First of all, container gardening is part art, part science, part magic. It can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. You can grow almost anything in a container, if you have the right size pot, the right plant for your conditions and good quality potting soil. Keeping your container thriving over time is the real challenge. These tips are designed to help you do just that.
This may be the most critical and least followed piece of advice. And while you can find plants to suit almost any light conditions, you have to know what those conditions are to get the right plants. I have found that people (myself included) wildly overestimate how much sun their containers get.
To figure out how much direct light your container will get, place it where you want it and then time how long the sun hits it directly over the course of an entire day.
This can be tricky because as the sun moves across the sky over the season, the exposure can change as obstacles like trees or buildings can block the light. But at least you will have an idea.
Plants are labeled with sun requirements and the trick is to get a plant that matches how much sun your pot will get.
Simply put adequate drainage can be a matter of life and death for your plants. When there isn’t a big enough hole or holes for water to get out of your pot, your soil becomes too wet and the roots of your plants can rot which causes the plant to die.
The bad news is that many garden pots that are sold simply don’t have enough drainage. You can often increase drainage, by drilling, punching or carving bigger holes.
However, sometimes it’s just easier to buy a pot that does have enough drainage. I would say that the minimum size for a drainage hole is 1/2 inch in diameter for small or medium sized pots. For larger sized containers, look for at least an inch in diameter.
It is a total myth that adding gravel, pot shards or stones to the bottom of your container garden, you will increase drainage. Some people even say you don’t need drainage holes if you put these things in the bottom of your pots. Unless you are a really attentive container gardener, who can water perfectly, or you have a plant that likes wet soil (and there are some that do), you need holes in your pots — preferably lots of them.
For many people, hardscaped areas might be the only outdoor places available to create a garden. Rather than limiting, this lack of earth can open up a world of possibilities. Whether your area is a small terrace off the back kitchen, or a rooftop or balcony, there are a number of practical and design considerations to bear in mind when taking a barren hardscape from boring to beautiful.
One of the primary design considerations for any garden – especially a garden carved out of a barren, hardscaped area – is how you plan to use the space. Defining the purpose for the garden will drive design and plant choices.
- Do you want to entertain friends or is the area to be a private refuge?
- Would you like an edible garden from which to cook outdoors or inside
- Do you simply want to block out the neighbors?
- How important – or an impediment – is the view?
- Are there obstructions that cannot be overlooked, such as an air conditioner or gutters?
- What are the size limitations of the area?
You can delineate garden rooms in even the smallest of terraces or balconies. For example,
- Freestanding vertically planted walls, fencing, or trellises can be used to separate one area from another
- Obelisks, furniture, and rugs might divide garden areas
- Tile or stone paths can send you in a new direction
Your responses to these questions will drive your design decisions. If you want the area to simply be a place to sit with coffee before work, you’ll want to focus on necessities – a chair, a table, and a few plants in containers to soften the hardscape. On the other hand, if your intention is to mimic a larger, on-the-ground ground garden, you’ll want to create different rooms, delineate movement
Herb container gardens are the best. I love growing herbs in containers because they’re beautiful, they give you great bang for your buck and many are easy to grow. It is also convenient. Even if you have miles of property and gardens galore, it is really great to be able to step out your door and pick a handful of fresh herbs from a beautiful container garden. Besides, when I’m cooking dinner it’s often dark, and rather than rooting around my garden wearing a headlamp, it is much easier to turn on my porch light and go out to my pots and snip some fresh herbs.
You can grow almost any herb in a container and most are very easy. However, herbs can have different water requirements, and some are more finicky than others, so be sure to put herbs that require similar care in the same pot.
You can grow as many types of herbs in one container as you want, as long as you make sure that all the herbs in a single pot share the same sun, water and soil preferences. For example, rosemary likes it hot and dry while parsley needs steady moisture. They wouldn’t be perfect in the same pot (though to be honest, I have pushed this envelope and put unmatched bedfellows together, fairly successfully).
Plants Per Container
I’m a big fan of crowded, bountiful container gardens. I pack in plants and most do fine. Particularly since herbs thrive if you keep pinching them back and harvesting them, you can usually keep them from strangling each other. One caveat to this is basil, which needsgood air circulation so really doesn’t like crowding. Also, if you’re trying to save money, and are patient, buy small plants and let them grow to fill your container.
Herbs in Container Garden Design
Don’t be shy about using herbs as decorative elements in any container garden. They can look fantastic and provide a great texture and scent mixed with annuals or perennials. Again, just be sure to pair them with plants that have the same requirements for light and water.
