Container gardening offers a wonderful opportunity to let your imagination run wild. Consider adding containers to your deck, porch, windows, front walk, or even staircase landings. Container gardens are also a great way for the elderly or those with disabilities to enjoy gardening from a seated position. As with all types of gardening, there are some basic guidelines to follow that will make a big difference in the results of your efforts.
Before you select your containers, consider where you will place them. A window box can offer fresh herbs from your kitchen window, or a grouping of pots against a drab wall can make a vibrant display in an area in need of some color . Containers should be large enough to give plants plenty of root space for healthy growth and provide adequate drainage. Drain holes prevent overwatering and help provide air circulation. It is also a good idea to place a layer of pebbles or Styrofoam peanuts in containers to improve drainage and prevent soil loss. Select the sizes or shapes of your containers based on the variety of plants you want to grow. Anything that will hold soil and drain water can be used as a container-a watering can, barrel, or even an old shoe. And of course, there are also terracotta, glazed ceramic or plastic pots. If the container will be tended by seated gardeners, select containers that are 24″ tall for accessibility.
When choosing plants for your container garden keep the form, balance, proportion and color of the design in mind. The balance of your containers can create different looks. For example, a pair of boxwoods flanking your entry imparts a formal appearance, while a group of different containers with abundant blooms can create a cottage garden look. For starters, consider the growing patterns of various plants. Some plants grow upright, some have a trailing habit, and others grow in compact clumps. Select plants of different heights. Ornamental grasses or summer flowering bulbs like cannas can provide height, while Scaveola or asparagus fern will cascade for a soft effect.
You should consider how you mix or match colors in containers. Several species in one isolated color can add depth while complementary colors can be more striking. In addition to flower color, mix plants based on leaf color, size, and texture. It is important to make sure the plants in each container have similar light and water requirements. Read the plant tags as you make your selections. Don’t limit yourself to a few common annuals-container gardens are also a great way to grow vegetables and herbs. Varieties that produce smaller plants are better for containers and some plants may need to be staked or grown in a wire cage for support.
Whether you plant flowers, shrubs, or vegetables, it is important you select a good quality potting medium that drains rapidly but retains enough moisture to keep the roots evenly moist. Never underestimate how much water most container plants need. In an exposed location, containers lose moisture quickly. Don’t wait until your plants are wilting to water them-monitor the moisture level on a daily basis.
Container gardens prove that you don’t need needs acres of land to create a beautiful garden display. With creativity, care and a few good containers, you can enjoy months of color or a bountiful harvest almost anywhere.
Barbara Arnold is green corps coordinator at Franklin Park Conservatory.