Easy-Does-It Container Gardens

BY DANA CARMAN ON MAY 18TH, 2017

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There's no better time to get into gardening. With the smell of spring in the air and an emphasis on green all around, why not try your thumb? Container gardening offers everyone fertile opportunity with minimal cost and space requirements but big pay offs.

Container gardening is exactly as it sounds, which means that there are no rights and wrongs in terms of what kinds of container you use or what you plant. Below you'll find the ins and outs of getting started and some examples of what to grow.

First Steps

If you're new to container gardening, step over to a local nursery and don't be afraid to ask for some basics. This is what they do. Experts can point you in the right direction for good potting soil (you want the right mix for proper drainage) and suggest plants you may not see listed here. You'll also want to have decided where your containers are going because depending on how many plants you want to put in the same container, you want the plants to have similar requirements in terms of shade and sun.

Containers

Everywhere

You may hear the words "container garden" and immediately think of a giant pot, flower box or hanging basket. While all those things are used and can be used, it's time to think outside the flower pot.

While large, fancy, decorative containers can cost big bucks at a big store, consider looking elsewhere, including your home, for your first containers. Antique shops and flea markets are ripe with containers. Similarly, if you're pressed for space, you can grow one in something as small as a soda can or bottle. Container gardening writer and expert Kerry Michaels has used everything from a clam shell to a clementine box as well as a hollowed-out log. She notes that the larger the container the easier the garden to maintain as the volume of soil in a large container keeps moisture in longer. Make sure it's a container you can drill holes in also, says Michaels. With containers, it's all about the proper drainage.

Gardening coach Rebecca Cohen feels that using recycled materials for container gardens is definitely becoming more of a trend and gives the example of taking milk jugs and planting vegetables in them. With the cost of seeds and plants being relatively low, using something you already have gives you even more bang for your buck.

Maintenance Routine

Another great aspect of container gardening is that your time investment is not huge. Watering is an obvious requirement. Cohen recommends watering every day if your container is in full sun, since containers can dry out quickly. Adjust the watering schedule based on the amount of sunlight the containers receive. You don't want to over water but you don't want your plants to dry out.

Because you're watering these so often, it's easy for the nutrients to run right out with the water so you'll want to fertilize. Michaels is a big fan of organic container gardening so she uses organic fertilizer, which she feels "does as good a job or better than chemical."

Cohen's children love to help maintain the plants by performing the last bit of maintenance she recommends, which is pruning. "My children love picking off the dead stuff," she says.

Get the Look

Often in container gardening you hear the phrase "thriller, spiller and filler," which refers to the "look" of the container. The thriller is the focal point and generally tall; spiller drapes off the side; and filler is exactly what it sounds like. While this is one way you can go, Michaels advocates for using your container garden to express your own style. "The possibilities are limitless," she says.

To that end, she's a big fan of cramming the container full. "A lot of plants give you spacing advice," she says. "I ignore that advice and cram plants in. Part of that is instant gratification. If it gets too full, I can pull some out but it feels great to produce a beautiful container almost instantly."

To fill a container, however, there's also a trend toward using a single variety of plant versus several different ones, says Danielle Ernest, public relations coordinator for Proven Winners brand of plants. Many also forgo plants altogether in favor of vegetables, which is a great option for those wanting to grow some of their own food but are limited on space.

Ideas from the Pros

Ernest's suggestions all follow the trend of one plant variety per container that she mentioned. They're also all 2009 varieties from Proven Winners.

For a pink and pretty effect, there's the Supertunia Vista Silverberry Petunia, an annual that performs well in heat and humidity, works in full sun and lives spring to frost. To get that spiller fill, there's the Mandalay Begonias, which are available in new colors this year and work great for a hanging container or one that's a bit longer and taller. Ernest says these plants like to be very dry. The Laguna Heavenly Lilac Lobelia prefers full sun to partial shade and also likes to be kept on the dry side. With its ability to grow tall and wide, it's another excellent candidate for the single variety container. To add variety, group containers together rather than plants in a container, suggests Ernest.

Gardening coach Cohen loves using Russian Sage and combines it with coneflower and verbena in a container, which blooms July through October and can be kept in the container outside to rebloom the following season. She also recommends pansies and has combined them here with creeping phlox and alyssum, all of which can be planted in the fall. Cohen also feels impatiens make a great plant for those working with lots of shade and notes it's a long bloomer.

Container gardening expert Michaels loves using interesting containers and combined pansies and violas in a clementine box. She also recommends Million Bells for beginners, which are "beautiful, come in all kinds of colors, bloom endlessly all summer and you can find them at the supermarket," she says. She's used a restaurant-sized colander for the container (how's that for drainage?).

Other good beginner plants she suggests are sweet potato vine and coral bells. As container gardening is a great thing to do with your kids, consider some family friendly ones, such as Michaels' "Pizza Herb Garden" container.

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