Container Gardening: A Step-by-Step Approach
by Frank Bohlander
Container gardens are a great way to add a splash of nature to any outdoor space. Decks, patios, and porches are all perfect choices.
Step 1: Site Selection
The first step is to consider where you want to place your container garden. Consider the amount of sun and how warm the location gets. Afternoon sun is warmer than morning sun. Lots of stone, brick, or cement will retain heat more than wood or grass.
Step 2: Container Selection
Once you have decided where the garden will be placed, the next step is to select a container. There are lots of choices, from cast stone, glazed stoneware, and cast iron to inexpensive resin. I usually recommend a non-porous material, primarily for water retention. All of the materials above are non-porous. Drainage holes are also important.
Size is another important factor. The pot needs to fit the site, but be large enough to support the growth of the plants through the summer. In general, a larger volume of soil will produce more vigorous, healthier plants.
Step 3: Plant Selection
This is really the fun part of planting your container! You want to select plants that will have similar growing requirements, since they will all be planted together. Consider how the plants will change as they grow and mature through the season, and choose those that will still “fit” your container in August. I like to use different textures and colors mixed together to provide a lot of visual interest.
The most important thing to do while making your selections is to read care tags. The care tag will give you the information needed to know if the plant will be appropriate for your garden. Water, fertilizer, temperature, and sun requirements are all listed. Many will even tell you if they are good for container gardens. I suggest plants that are drought- and heat-tolerant, as most are placed in full sun. Some plants will bounce back better than others if you miss a watering. Dwarf varieties are also a plus, since they stay scaled to most containers.
Grasses are great for height, placed in the center or toward the back. Trailing plants like Calibrachoa are great along the edges. Mid-height plants like lantana fill in between. I often add something to attract hummingbirds or butterflies, just for fun. Fragrant herbs can also add texture and a quick addition to a summer meal!
Step 4: Planting
Use a ready-mixed potting soil. Fill the pot with mix, leaving enough room to add your plants. Gently tamp the soil to make a firm base, and place your plants on top. You can rearrange them to get the perfect look. As you remove plants from the grower’s pot, you can break apart any roots that are circling the outside of the root ball. This will encourage new root growth and allow the roots to grow outward. Add extra soil under smaller plants, so that the tops are all at the same level and fill the gaps between plants. Again, gently tamp the soil into the space between plants to eliminate air pockets. When finished, the top of the soil should be 2” or so below the top edge of the pot, so you can easily add water. The last step in planting is to water thoroughly.
I often save the tags from the plants for reference. This way you can easily remember the varieties that you like and work well next spring when replanting.
Step 5: Care
Watering is the most important part of maintaining your garden. Mornings are best, making sure that the soil is completely saturated. Excess water will drain out through the bottom holes.
Fertilizer will also keep your plants flowering and healthy through the season. Some potting mixes have fertilizer pre-added, so no extra is needed. If you are replanting into last year’s pot, you will want to add a bloom-booster, with a 10-15-10 (or similar) ratio of nutrients. The middle number, Phosphorus, should be higher to encourage flowering. Be sure to follow all application instructions on the label!
Pruning and dead-heading may also be needed as the plants grow and mature, keeping your garden looking perfect through the entire summer.
Step 6: Enjoy!
Your container garden will provide the perfect ambiance for your outdoor space, so invite your neighbors over for a glass of wine and show them off!
Best Wishes Floral
689 Winnetka Ave. N.
Frank Bohlander can be found at Best Wishes Floral, in downtown Golden Valley. Best Wishes is a full-service floral and gift shop offering a little different take on the traditional floral shop! For more information, visit bwfloral.com, also on Facebook as Best Wishes Floral.