The Secrets to a Successful Container Garden
Containers can be hung from roof, suspended on hooks, or mounted on walls opening up a world of growing spaces. Containers have the added benefit of being beautiful, acting as showpieces in the garden, or decorative accents.
A pot, however, is generally not the ideal space to grow a plant. Pots that are too small, have improper drainage, and are not weather safe will quickly cause the demise of the plants within. The secret to creating the perfect container garden is to create a healthy environment for plants contained in a pot. To do this we need to look at the soil, drainage, water needs, fertilizer, and the pot itself.
Plants are used to having endless boundaries for their roots in the soil. Unless the soil has structural issues, it will allow for water to flow freely but retain enough moisture that the roots can absorb if they desire. Container soil is limited to a relatively small space as and such it needs a few extra items to allow for the proper balance of air pockets, water flow, and water retention.
Container gardens need a soil mix specially formulated for holding the water while allowing for good drainage, and keeping the roots healthy. Soil mixes formulated for containers can be purchased at a garden center which works well if you are only creating a few pots. If you are planning for a large container garden with multiple pots, make your own mix with 1/3 garden soil, 1/3 quality compost, and 1/3 peat moss (or the more ecological alternative, coconut coir).
Containers used both outdoors and inside should have appropriate drainage to ensure the health of the roots.
- Indoor plants in containers with bottom drainage holes can be set on plant trays to allow the water to run off.
- Outdoor plants can be set on trays in the dry season to help retain some extra water in warm weather. In wet seasons, set the plant up on a few bricks or stones so that the drainage hole is free flowing and doesn’t become blocked with soil.
- To re-hydrate a plant that has dried out, soak it in a sink or bowl filled with water for two hours.
- Prevent soil from leaking out the drainage holes by lining the inside of the pot with a coffee filter or a sheet of newspaper.
Container gardens also need to maintain adequate moisture to ensure the plants thrive. Terracotta or unglazed clay pots wick away moisture from the soil and dry out rapidly. Glazed clay pots, fibreglass, and plastic pots will keep more moisture in the pot and need sufficient drainage holes.
Some pots could need to be watered multiple times a day in hot summer weather. To address this, choose larger pots to hold more soil and thus more moisture, or purchase self-watering pots with a reservoir for holding extra water.
Container soil is not the ideal space for the critters like worms, insects, and microbes that convert the decomposing material in the soil into rich nutrients for the plants. Adding compost to your potting soil will go a long way in feeding the plants but as the plants grow and bloom, the nutrients will deplete. Search for organic fertilizers like worm castings and fish emulsion to add to your containers throughout the season. Replant your containers each year with a fresh soil mix of compost, garden soil, and peat moss/coir for more nutrition.
Choose a pot that is large enough to hold the plant at its mature size by envisioning that the plant needs as much room for the roots as it needs above the soil. This isn’t true for all plants, as some have shallow root systems, or do well as a container plant with restricted root growth, but in general buy the largest pot you can for your plant.
Here is an important tip that is one of the most important factors to a healthy container garden. Wash your pots before planting. It is such an important point that I wrote a whole post about it here.
One final tip for the perfect container garden is to look for plants that are suitable for container growing. Some have a container icon on the seed package or plant label, or they could be identified as “container”, “pot”, “dwarf”, or “micro” varieties.