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Tips for Container Gardens

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Interesting plants deserve interesting pots.

Reinvent the flowerpot with new shapes, colors, finishes, materials, and textures, the better to turn just about any kind of space, indoors or out, into a garden. There's so much to choose from if you're shopping, and additional choices of pots you can make or remake at home. Containers can hang, perch on feet, or rest on the ground or floor. They come in an array of materials, natural and man-made.

When making your selection, consider the look you want, as well as other factors. Some materials, like terra cotta, need frost protection in winter, but others, like cast concrete, are much more weatherproof, good for evergreens and hardy plants that stay outside year round. There are many antique containers to be found for container gardening was popular all through the Victorian era. Any that have lasted this long will continue to be durable.

Choose containers that relate to the materials in their surroundings, and to the style of architecture. Clay, wood, and stone fit in just about anywhere. Shapes can be simple or elaborate, but should be as formal or informal as their setting. Improvised containers such as a galvanized watering can used for growing a fern, or a child's outgrown wagon filled with flowers in small pots can be witty features. Make sure there's a drainage hole in every offbeat container.

With containers you can

Add colorful plants and interesting accents in your garden, even if it is small. Express yourself with color and form and change the plantings whenever you are in the mood. Grow plants in containers on paved areas, on root-filled soil under trees, and in window boxes. Garden without so much stooping over (ouch!) by using large tubs or raised beds.Grow plants that require special soil or conditions, or that would be overrun by stronger, larger plants in the garden. Grow herbs and vegetables in any sunny spot, even if it is paved. Vegetables need constantly moist, fertile potting soil.


If plants wilt a few hours after watering, they need bigger pots. The roots are filling so much space there is no room for the soil to store moisture. Sweep around under the pots now and then to capture mealybugs or other little pests.

Use a light soil and pots with good drainage. Fertilize and water often in sun, less in shade. Use timed release fertilizer and/or rich compost in the potting soil. Add water retaining gel to the soil mix for plants in sunny places. Mix several kinds of plants together to create container bouquets, but coordinate colors with care. Use harmonious shapes and colors, not a mishmash. Group your plants. Use color and form for an eye-filling scene. Have something spiking up, something spreading out in the middle, and something trailing downward. Pots should have drainage holes, and the planting medium should drain well, to keep roots from rotting. During wet, rainy weather, remove the saucers from container plants outdoors, to promote better drainage and prevent waterlogged soil. Plants in pots tend to need more water and fertilizer than plants in the ground. Container gardens in sunny areas need more water than those in the shade. -- Betty Mackey

street scene Montreal

Here is an offer for the free illustrated e-book by Betty Mackey called Gardening in Small Spaces. It takes up only 1.4 MB and you can email it around. For a free email PDF copy, write to bbmackey@prodigy.net and ask for the emailed copy.

And for trough lovers, here's papercrete. There are free instructions on the trough page and further info about the papercrete CD ($10 postpaid in USA). This is Betty's original technique, developed through trial and error and shown at the Philadelphia Flower Show and at Longwood Gardens.

Make your own containers! Buy the papercrete trough CD for $10 with PayPal with the BUY NOW button below.