule of thumb is to think in terms of three rings: a center plant (usually the tallest plant,) then a ring of plants that cluster around the center plant and finally, an outer ring of plants to drape over the edge of the container.
Some good choices for the centerpiece plant are pennisetums, large cannas, banana plants, elephant’s ears, guzmania and colocasias. For the second “layer” of mounding plants, try hens and chicks, sage, ageratum, coral bells, black mondo grass, geraniums, verbena or dahlias (the shorter varieties.) Finally, for the outer ring, some good choices are sweet potato vine, draping verbena, coleus, petunias, nasturtiums, creeping sedum, thyme and sprawling geraniums. Of course, these are just some suggestions – anything goes in container gardening. One of my favorites is to just fill a big pot with lavender and a few thyme plants to spill over the side. I enjoy geraniums in my window boxes because they come in a variety of vibrant colors and last way into the fall. Enjoy the process and over time you’ll learn which combinations you like and what works best for you.
One final note is to remember pots tend to dry out very quickly, so water, water, water! Early morning and evening are the best times to water. Experiment and have fun – you can’t go wrong with container gardening. Like painting – you’re the artist and if you don’t like the way something looks, just pull out the plants and start all over! Soon you will be on your way to a hassle free container garden you can be proud of and enjoy all summer long!