You can use almost anything for an herb container, though make sure whatever you choose has good drainage. Most herbs don’t have large root systems so you can get away with smaller containers. This is especially true of the herbs that don’t mind drying out between watering.
That said, the smaller the container, the less soil there is, so you have a smaller margin of error when it comes to watering.
If you live in a cold climate, you might think you have to give up container gardening once the temperatures dip. However, there are lots of things you can do to garden in pots year ’round.
Fall is a great time to experiment with texture and color in your container gardens. While mums and asters can be spectacular and classic in a fall container garden, there are lots of other choices that will last well beyond the first frost.
Winter is tricky as many pots will break apart if they freeze, but there are some that will hold up to even the most frigid temps.
Here are some ideas. Here are some tips and suggestions.
While summer is a terrific time to go crazy with flowering annuals (those plants that only last one season in cold climates), fall is a wonderful season to try hardy perennials that will stand up to the cold in your container gardens. Have fun experimenting with color combinations you didn’t use in the summer. Purples and oranges, mixed with bright greens and deep reds can look stunning. Think texture by using grasses and interesting leaf textures like fuzzy lambs ears.
For the best chances that your plants will survive a cold winter, choose perennials that are rated two zones colder than your area. Life in a pot is harsher and the roots aren’t as protected as they are in the ground.
For fall containers try some of these cold hardy perennials….
- Coral bells
- Lambs ear
- Creeping Jenny
- Hens and Chicks
While you really don’t need many tools for container gardening, there are some things that come in really handy. They range from free (I use a lot of large yogurt containers to scoop soil) to pretty pricey, but I put together this list from things I’ve discovered that are worth the money.
There are tons of tools out there that are frankly ridiculous, unnecessary and even environmentally irresponsible.
There are also tools that though not essential, are a huge luxury and, if you have the cash are worth the investment.
Remember, you really don’t need much, but depending on how ambitious you are in your container gardening efforts these could prove useful.
The following are in no particular order.
About six years ago I bought a roll of plastic window screening to re-do some sliding screen doors. I used some of it for its intended purpose and then had yards left over. It has become one of my favorite tools for container gardening. The main thing I use it for is to cover large drainage holes in the bottom of pots. It works really well, letting the water out and keeping the soil in. I have also used it to line baskets, hanging planters and containers where the holes in the sides are so big that they need to be covered.
The stuff lasts forever and a little goes a long way. Just make sure you buy plastic, not metal screening.
I have a fleet of little red wagons that I’ve collected from yard sales and a few that I even held on to since my kids were little. I use these for all kinds of hauling, including my annual plant drag, where I harden off seedlings and acclimate houseplants by dragging them in and out of my garage. You can buy them new, but I prefer those that have been shown love and are a bit worn and “distressed.”
That said, I do love a fancier version (a real garden cart) that I was given as a gift. It has big wheels that make it stable and easy to pull, however, the best part of it is that the sides fold down, making it easy to transport large containers and odd shaped items.
First let’s agree that not all shade is the same. You can have no direct sun at all (think a closet), or you can have mixed sun and shade, dappled shade (think sun streaming through leaves, or you can have bright shade, which has light but no direct sun. Whatever your situation, you can grow beautiful container gardens. Here are some tips to help you get started.
One of the most important parts of successful shade container gardening is to accurately figure out how much sun your pot will get. While you may think a certain spot in your yard, or on your deck or patio is in shade, it pays to take a close look at what kind of shade or sun an area gets. There are several different kinds of shade and determining the exposure of an area can make the difference in whether your containers thrive.
To determine the light levels in a certain area, you can use a sunlight meter or calculatoror you can keep track, throughout the day, of how much light is hitting your spot. As the seasons change and even in the course of a growing season, as the sun moves across the sky, those light levels can change so keep an eye on sun exposure, over time.
This is perhaps the most important step in determining if your plants will thrive in your shady spot. You will want to choose plants that love shade and there are lots to choose from. There are great foliage plants as well as many flowering plants to choose. If you don’t know what you want when you go to buy plants, either ask a knowledgeable salesperson for suggestions, or make sure to read the plant tags.
Some nurseries will even have whole sections devoted to plants that thrive in shade. Also make sure your plants have the same water requirements if you are planning to combine them in a pot. That said, don’t be afraid of just using one type of plant in a container–some of the most beautiful pots have one plant.
