In theory, container gardening is a really simple way for everyone to dip their toes (or fingers) into gardening. Pretty much anything that will hold a growing medium (dirt), and has a drainage hole can be turned into a container garden that lights up a bare front porch or neglected patio. Seems simple enough; fill a pot with good potting soil, buy some pretty flowers, and ta-da: instant beauty! But take it from me, a veteran of some failed container garden experiments, I wish I had these container gardening tips when I first started gardening.
Know Your Light
In any garden center there are four major distinctions among plants; whether the plant is an annual or perennial, sun or shade plant. Annuals bloom repeatedly, but die when the weather turns cold. Perennials (generally) only bloom once, but come back year after year. As a general rule, people plant perennials in the ground, and annuals in containers.
Sun-loving or sun-tolerant plants do best in sunny locations, with at least 6-8 hours of sun (or more). Shade-loving or shade-tolerant plants, will do best in shady locations, with less than 6 hours of direct sunlight. It’s really important to understand how much sun or shade your container plants will receive. Otherwise, you may buy plants that fail to bloom, or need repeated watering to survive. And keep in mind that even the most sun-tolerant flowering plants will need additional water on the hottest days! Try to avoid placing your container plants far from a garden hose if they are to be in direct sunlight.
Container Gardening Design 101
There are no rules in container planting, but for the less, ahem, artistic people in the world (and the beginner container gardener), there are a few basic guidelines for designing an attractive container garden.
1 — The most basic container gardening design tip is to select planting materials that will grow as tall as the container they are planted in. Don’t put a short-stumpy plant, best used as a “filler,” into a tall, narrow container!
2 – If you want a calm and serene container garden, pick plants that are in the same color family, or choose plants with pastel flowers. If you want a bold, statement-making container, go for bright colors, like red, orange and fuschia.
3 — Use the classic, thriller-filler-spiller method for designing your container gardens. This means, picking three different types of plants with three distinct growth patterns. The “thriller” plant should be at least as tall as the container, and make a statement. The “filler” plant fills in around the thriller and usually provides the main color. The “spiller” plant is typically a vining or sprawling plant that spills over the edge of the container.
Keep Your Containers Healthy
While a container garden is the simplest and most easy care way to start gardening, “low maintenance” does not mean “no-maintenance” A little bit of TLC will lead to healthier container plants that last longer and look better.
To encourage your plants to bloom profusely and repeatedly, use a fertilizer for flowering plants. Many brands recommend weekly feeding, but read the directions carefully so that you don’t over- or under-feed your plants.
Many beginner gardeners also don’t realize that most annuals sold for container planting benefit from a little pruning and “deadheading” as the season progresses. Pruning, especially for plants that have a trailing habitat (vining or sprawling plants), keeps plants looking fresh and healthy, and encourages new, healthy growth. Deadheading, or removing flower heads that have bloomed, also encourages new growth or more blooms. We love a sharp pair of garden shears or pruning scissors for container gardening clean-up chores.
Another trick that professional horticulturists like to share is to add mycorrhizae, a beneficial micro-organism that encourages root growth, to growing plants. When roots are healthy, so are the “shoots”, boosting the ability of your container plants to put out flowers. Most products with mycorrhizae have to be mixed into planting soil, but Flower Thrive is a soil drench that can be applied any time to container plants.
So don’t forget, pick plants based upon your home’s sun or shade conditions. Follow some basic design principles when selecting your plants and containers. Finally, “low-maintenance” doesn’t meant “no-maintenance”–be sure to keep your container plants healthy with frequent watering, fertilizing, dead-heading and pruning. With these tips, hopefully, you will have great success with your containers on your first try!