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Container Gardening: Beyond the Basics

Posted by Candice Hart - Gardening

Limited on gardening space where you live? Or do you have only limited time available to garden? Container gardening may be the choice for you, especially if you live in an urban setting with limited growing space.

With simple materials like a large container, a bag of potting mix, and a few plants or seeds, you can grow a variety of ornamental and edible plants to liven up your home and provide food for your family.

Here are a few Container Gardening Basics:


  • Whichever container you choose to grow in, it should have several drainage holes.
  • It should also be large enough to hold plenty of soil to grow your plants to adequate size.
  • Self-watering containers are a great option if you're not able to water as often as necessary for a container garden. These containers hold a reservoir of water that provides adequate water for at least several days.
  • Read on about how to make a simple self-watering container with an 18 gallon tote or 5-gallon bucket.
  • Or watch how to make one here.


  • Use a store-bought potting soil mix or make your own using equal parts peat, perlite, and top soil.
  • Avoid using only soil from your garden, as it is heavy, compacts very easily, and may bring pests along with it.


  • Consider adding finished compost or a slow release fertilizer to your container soil to improve soil quality and fertility.
  • If no fertilizer is initially added, a store-bought liquid fertilizer should be applied every few weeks.

Light and Temperature

  • Place containers according to the light and temperature requirements of the plants within.
  • Containers with shade plants are great for under the front porch or on the north and east sides of the home, while full sun containers grow well on the south and west sides.
  • Containers can also be grown indoors in a sunny window or under grow lights.
Container Design
  • A variety of shapes, textures, and colors of plants create a pleasing design.
  • Fill your container with a "Thriller" plant that adds height to the container, a "Filler" that will bush out and fill the middle, and a "Spiller" plant that cascade down to soften the container's appearance.
  • Watch Candice put together a container using the thriller, filler, spiller method here.

Container Assembly

  • Thoroughly clean your container and add moistened soil to about 2" below the rim of the container.
  • Place plants in holes roughly the size of their roots, pat soil gently around them, and water thoroughly.
  • Don't worry about overcrowding plants in a container, as they'll only be grown in a container for a short season typically.
  • Water when the top inch of soil feels dry, until water freely flows from drainage holes.
  • If your container is extremely dry (soil is pulling away from container sides) you will need to partially submerge the base of the container until the top of the soil becomes moist from uptake through the drainage holes.


  • Cut back stems if plants become too spindly and remove dead flowers to promote more blooms
  • When the season is over, remove annuals from the soil and store container. If your container plants had diseases, discard the soil and start fresh next season.


Watch it!

For a more in-depth look at how to create an eye-catching winter container gardencheck out this video tutorial.

Learn More!

Read all about Container Gardening 101 in this printable two page sheet.

Visit our Successful Container Gardens website for more detailed information about container gardens and our Beyond, Impatiens and Petunias page for great container plant recommendations.

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