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Gardening Articles

10 Tips for the Best Looking Garden Containers

by Scott Gray

Container gardening isn't difficult or complicated, but picking up a few basic container gardening tips and tricks can help a beginning gardener get the most out of the experience. Whether you are using plastic planters, metal window boxes, clay pots, or wooden half whiskey barrels, it helps to know what kind of soil to use, how to water, how often to feed, and which plants perform best in your specific light conditions.

  1. Start with good potting soil. Choose sterile potting mix from your local garden center or a good organic potting mix. Sterile potting soil can only be used for a single season and must then be discarded. Organic potting mix costs a bit more, but because it contains composted organic plant material, it can reused next season or worked into an existing garden or spread thinly on a lawn once you are finished using it in your containers.

  2. Don't overcrowd your containers. Keep in mind when choosing your plants that they will get much larger over the course of the season. Overcrowding is a common error made by beginning container gardeners. While you can indeed space your plant a bit closer than you would if you were putting them into a garden bed, don't overdo it. Read the plant tags and shave an inch or two off of the spacing requirements, but don't plant them much closer than that. They will grow faster than you expect.

  3. Understand your light conditions. Before you shop for plant material, observe the place where you plan to place the container and note when that place gets the most natural sunlight. Many shade loving plants will tolerate morning or evening sun, but four hours of direct afternoon light will likely fry them. Similarly, if you want to plant a sun loving plant in the shade, look for partial shade conditions that will provide your container with morning and evening sun at the very least.

  4. Choose the right plants. Some plants are less tolerant of adverse light conditions than others. Petunias will likely be fine in sun or shade so long as they are watered and fed, but fuchsia will wither quickly in full sun no matter what you do, and geraniums will languish in full shade. Learn as much as you can about your favorite flowers before you buy them so you can give them a container home were they will be truly happy.

  5. Water your plants before they show signs of stress, but don't over water. When it comes to watering, containers need to be watched much more closely than in-ground plants. Containers dry out more quickly than plants in a bed, especially in full sun, but even shade containers should be checked daily for water. Stick your finger about an inch down into the container. The soil should feel moist but not soggy. Try to maintain that level of moisture with your watering routine and your plants will reward you with lots of blossoms and healthy foliage.

  6. Pinch off spent blooms and/or harvest veggies regularly. If you are planting flowers, pinching off the spent flowers and dead leaves will encourage your container plant to bloom more vigorously. If you are growing vegetables in your container, regularly harvesting the vegetables once they are mature will likewise encourage them to produce even more.

  7. Don't be afraid of your creativity. Nothing says you can't combine flowers and vegetables in the same pot: miniature marigolds and alyssum make a cheerful border around container vegetables and they attract pollinators like bees and butterflies. A single ornamental pepper mixed in with some zinnias is charming. Sprinkle some leaf lettuce seed along the inside edge of your window box for instant salad all summer long.

  8. Feed your containers regularly. Container plants appreciate regular feedings with high phosphorus plant foods. Fertilome and Miracle Grow both make container fertilizers specifically formulated for annual flowers, vegetables, or roses. Choose a formulation tailored to your specific plants and your conditions, and then follow the instructions on the label with regard to strength and frequency.

  9. Use timesaving products to make it easy on yourself. You can also purchase fertilizer spikes that you simply stick in the soil once at the beginning of the season and then forget. These spikes dissolve slowly over time, releasing exactly the right amount of plant food into the soil whenever you water. Granular fertilizer that dissolves slowly is also a popular choice. Watering globes are ornamental glass that release water slowing into the soil as needed. Miracle Grow makes special potting soil designed to hold water longer so you don't need to water as often.

  10. Have fun! Of course you want your containers to look great, but don't make the whole exercise into brain surgery. Gardening is a very forgiving practice: If something isn't going well, just try some different plants, move the container, or cut the blooms back and see if they perk up. Something will grow for you, so relax and try not to take it so seriously you can't enjoy yourself.

Make use of these simple container gardening tips and tricks and you will find that gardening is a lot easier than it sounds. In fact, container gardening is so user-friendly that many avid gardeners prefer it over formal garden beds and borders. A little extra care in the beginning makes for carefree, lightweight gardening all season long. Who doesn't like that?

About the Author

Scott Gray is a garden enthusiast who loves to relax taking care of his garden. For more information about container gardening ideas, metal garden planters and gardening information, be sure to visit his site

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