The Joys of Container Gardening

Fatsia in a container. Photo by Kit Flynn.

HOW DOES YOUR GARDEN GROW

By Kit Flynn

Why am I talking about container gardening in the middle of winter? Soon you will be deluged with garden catalogues cluttering up your mailbox and will see many attractive containers pictured. Good container gardening takes some planning.

Obviously, container gardening involves containers. Now there are many unsuitable containers on the market – unsuitable for container gardening, that is. Choose a container that is at least 12 inches in diameter and 9 inches deep.

Containers need holes – do not even contemplate using a container without holes as the water must be able to drain. Otherwise, the roots, deprived of oxygen, will simply die. Situate the container in an area that doesn’t require a saucer, if possible, as the collected water attracts mosquitoes.

For the soil, use a soil-less mix or a professional one made for containers. Do not use soil from your garden as you don’t want the microbes and earthworms in the container. According to North Carolina State University, the “moisture granules” that were the rage a couple of years ago are simply a waste of money.

For years we added pieces of bark or mulch to the bottom of the container. Do not do this as water does not move easily from a fine texture to a coarser one. For more information on this, visit https://bit.ly/3m7kcRk. Remember, you want the water to move through – it’s essential for plant survival.

Decide where you want the container to go. A sunny area receives at least six hours a day whereas a shady one will get light but little direct sun. This will determine what plants you should use. Do you have an annoying gap in the garden? Containers are a quick and easy way to fill it in.

Container gardening comes with some responsibilities. In the first place, you will have to water every day so place the container where it is convenient for watering purposes. Even drought tolerant plants require regular watering as container soil dries out quickly. You really do not want to drag that hose the length of your garden every day in order to reach the container. There are some good drip irrigation systems available that can be attached to a timer.

In the second place, you will have to fertilize probably every six weeks as the daily watering disperses a time-release fertilizer quickly. Fish emulsion is popular with those container gardeners who refrain from using synthetic fertilizers.

A Fatsia spreading its wings after two years of incarceration in a pot. Photo by Kit Flynn.

Is your container going to house one large plant or many smaller ones? If the latter is your option, you must think in terms of color and texture. Look at the color wheel: Those opposite one another create contrast. This is the reason purple and yellow can work well together. If you are filling the container with annuals, color is the way to go.

However, if you include perennials, you must think of texture as you will not have continual color during the growing season of the container. Look at the leaves and include leaves of different sizes. Do not have plants that are all the same height – instead, choose some that are tall and others that grow downwards.

Sometimes a single container looks a bit silly and lonely. Consider grouping containers holding plants of different heights.

Think in terms of the season as the light changes. The August light is very different from the light in May. Spring colors tend to be lighter, more pastel in nature whereas autumn colors tend toward the oranges, bright yellows and dark reds. Because we have a long growing season, think of garden containers having two seasons: spring and fall. By changing the plants in the containers, you can give the garden a fresh look.

For more on container gardening, be sure to visit Montrose when Nancy Goodwin holds an open house. Not only does she have fabulous antique containers, she also has full containers that make a statement no matter whether you see them in the spring or fall.

Now I confess I haven’t done as much with containers as I should have. I have two large pots by the front door. Every two years I replace them with new Fatsia plants that reside in them happily. They have easy access to water, get fertilized when I think about it, and add substance to the appearance of my front door. They receive morning sun and afternoon shade. After two years they then move to the garden where they happily stretch their wings.


After being an active member of the Durham County Extension Master Gardeners for 13 years, Kit Flynn now holds emeritus status. For five years she was the gardening correspondent for “Senior Correspondent” and shared “The Absentee Gardener” column with fellow Master Gardener Lise Jenkins. She has given numerous presentations on various gardening topics to Triangle organizations and can be reached at howdoesyourgardengrow@icloud.com.

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