Are you one of those people who fills the flowerpots by your front door with bright red geraniums once springtimes warm weather arrives? Is Labor Day the designated planting date for fall chrysanthemums decorating the front stoop? Once those blossoms fade, do you rip them out and replace them with colorful pansies to brighten up the porch during the cold winter months? In many households, thats what gardening is all about!
Its been estimated that 85 percent of American families participate in some type of gardening activitymaking gardening the No. 1 outdoor leisure activity in the United States. In our hustle-and-bustle society, this rapidly growing pastime can be the source of great personal satisfaction, aesthetic pleasure and relief from everyday stress.
While many gardeners choose to design and plant large flower-filled landscapes and substantial vegetable gardens, planting flowers, fruits and vegetables in containers and raised beds (a contained garden area built up above the ground) is rapidly becoming the gardening of choice for millions of Americans. The popularity of container and raised-bed gardening increases every yearand its much more than just placing a pot of geraniums by the front door.
Why the increased interest in gardening in containers and raised beds? There are many advantages to planting in planters, pots, containers and raised beds. Theres no limit to the flexibility and creativity afforded to you with this type of gardening. Simply moving individual pots of flowers and plants to different locations can completely change the look of your garden spot. Busy homeowners and families may love the pleasure that gardening brings, but just dont have the time to devote to a large garden plot. Apartment, condominium and loft living provides limited (or no) space for a traditional garden, and container gardening is a perfect solution. Gardening in containers and raised beds provides options to people who may have disabilities or are elderly. Another benefit of gardening in containers and raised beds is that you can control the soilan advantage if youve got bad or problem soil. So, how do you get started with container and raised-bed gardening? Lets start with the basics:
First, you need something to place your plants in
Almost any object that will hold soil can be used for container gardening. Whether its a fine Italian terra cotta vessel, an old wooden whiskey barrel or an inexpensive plastic pot, the single most important feature for successful container gardening is good drainage. Plants (with the exception of aquatic plants) cannot survive if their roots are drowning. If the container doesnt have drainage holes, drill or cut holes into the bottom. If this is not possible, insert a smaller, planted container (with good drainage features) into the decorative bowl, making sure that it is elevated so that the roots of the plants will not sit in water. Also, a planter with no tray elevated on feet or small blocks is helpful, to enable drainage and protect the surface where the pot rests
When selecting a container for planting, there are infinite options available. Concrete and painted and glazed ceramic pots are popular. Wire baskets lined with moss are nice choices. Classic terra cotta is versatile and inexpensive, but can dry out quickly. Also, terra cotta may crack in freezing temperatures. A wide range of plastic pottery, many that mimic classic clay, is available in all colors, styles and textures. Remember, though, that you get what you pay for. The cheaper plastics will quickly fade and deteriorate from UV exposure, and become brittle and crack. A higher quality plastic will be more expensive, but it will perform well for many years.
Tips for Selecting a Container
Source: Callaway Enterprises Rocky Branch Garden Center and Bennett Design & Landscape
Gaining popularity are resin and fiberglass planters. Resembling concrete, clay and stone, these containers are extremely durable, yet much lighter than those made of traditional materials. The detailed molds and excellent production quality of these planters will fool youuntil you touch them or pick them up, you wont be able to tell the difference! These planters are excellent for those gardening on balconies or decks, due to their reduced weightbut be careful when planting small containers, since theyre apt to tip over on a windy day.
Trendy hypertufa is a mixture of cement, sand and peat moss that can be fashioned into a container of any size or shape imaginable. The finished product looks like old, weathered stone, and is a magnificent object to plant in. Purchased at a nursery center, these troughs and pots are very expensivebut are easy to mix and build by the handy gardener.
Wooden planters are another traditional choice, and can easily be built to fit any area. Redwood and cedar tend to resist rot better than other woods, and do not require painting and staining, making them excellent choices. If using other woods, use non-toxic stain, paint or waterproofer to extend the life of the wood.
If you are planning a raised-bed gardening area, there are many suitable building materials. Stone, concrete, bricks and wood are excellent choices for the frames of raised beds. Creating a raised bed from salvaged materials, such as a broken sidewalk or driveway, is an inspired use of recycled objects. Build the beds to the height that is most easily accessible.
