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Container Gardening Q & A

container gardening baynet

HOLLYWOOD, MD- If you want to grow your own plants, pots and tubs overflowing with flowers add appeal to any area. Container gardening also adds versatility to gardens large and small, according to this website.

Use your imagination, and combine upright and trailing plants, edibles, and flowers for pleasing and colorful effects. Container gardening can be enjoyed for one season and discarded, or designed to last for years.

container gardening baynet

Q: What is the best environment for container gardening?

A: If you can think of it, you can have a container garden anywhere. With annuals, small perennials, succulents, and herbs, you could have a small garden in every room of your house. With living in a small space such as an apartment, container gardening can serve a practical purpose as well. Container gardening is ideal for those with little or no garden space. Gardeners limited on space or sunshine can produce a wide variety of vegetable crops in containers.

Plants such as basil, chives, thyme, and other herbs also are quite happy growing in pots, which can be set in a convenient spot right outside the kitchen door.

When designing permanent containers, remember that the plants will be less hardy than usual because their roots are more exposed to fluctuating air temperature. Non-hardy plants will need to have winter protection or be moved to a sheltered space. So consider how heavy the container will be and decide how you will move it before choosing a non-hardy plant.

Q: Okay, so I want to create a container garden. Have any tips?

A: One easy guideline is "a thriller, a spiller, and a filler."

The thriller could be a coleus or a geranium with multicolored leaves. Combined those examples with plants that spill over the edge of the pots, like petunias, bacopa , creeping zinnias, or ornamental sweet potatoes. Add the fillers, i.e. plants with smaller leaves and flowers that fill the container like salvias, verbenas, ornamental peppers, wax begonias, or foliage plants like parsley or licorice plants. You could include a plant for height, like an ornamental grass. Consider using five or six plants for an 18 to 24 inch container.

For new gardeners, keep in mind that it's easier to grow plants in large containers than small ones. Plants just look better in bigger containers, and it gives them room to spread out. Bigger containers limit the risk of having a plant been root-bound, where the roots twist around and around the pot as the plants grow. The plant chokes itself trying to find more room to grow.

Large containers hold more soil, which retains more water and is capable of withstanding rapid temperature changes. Small hanging baskets are prone to drying out when the weather gets hot, and you make have to water smaller container garden twice a day to keep your investment growing.

container garden baynet

Q: What can I grow in a container garden? 

A: Almost any vegetable, flower, herb, shrub, or small tree can grow successfully in a container. Dwarf and compact cultivars are best, especially for smaller pots. Select plants to suit the climate and the amount of sun or shade the container will receive. If you are growing fragrant plants, such as heliotrope, place containers in a site protected from breezes, which will disperse the perfume.

You can grow vegetables in individual containers, from large pots to 5-gallon buckets.  The largest option can accommodate a single tomato plant or several smaller vegetables such as broccoli or cabbage. Dwarf or bush forms of larger vegetables such as tomatoes, pumpkins, and winter squash are most suited to container gardening, and theme gardens also are fun to try.

Plant a salad garden with lettuces, dwarf tomatoes, chives, and parsley. Or try a pizza garden, with different types of basil, tomatoes and peppers. Or plant a container with edible flowers such as marigolds, pansies and nasturtiums.

For containers that remain attractive all summer long, look for warm-weather annuals that bloom all summer or have foliage that remains attractive. Geraniums, marigolds, wax begonias, coleus, scarlet sage and flowering tobaccos are all good choices, but you will find many, many more in garden centers and seed catalogs. Feel free to experiment, and if it doesn’t work our just keep trying.  For large containers, dwarf cannas and dwarf dahlias also make satisfying additions.

Containers planted with hardy perennials and shrubs can be grown and enjoyed from year to year. Hostas and daylilies are great container gardening plants, but many other perennials work as well. Try ferns, European wild ginger, sedges, lavender, lamiums, sedums, and lungworts. Ornamental grasses, dwarf conifers and small shrubs are also great options.

Q: I have a container garden.  What can I do to maintain it?

Make sure you water container plants thoroughly. How often you should is dependent on factors like weather, plant size, and pot size. Don't let soil in containers dry out completely, as it is hard to rewet.

To keep large containers attractive, spread a layer of mulch as you would in the garden. This will also help retain moisture. Be sure to keep mulch an inch or so away from plant stems. Mulch can be anything from shredded paper, wood chips, and small pebbles or marbles. Use of mulch cuts down on pests like aphids, mites, and fruit flies.

Container gardening plants need food too. Fertilize them by watering with diluted fish emulsion, seaweed extract, worm tea or compost tea. You can try foliar feed by spraying the leaves with doubly diluted preparations of these solutions. Start by feeding once every 2 weeks; adjust the frequency depending on plant response.

Insure that your container gardens will look their best by deadheading brown leaves and remove tattered leaves and deadhead spent flowers. Avoid letting your plants get leggy and prune when they stop blooming. To keep mixed pots attractive, dig out or cut back any plants that don't grow well or that clash.

Jacqui Atkielski can be contacted at j.atkielski@thebaynet.com. 

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