Lifestyles for Better Living

Container Gardening Tips

Container Gardening: Even the smallest patio, balcony, courtyard, roof terrace or porch can boast a crop of vegetables or a garden of flowers, all achievable by planting them into containers. In larger gardens they may be used to enliven dull spots in borders, as eye-catchers to close vistas, as pointers around the garden, to draw attention to a particular area or simply as decorative ornaments. Planted containers are useful to mark an entrance, such as either side of a doorway or positioned on gate piers, to furnish a terrace, patio or outside sitting or eating area, to line a pathway as a means of introducing a note of formality.

There is hardly anything, which cannot be grown in a pot – including trees and shrubs. Container planting allows tender plants to be moved to shelter for winter protection. A greenhouse, conservatory or even frost-free garage can be used to protect them in the colder months. Containers which must stay out of doors all the time can be separately planted for winter and summer, or have a permanent colony of staple plants to which seasonal extras are added. When used in groups, pots in varying sizes and heights look best, this works well especially in small areas such as a courtyard or terrace where the illusion of a lush garden is desired. Once the plants are growing well, producing lots of foliage and flowers, many of the containers will not be visible, creating the visual effect of well-stocked borders.

At first sight creating a green paradise out of a few square yards of empty space may seem a daunting prospect, but with imagination and some know-how even the most unpromising gloomy corner can be transformed into a delightful garden area, offering a place of repose amid the bustle of daily life. A small terrace can be given a warm and intimate character with brightly coloured plants.

Climbers planted in pots from which they are able to scrambling up walls, and wall fixed planters containing cascading plants will decorate the plainest of facades. Planter boxes, urns, wooden barrels, hanging baskets and large flowerpots are just some of the containers that can be used. The container gardener is limited only by his imagination. Consider the following guidelines when choosing your container. Avoid containers with narrow necks.

Cheap plastic pots may deteriorate in UV sunlight and terracotta pots dry out rapidly. Glazed ceramic pots are excellent choices but make sure your pot has adequate drainage. Holes should be 1/2 inch across. Line the base of the pot to prevent soil loss. The best medium for this is polystyrene chips, these do not add weight to the pot, important if you intend to move the pots around, or are to be sited on a roof garden or balcony. Filling deep containers with a good depth of the chips avoids the need to add more compost than is necessary for those shallow rooting plants; it also reduces the over-all weight.

Wooden containers are susceptible to rot. Redwood and cedar are relatively rot resistant and can be used without staining or painting. Avoid wood treated with compounds such as creosote, these are toxic and can damage the plants. One advantage of wooden containers is that they can be built to sizes and shapes that suit the location.

Remember that small pots restrict the root area and dry out very quickly. The size and number of plants to be grown will determine the size of the containers used.

In hot climates use light-coloured containers to lessen heat absorption and discourage uneven root growth. Set containers on bricks or blocks to allow free drainage. Line hanging baskets with sphagnum moss for water retention. Keep baskets away from afternoon sun.

Growing Mixture
Most container gardeners choose a potting mix rather than loam. In addition to draining quickly, compost mixes are lightweight and free from soil-borne diseases and weed seeds. Various types of composts can be purchased from garden centres. However, when planting trees and shrubs they require something with more substance such as John Innes No 3. When you add compost to the containers, leave a 2-inch (5cm) space between the top of the soil and the top of the container, this will prevent the compost from being washed away by rain or when watering the plants.

strong>Sunlight Depending on the type of plants you are growing, will determine how much sunlight the plants require. When growing vegetables and they are in fact popular plants for container gardening, leafy vegetables such as cabbage and lettuce can tolerate the most shade, while root crops such as beets and carrots will need more sun. Fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes and cucumbers need the most sun. The amount of sunlight needed by flowers varies depending on the varieties being grown. For shady areas, ferns make wonderful pot grown plants even without flowers they can look pretty spectacular.

Since potting mixes drain water rapidly, fertilizers will be washed out of the container as you water. Lighter mixes will require more frequent fertilizing than heavier mixes. It's a good idea to use a dilute liquid fertilizer with every other watering. There is a wide selection of fertilizers available so choose one suitable for the plants you are growing. Liquid fish emulsion or liquid seaweed are great plant boosters, but remember that you need to provide your plants with a variety of nutrients. Check the labels on the products in you garden centre to be sure that they contain a complete, balanced solution that includes trace elements.

Regular watering is essential for all plants grown in containers. Especially in an exposed location, container plants loose moisture quickly. Some plants will need to be watered daily, especially during hot, dry weather.

What to Grow? Container gardening can be just as creative as any other form of gardening and doesn’t have to be just simply plonking a few pots around and hoping that they will look good. Its all about style, you need to think about what sort of a look and feel you want, look at the surrounding architecture and by taking some of the elements of that style, you can use the space and any restrictions or limitations you have to create the perfect setting. For a formal look, plant a structured evergreen shrub, such as boxwood (Buxus spp.) or Sweet bay (Laurus nobilis), in classic ceramic or stone containers with simple lines. Choose pots that are at least 18-inch (45cm) and position one on either side of a doorway or flanking the start of a walkway or pathway. The dense foliage of these shrubs allows you to prune them into conical, cube or globe shapes for added architectural interest.

Formality doesn’t have to be stark or monochromatic. Use a classical stone urn with full, curved sides and fill it with vibrant colours. If you have a small container, elevate it on a pedestal or column to highlight it. One characteristic of a formal style is repetition; so if you have the space, repeat the same container along a wall or surrounding a patio.

When looking at container plant combinations, choose to companion those plants that have the same water and light needs. Also consider the growth habits of the plants you combine; if some grow at much faster rates than the others, they make overtake the container. One of the benefits, however, of planting in containers is that you can easily pull out a plant that is not doing well or is not keeping up with the others.

Under planting is especially useful when growing plants in containers. Many plants that either grow tall or don’t produce much growth around their base lend themselves to being combined with a low-growing companion to fill in the arrangement at soil level. Under-plant your roses with alyssum - not only will you enhance the beauty of your container, alyssum also attracts beneficial insects, which will help ward off aphid attacks on your rose.

Experiment with different arrangements in your garden area - the beauty of containers is that if you don’t like a particular arrangement or the plants are not doing well in that location, you can just move them. Try putting containers at different levels within a grouping for more interest (raise them on boxes, pedestals or upturned pots). For a significant impact, use all the same colour plants or ones of dramatically opposite colours (like purple and yellow). Do your homework, research some different looks and styles and then be guided by what you like best.

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