Gardening Articles: Care :: Plant Care Techniques

Container Classics

by National Gardening Association Editors


'Red Hot Sally' salvia is a great container flower

If you love flowers but don't have much space for a garden, don't worry. Containers will come to the rescue! Flower-filled containers will spruce up a deck, patio, entryway or window. Many varieties of annuals are well-suited to container growing. Planted in new self-watering containers, it's easier than ever to create a colorful, cheery, inviting container garden.

Plant Combinations

There are many possible plant combinations available to home gardeners, so let your imagination run wild! In general you'll want cascading plants along the edge and taller plants growing in the center of the container. The color and texture combinations are a matter of personal choice.

Choose plants with similar light and water requirements for each container. The easiest way is to use a single type of plant. For a bold effect, fill a container with Wave petunias or brilliant red pansies. Or dazzle your eyes with a rainbow of colors, such as a mix of calibrachoa.

Some compelling container combo options:

  • Blue bacopa, silver helichrysum, and red salvia.
  • Lemon lime nicotiana with blue scaevola
  • Lavender pentas with white ivy geranium
  • Purple alternanthera with raspberry trailing verbena

Container Basics

When choosing containers, the most important feature is good drainage; excess water can lead to root rot. Look for containers with large drainage holes and be sure to drain saucers after watering. In general, the bigger the pot, the less watering and care it will need. In addition to the traditional clay and plastic containers, you'll find an exciting array of colorful ceramic pots in an assortment of shapes and sizes. If the pot you love doesn't have drainage holes, place a smaller plastic container inside, propped up on gravel. Be sure to drain the ceramic pot after watering. Self-watering containers are also an option.

Keys to Container Care:

  • Keep soil in pots moist, saturating the soil ball when watering, then drain off the excess.
  • Fertilize with time-release pellets and/or use a water soluble fertilizer when watering.
  • Remove old, faded flowers and pinch back stems to encourage more flowering.
  • Keep containers weeded and control insects and diseases as needed.

Seasonal Care

Fill containers with a soilless potting mix, rather than using garden soil, and mix in some slow-release fertilizer pellets, according to package instructions. For an immediate full effect in your container, place plants close together. Keep containers well watered through the growing season with a hose, drip irrigation system or by using a self-watering container. Add additional nutrients throughout the growing season by mixing a water-soluble fertilizer into your watering can every week or two, following package instructions.

The beauty of most annuals is that they never stop flowering. However, if individual plants in a container become tired-looking, cut them back. They'll regrow and begin flowering again. If the plants are beyond rejuvenation, spruce up the planters with replacement annuals, choosing similar plants and colors to complement the remaining flowers. Or remove the whole planting and start a new container with a different theme. Experiment with colors and texture combinations to create a personalized and intriguing container garden.

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