Container gardens are a great way to add color and fragrance to a small garden, patio or deck. They can also soften up an area which seems too hard like an oversized terrace or wall. Its also often the only way for people living in apartments, condos or urbanized areas to experience gardening. Just about any plant; herbs, flowers, evergreen shrubs and even some small trees, can be used in a container or planter. Though often used on a patio or deck, planters come in different styles and can be used in the landscape as a focal point just as specimen shrub might be used.
When preparing containers for planting, first add a few stones to the base of the pot to allow for drainage. A well drained yet water and nutrient retentive soil is ideal. There are many high quality potting soils on the market which you can buy at any greenhouse or nursery. If you choose to mix your own soil, however, use 1 part each of peat moss, garden soil, and builder’s sand. Mix them thoroughly in a wheelbarrow. The peat moss and garden soil will add nutrients and help hold moisture while the sand provides drainage. Leave about 2" from the top of the container, this will allow you to water thoroughly without spill over.
As with any other type of planting be sure not to install the plants too high or too low in the soil. To prevent the plants from drying out don't plant closer than 2" from the edge of the container. As you add plants to the container supply them with a slow release fertilizer for a prolonged feeding, this will keep the flowers blooming profusely throughout the season. If you opt to use a general water soluble fertilizer you'll need to fertilize at least once each week.
The most popular types of plants to use are annual flowers. This is because they bloom all season from very early spring until, in many cases, the first frost. While most annuals do best in full sun, there are a few annuals, such as impatiens and begonias, will tolerate some shade. For sunny locations, geraniums, petunias, dahlias and are among the most commonly used. To encourage continual blooms in annuals you’ll need to deadhead, or pinch off the past blooms, to prevent the formation of seed heads.
Perennials return years after year and will also do well planted in containers. They require much the same care as annuals; rich organic soil, deadheading, frequent watering and fertilization. Perennials die back to the ground each fall and should be cut back and cover with mulch or hay.
Window boxes are planted can be planted with many of the same plants and in much the same way as other containers. They should be at least 6 inched deep to encourage healthy root growth. If possible, make sure heavy window boxes are in place before you start planting.
For herbs and vegetables prepare the planters as you would for annuals or perennials. Vegetables, in order to be productive, will need a larger pot so their roots can more fully develop. Try to use vegetables which don’t grow to large, they’ll produce less than the smaller varieties. Good choices include tomatoes, eggplant and peppers. There are both annual and perennial herbs and they should be cared for as you would other flowers.
A great way to add variety is to use evergreens such as a dwarf Alberta spruce. These can be large enough to create a screen and add privacy. If the planter is large enough combinations of evergreens and annuals can be used. Just be sure to use annuals which are low growing and can cascade down the side of the pot. Ivy can also be used for the same effect.
Depending on the plants you have chosen you may be able to bring the container indoors for the winter and enjoy your garden indoors. Seasonal themes are also a great idea. I often will remove the summer annuals in the fall and replace them with mums and purple cabbage. For many of my customers I will then replace those with evergreens for the winter. The great thing about the evergreens is that they last until you start all over again in the spring, making containers a year round joy.