Second, youll need the proper soil for containers and raised beds
The best planting medium for containers is one that drains rapidly, but will hold enough water to keep the roots of the plants moist. Also, the soil should be rich in organic material. Garden centers sell soilless potting mixtures made specifically for containers, which provide a sterile environment for good plant health and include the organic materials needed for good plant growth. If you prefer to make your own soil for the containers, mix good quality planting soil, compost and granite sand (to improve drainage) to ensure the best start for the plants. Also, consider the pH requirements of your plants. If the pH needs adjustment (for example, a more acidic soil is needed, requiring lime), amendments can be added easily before planting.
Suggested combinations for containers
Source: DeKalb County Extension Master Gardeners Phoebe Stephens and Mary Kay Woodworth
Third, decide what to plant
The most exciting thing about container gardening is that there really are no rules. Almost anything can be planted in a container or raised bedif theres enough room. Flowers, foliage plants, herbs, fruit trees, vegetables, shrubs and small trees are all good choices for planting in planters, pots and containers. The crucial element to consider is how much sunlight the container will receive. This will dictate which plants to use. Most planters will benefit from a minimum of five hours of direct sunlight each day, and fruits and most vegetables will require more sun.
What kind of look are you trying to achieve in the container? Design definitely comes into play during plant selection time. A pot containing one type of flowerthe red geraniums in a classic urncan be very attractive and fit your needs for a certain location. You may prefer a mixed planting of striking foliage plants, bright annuals and delicate overflowing ivy. Mix up herbs and flowers for a wonderful complementary garden. All kinds of vegetables can be grown in pots, provided youve got enough sunlight. Whether your goal is formal, contemporary, whimsical or austere, you can accomplish this look with the right mix of plants and container. You may want to consider planting some evergreen plants in the containers, which youll leave in all year long, add perennials for different looks throughout the year, and seasonally change annuals. This is a great time- and money-saving solution to planting containers, and eliminates the boredom factor that is sometimes apparent in front porch containers.
e to planthow do I do it?
Fill your container about four-fifths full of the soil mix. To reduce the amount of soil needed, you may want to add items that take up space in the bottom of the pot, but will still allow good drainage. Styrofoam packing peanuts are a great choice. If youve got a very large container to plant, place empty two-liter soft drink bottles (with the top screwed back on) into the pot. Crushed rock, concrete or stones can be added to a raised bed (up to 1/3 full) to reduce the volume of soil used. Dont take up too much space with these additions; the plant roots need at least 8-10 inches of soil for good growth.
Container Trees and Shrubs:
Container Hanging Basket /
Begonia Cissus Creeping Fig
Container Plants with Decorative Foliage:
Source: Callaway Enterprises Rocky Branch Garden Center and Bennett Design & Landscape.
Add a slow-release fertilizer to the soil at planting time (and use a water-soluble fertilizer ever other week to add nutrients to the soil). Many gardeners also add a product to the soil that will aid in water retention (usually a gel-type pellet or granule). These work well if used correctly. Read and follow the manufacturers directions precisely if you use these products and measure carefully. Adding too much to the soil can leave you with a very soggy container,full of unhappy plants.
Unpack your plants from their nursery containers and loosen the roots. Place them in the container and play around with their placement. Unlike gardening in traditional beds, plants should be placed closer together for best results. Nows the time to design the garden that pleases your eyeso have fun with it. Mixing textures and colors of foliage and flowers gives you endless combinations. Generally, the most striking planters combine tall plants, plants that trail, and those with flowers and/or interesting foliage.
Once youve decided where to place the plants, add more soil to about an inch below the top of the container, and cover with mulch. Add water, and youre done planting.
Once youve finished planting and placing the containers where youd like them, maintenance is easy. Containers dry out much faster than planting beds, so check the soil daily and add water as needed. Fertilize every other week with a water-soluble liquid fertilizer, and observe the plants for signs of disease or pests. Also, groom the plants as needed, cutting off faded flower blooms and harvesting fruits, herbs and vegetables when they are ripe.
If you need to move the pots around as light conditions change with the seasons, go aheadthats one of the advantages of gardening in containers! Now that you know how easy it is to create beautiful and innovative displays in containers, make this smaller space gardening your choice, and enjoy the time youve saved with your family and friends.