Container gardening is the biggest trend in the United States.
Why is this hobby so popular with gardeners? Containers can be planted any time of the year. Because they are portable, they can be used anywhere from inside homes to yards, patios, courtyards, rooftops, porches, decks and inside and outside businesses.
Make your space inviting and comfortable with unexpected container gardens. Invite friends and family over and enjoy your special retreat filled with beautifully planted containers.
Some basics for successful container gardening will be the shape and size of the container in relationship to the size of your plant choice, your exposure (sun or shade), drainage, elevation, soil choice, fertilizer and a water source close to the containers location.
Your choice of containers can determine how your garden will grow and how much attention you will need to provide. When selecting a container, keep in mind the mature size of the plant(s) you intend to grow plus the growth rate and root structure of the plant. It’s important that the container be neither too small nor too large. Without enough room, the roots will exhaust the nutrients and oxygen in the soil. Slow growing plants that are placed in containers that are too large, may have their roots stay cold and wet, inviting fungus and disease.
Container shape is important. Shallow rooted and short top plants should have a shallow pot (such as crocuses). On the other hand, plants with tall foliage and long taproots require a deep container (such as dill).
Location is critical. Will you be planting sun plants or shade plants? Your container should be placed accordingly. If you wish to plant large plants, think big. Trees and shrubs will need a container as large as you can provide to be able to flourish. Large containers cost more, but this investment pays off in your garden. Half-barrels are a good choice for large plants and for growing vegetables.
Most any vessel can be adapted to use for container gardening. It’s fun to look for unusual items that were never designed to hold plants at all, such as an old bathtub, an old shoe/boot, seashell or a wire basket. Recently, a Master Gardener created a container from a nonworking metal table fan. Regular containers are usually made of terra-cotta, wood, glazed pottery or plastic. Each type has advantages and disadvantages, depending upon your climate, where your containers are placed and the amount of time you want to invest in maintaining them.
Drainage holes need to be in every container or your plants will not thrive. My husband has drilled holes in the bottoms of containers in our garden.
It is best not to use rocks or broken shards of pottery over your drainage holes as they often can move and actually plug the hole. Using a soft, fine screen for drainage holes will keep the soil from washing out and crawling bugs from getting in. Elevating your container on decorative feet, pavers, or an inverted pot will keep pests out and allow water to exit and air to enter.
Soil choice is critical. The smaller the container the more important the choice of soil is. Soil should have water holding polymers and fertilizers. It helps to add perlite and peat moss that will keep the soil from compacting. There are many potting soils on the market. Do not skimp and purchase soil that is not for containers. Potting soil is also known as container mix – specifically for container plantings.
Choosing plants for your containers is the fun part of gardening. The books recommend you plant with a “thriller,” “spiller” and “filler.” This means choose a main or focal plant for the middle of the container, other plants that will spill or cascade over the rim of the container and last but not least, plant(s) that will fill in the space in between both. This is good information for beginners. I prefer to plant in a more random method and not have plants placed so perfectly.
Another consideration is what your container will be used for, so review the following information.
An exciting trend is creating a garden room or outdoor space as a private sanctuary. This retreat can be an extension of your indoor space, with similar design, theme and color. Often these retreats are planted with common plants that resemble a restful park-like environment. Often people are more interested in planting uncommon plants. These spaces can be outlined with large containers or a corner focal planting, which contains an assortment of decorative pots.
These spaces are not developed overnight but take planning and designing where one can add containers each year as your preferences and lifestyle change. Your garden retreat should have a sense of enclosure, intimacy, ceremony or tradition, depending upon your personal style and taste. These spaces can be used for family gatherings and barbecues, quiet dinners, teas or a quiet sanctuary for reading. Some spaces have fire pits, tables and chairs, benches or even a hammock. Children’s play areas, fully equipped outdoor kitchens and entertainment areas seating 10 or more are becoming common garden rooms. Containers with citrus, cypress or with vines growing up trellises can define a garden retreat.
A benefit of a garden room is you can stay home to vacation. They connect with all sorts of living things outdoor and are a good fit for busy lifestyles.
Your garden can be created using containers as “room dividers.” Raised planters with seating and metal/wood trellising can also be used to form “walls.” Lattice can separate and divide your garden room with planted containers placed on both sides for visual interest. Inside your garden room you can add water features. Mood lighting placed in containers in this “secret garden,” along with containers holding small clay pots with scented candles, personalize your space.
There should be an element of surprise, whether it is an unusual container shape or shocking color, unusual planting, hidden water fall or a small gardening shed. A touch of whimsy will always add interest and “smiles.”
Sharon Rico is a Master Gardener with the University of California Cooperative Extension office in Fairfield. If you have gardening questions, call the Master Gardener’s office at 784-1322.