The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Tips for Successful Container Gardens

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
Extension Educator, Horticulture
slmason@illinois.edu

I love to garden in containers. I can easily try new combinations of plants. I can try out all kinds of weird or wonderful pots and containers. Container gardens are instant gardens that can change with the seasons. There is no room for weeds. The plants are above the reach of most wildlife. I don't have to bend over to smell the flowers.

Susan M. Grupp, University of Illinois Extension Educator in DuPage County offers these tips in designing and growing beautiful container gardens.

Consider the Location

The availability of sunlight will predetermine the choice of plants. Since container gardens need frequent watering, make sure there is an easy water source nearby.

Selecting the Right Container

Choose a pot to blend with the surroundings. The volume of soil is very important since the plants need enough soil to support their water and nutrient needs. Larger pots allow the use of many plants and may not have to be watered as much as smaller pots. Also, make sure pots have adequate drainage holes.

Selecting a Soil Mix

One of the most reliable soil mixes is a soil-less mix. These mixes are made of two parts: a mineral part and an organic part. They combine good drainage with moisture retention. However, they need special attention with watering and fertilizing. Also, you can make your own container soil mix by combining one part good quality garden soil with one part peat moss and one part perlite or coarse builders sand.

Selecting Plants

There is nearly an endless choice of plants for container gardens. Generally, annual flowers, annual herbs, annual vines and foliage plants are the top choices to provide color and interest throughout the growing season.

Color combinations can create a mood

For example, yellow, red, and orange are warm colors and are bold and strong. Also, they are easily seen from a distance. Green, blue and purple are cool, restful colors and tend to disappear in the distance. They show up best when viewed up close.

Probably the easiest color strategy is monochromatic, or one color planting using shades and tints of the same color.

Combine complimentary colors, such as yellow/violet or red/green for contrast and drama. Analogous colors, such as red/yellow or blue/purple can create a harmonious look.

Using white and gray help blend colors together. They look especially nice with purple, pink and blue.

Add diversity of texture and form

Combine trailing plants that drape over the container with upright plants and plants with a variety of textures. There are tiny flowers, finely cut foliage, bold leaves, and many flower forms to choose from.

Maintaining a Healthy Container Garden

Proper watering is key to success. As the season progresses they may need watering every day. Water thoroughly. You may want to try one of the many water-holding polymers available on the market. These help extend the time between waterings.

With so much watering comes depletion of the nutrients in the soil mix. If using a liquid fertilizer, a general rule is to mix and apply every two weeks. Time-released fertilizers work well too. A three-month formulation is popular. The brand name is not important. For flowering plants, choose a fertilizer with a higher second number. For foliage plants, choose a balanced fertilizer or one with the first number slightly higher.

Be sure to remove dead flowers and foliage regularly and check for insect and disease pests. If plants get "leggy," a soft pinch of the terminal shoots helps to encourage stocky, bushy plants.

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