In the last few years, the popularity of container gardening has soared, and for good reason. Containers are easy to maintain (almost no weeding!) and because you are controlling the quality of the soil, water and food for your plants, it is easier to create a great growing environment. Container gardening has become an art as well a hobby and by thinking outside the pot, you can have great fun, save money and create gardens that will attract attention and be custom made to fit your style and even your color scheme.
The possibilities for unusual containers are endless. Almost anything can be turned into a container, but that doesn’t mean that everything should be. The first thing to consider is your gardening style. Do you want a plumbing fixture on your lawn? For some people this works fabulously, for others, not so much. Everything from brassieres to old computers can and have been turned into containers – and plants will grow just fine in them—but while they may be great conversation starters, many people wouldn’t want to look at them day in and day out. Also, some materials will last and look better over time than others.
When choosing an unusual container, look for something that will weather well and last for at least your growing season and longer if you have a plant that you want to bring inside at the end of the season. Old wooden boxes are inexpensive and easy to find. Metal buckets, decorative tins and baskets also work well, and can even be enhanced by a patina of wear. Plastic reusable grocery bags are inexpensive and come in fun patterns and many sizes–they will only last for a season but plants seem to love them.
Growing Meyer lemon trees in garden pots is hugely rewarding. Not only are they prolific fruit producers, the blossoms of Meyer lemon trees are incredibly fragrant and beautiful. The Meyer lemon fruit is also sweeter than the fruit of other lemons and even their thin skin is tasty and great for cooking.
Though Meyer lemon trees are naturally shrub-like, they can also be pruned into tree form. When planted in the ground, they can grow up to 8-10 feet tall and up to 12 feet wide.
When grown in garden pots, depending on the size of the pot, your plant will probably be smaller.
With their growing popularity, Meyer lemon trees are pretty easy to find in local nurseries or online.
What Meyer lemon trees like:
- Full sun
- Protection from the wind
- High quality potting soil
- A large pot with good drainage
- Consistent watering – soil should be damp not wet
- Regular feeding (except during the heart of winter) with either all-purpose or high nitrogen fertilizer
- Temperatures between 50-80°F though they will survive down to 32°F
What Meyer lemon trees don’t like:
- Wet feet (too much water will kill them)
- All citrus trees love sun – the more the better. They are happiest in temperatures between 50-80 °F. That means, unless you live in USDA zones 9-11, you’ll want to bring your Meyer lemon tree inside when temperatures start regularly dipping below 50°F. In spring, if you live in a cold climate bring your tree outside when nighttime temperatures are consistently above 50. It’s a good idea to slowly acclimate any plant to outdoor conditions by hardening it off.
Once it is used to being outdoors, place it in a sunny area, protected from the wind.
Feeding: During the growing season, spring to fall, feed your citrus plant regularly with either a high nitrogen fertilizer or a slow release all-purpose fertilizer. Citrus trees also respond well to additional foliar feeding with a liquid fertilizer like compost tea or liquid kelp of fish emulsion.
Watering: Proper watering is one of the keys to growing any citrus plant, but particularly those grown in pots. The aim is to keep the soil moist but not wet. Stick your finger into the soil, at least up to the second knuckle. If you feel dampness at your fingertip, wait to water. If it feels dry, water your plant until you see it run out of the bottom of the pot. If your plant is indoors, particularly in winter when the heat is on, misting the leaves with water can help keep your lemon tree happy. It’s also a good idea to use pot feet , so your citrus tree doesn’t sit in water.
Harvesting: If you keep your lemon tree indoors for the winter, your fruit can take up to a year to ripen.
Because citrus fruit will only continue to ripen while it is still on the tree, make sure to wait until it’s ripe before picking. Meyer lemons, when ripe will be an egg yolk-y yellow and will be slightly soft to the touch. Use a knife or scissor to cut off the fruit so you don’t risk damaging the plant by pulling off a larger piece than intended.
There is something ridiculously fabulous and satisfying when you make something delicious from food you have grown. Over the years I have grown more and more edibles in my containers because I get such a kick and pleasure from cooking with my own produce.
This page will tell you where on the site to find the recipes and also the links on how to grow what is in the recipes. I’ve also thrown in a few recipes for things I don’t grow, like cranberries (which some people do grow in pots), that are just so delicious I wanted to share them.
1. Garlic Scape and Basil Pesto
I love recipes that involve no cooking and this is one of my favorites. I blend up a few huge batches when scapes are in season and then freeze them in small jars. Sometimes I make scape pesto and sometimes I make a combination of scape and basil pesto. One of the beauties of scape pesto is that it doesn’t turn brown and stays a bright green, where basil pesto can quickly turn an unappealing brown. Another approach I sometimes use is to make and freeze small jars of garlic scape pesto and then do the same with basil pesto. I defrost one of each and mix them together at that poing.
