Maybe you’re an apartment dweller who’s short on space. Or maybe you’re a brown thumb who’s beginning to play with plants. Either way, container gardening is an easy way to enjoy a burst of live color. It’s relatively low maintenance and can be started indoors during the winter. To soak in the sun, simply move the pots outdoors in the spring.
Pamela Crawford, author of 10 gardening books, five of which are focused on container gardening alone, agrees that this budding trend is easier and faster than gardening in the ground. “It’s almost like a flower arrangement,” she says, “only it lasts longer.” Over the past few years, she’s seen this practice grow in popularity for ornamentals, vegetables and herbs. Plus it’s ideal for both beginners and gardening enthusiasts. They simply don’t have to battle the local soil or bugs, Crawford says, adding that pests don’t want the hassle of crawling up the sides of a pot. Finicky suckers.
The two biggest mistakes people make when container gardening, Crawford points out, are 1) using potting soil versus potting mix and 2) planting too deep in the soil. Are you puzzled? Well, potting soil, she says, is too heavy and won’t allow for adequate drainage. And stems that touch the soil actually tend to rot more than not. She also said it’s hard to get used to crowding the plants in the pot, which is the exact opposite rule of planting in the ground.
As for the type of plants used, Crawford says you can pretty much plant the same varieties anywhere. Although landscape plants are quite regional, container plants are more adaptable because they are usually temporary. But if you want them to look their best, consider the temperature of the region. Will this plant withstand 100-degree heat? Just have a good idea of what its ideal conditions are.
Here, we outline some planting and care tips, plus varieties that dig the West’s hot and arid climate.
- It’s fine to fill the pot completely with plants.
- Use a pot with drainage holes or your plants will rot.
- Use a good potting mix not potting soil, topsoil or garden soil. (You will have 90 percent less plant death with potting mix, Crawford notes.)
- Select plants that require the same temperature and amounts of water and light.
- Don’t resort to just annual flowers; evergreens add year-round interest.
- Place tall plants in the middle for height and add cascading ones to drape over the sides of the container.
- Plants appreciate the extra root space in bigger pots and you won’t have to water as much.
- Plants in containers require more water than those planted in ground.
- Check soil moisture with your finger daily. Water if dry or wilted. (Many gardeners are using drip irrigation systems these days.)
- Use a time-released fertilizer when planting or a liquid one every two weeks.
- Prune and remove dead flowers to speed up new blooms.
- Water generously until the water starts flowing out of the drainage holes.
- Succulents require the least amount of care.
Recommended Container Plants
Agastache, Calendula, Chrysanthemum, Cyclamen, Daffodil, Flowering Kale, Forget-Me-Not, Heuchera, Johnny Jump-Up, Juniper, Libertia, Mallow, Monkey Flower, Nemesia, Salvia, Snapdragon, Snowberry, Succulents, Verbena, Wild Lilac
For more expert advice, check out Crawford’s book “Easy Container Gardens.”