Saturday, January 28, 2012

Container Gardening- The Basics

Theresa asked if I had any advice or posts on container gardening.  While I had no specific post, I have lots of advice.

I've been container gardening for at least 30 years.  For 12 years I lived in a series of rented apartments, houses, townhouses.  Most of my gardening during that time was in containers.  I've grown it all- roses, daylilies, annuals, perennials, shrubs, herbs and vegetables.  I still do a lot of planting in pots, as accents around the pool and around the yard.

You can go grow anything in containers, but it does take some work and knowledge to grow things well.

Container Size:  The bigger the better.  I would recommend a minimum of 12" in diameter.  Make sure that they have ample drainage holes.  You may have to add more.

Spacing:  Don't over crowd.  I've seen recommendations for 1.5 plants for each inch of pot diameter.  This is much too crowded.  For my 14" pool pots I usually plant five or six plants. They will fill out fast!

Soil:  Avoid the mixes with moisture control additives, in my climate they retain too much moisture and the plants don't grow well till the end of the season when they are extremely root bound.  For permanent plants I mix my own soil.  This would be a peat based mix, very finely ground bark mulch, perlite and a small amount of compost.  For annual and vegetables I use a good quality peat based mix.  I do not use any thing special for drainage, as long as there are enough drain holes I have no problems.

Water:  I soak mine good upon planting, until a good stream of water exits the bottom.  I keep them just moist until the plants show a good growth spurt and then water on my regular schedule.  In summer as the heat increases and the pots fill roots I may have to water in the morning and the evening.  If the soil is dry a half inch down it's time to water.

Fertilizing:  If you are using a mix that has fertilizer added DO NOT feed for at least a month.  After this time I start to add a quarter strength liquid fertilizer every two weeks.  After 60 days I up it half strength.  For mixes with no added fertilizer, follow the directions on a good liquid fertilizer.

Spacing of Pots:  Give them enough room to breathe and fill out.

Caveats:  Watch the height of the plants.  If the pot is too small and the plant too tall, they will blow over in every strong wind. 

Special Note for Vegetables:  I have tried mixed pots and pots of single species.  The pots of a single type always do better.  If the pot is large enough you can use large cages, teepee's, poles whatever you can dream up.

Here are some results:

Vegetables on the pad 6/28/2008

Vegetables on the pad 1 week later 07/03/2008

Rose Brass Band 06/02/2006

Rose Artistry 06/24/2006

Zinnias in 14" pot 07/30/2010
Daylily Border Sentry 06/23/2010. this has been in the same 18" pot for over 10 years!  It has never been repotted.
I could go on and on with examples.

This is just scratching the surface with basic information.  If there are any specific questions, just ask.


  1. Very good advise, and gorgeous results! I've saved your photos as inspiration. Maybe I can have some lovely potted veggies to go with the main garden!

  2. Granny, thanks. It's funny I went through a whole summers worth of pictures and those were the only two I could find of container vegetables. Be careful, by the end of that summer those containers had turned into a jungle!

  3. Ed,

    Thanks so much for all the advice, I greatly appreciate it. I will be exercising your recommendations as soon as I'm able to start spring planting.


  4. Theresa, your welcome. I remember when starting out how difficult it was to sort through all the information.

  5. Some very good advise Ed. Your container garden looked so lush and healthy. Love the roses and the lilies. How do you protect your potted flowers in the winter?

  6. Lona, I have a 6ft privacy fence around the entire back yard. I line the pots against the fence on the southern side. I do this for wind protection. The 18" and larger pots don't freeze solid here.

  7. What great advice! I did some container gardening a year or two ago when I was renting a house, but now that I own 9 acres, I just didn't see the point.

    But after reading your post, I am reminded of just how beautiful and architectural container gardens can be. I might give it a shot this year!

  8. Prairie Cat, even with a yard I still find containers useful. I love using them to add temporary color to various spots around the yard. If I had an out of the way spot, I'd grow a lot more just to rotate into the garden when the are at their peak.

  9. Hi, just a moment back I was searching for the information on Container Gardening and now I am here. So much information, really well executed blog. This is really informative and I will for sure refer my friends the same. Thanks