2. Three Versions of Tomatillo Salsa
Tomatillos are incredibly easy to grow. They do sprawl so you need a fair amount of space and a big pot, but the plants are amazingly prolific, pretty drought and negligence resistant and not anywhere as prone to disease as tomatoes. I also love the way they grow from flowers into Chinese lantern-looking pods which then becomes filled with fruit. While I have tried growing purple tomatillos, and they look pretty when raw, I don’t like the color when cooked.
3. Simple Curried Pumpkin Soup Recipe
Pumpkins are a lot of fun to grow. You will need some space, even for small varieties. Use a big pot, be sure to give them lots of sun and water. While I don’t get many pumpkins from my potted vines, I really enjoy the ones I do get. This pumpkin soup is super easy and a crowd pleaser. I also love the seeds.
Whether you are limited on space, growing plants that don’t usually survive your local weather or just looking to create focal points, container trees and shrubs can be a lovely addition to your landscape. However, there are some considerations that you will need to remember in order to help them stay happy and healthy.
Research to Determine What Trees and Shrubs Are Best
One big mistake that some gardeners make is falling in love with a plant online or at a nursery and whisking it home with nary a thought as to whether it will actually work in your garden. This is especially true when you are trying to place a tree or shrub in a container. The cute little sapling that you spied at the garden center can turn into a tree that is over 100 feet tall.
The basics that you should check out for potential candidates include:
- Preferred hardiness zones
- Height and width at maturity
- Light and water requirements
- Potential for litter
You are asking a lot of a tree or shrub when you place it into a container.
The roots have far less space to work with and can naturally become crowded. When you choose dwarfcultivars and species that are naturally on the smaller size, it is easier for them to adapt to the limited area presented. This is especially important when you are working with fruit trees since they will need extra energy to produce fruit and you want a good root base.
Choose Your Pot Size Carefully
Picking the right size of container for your tree or shrub can be a bit tricky at first. You do not want one that is too small, of course, as this will leave little room for root growth and it is likely to become rootbound and struggle or die. Since it is a large plant, you might naturally think to place it in a very large container so it will have room even when it is fully grown.
However, you can definitely run into problems if the pot is too large for the plant’s current size. When there is an abundance of soil present and not enough roots to take up the water, it can retain moisture for too long and cause root rots that can ultimately kill the plant.
For best results, plan on moving up in 2” increments every couple of years until it reaches maturity. Repot sooner if you notice roots escaping from the drainage holes. If it is rootbound when you change containers, perform root pruning by use a box cutter or other sharp instrument to score along the sides of the root ball and remove the mass of roots. This will stimulate new root growth and keep the plant healthier.
Drainage is Essential
Even if you have the correct size of container, you can run into root rot and other problems if there are not enough drainage openings present. Check your pot (especially if you are using an alternative form of planter like a barrel or bucket that is not necessarily sold with drainage holes) and use a drill to create more as needed.
Protect the Roots in Freezing Weather
Many trees and shrubs have adapted for survival through the harsh conditions present during winter. Growth slows and the plant goes into dormancy. The roots are protected by the ground surrounding them and the temperatures are at least a little higher than in the air above.
In a container, there is a lot less buffer present for the roots. It is much easier for the soil to freeze completely and cause damage. Options are to bring the plant inside, bury it in the ground or place it somewhere like a garage or basement. If you choose to bury them, add mulch on top for extra protection and leave a space around the trunk to prevent insect and disease damage
Don’t Forget to Harden Off Your Plants
If you are trying to grow plants in containers so that you can bring them inside when the temperatures drop, take it slow when you reintroduce them to the outdoors in the following spring. This process is called hardening off and is an essential step in protecting your trees and shrubs from harm.
Imagine that you are used to sitting quietly on a couch while listening to classical music. One day you are drifting off into a nap, but suddenly are jolted awake as someone throws you into the front row of a rock concert. This is the sort of experience that a plant will be subjected to if you do not harden it off first and let it adjust. Outdoor conditions are harsher than indoors since the light is magnitudes brighter, environmental conditions like drought, salt and wind are present, and insects or diseases are more likely to strike.
Instead, start off by carting your plant outside for an hour or so for a couple of days. Gradually increase the length of time it stays outside over a two week period. After that, it is ready to spend the growing season in your landscape.