Container Gardening

No yard? No problem!

Gardening in containers may be a necessity for those who live in apartments or condos.  In the outdoor landscape, a thoughtfully crafted container can serve as a focal point, or as a wonderful accent in the home interior.  Vegetable and herb gardening in containers can also be satisfying and very productive!  Regardless of the goal, container gardening challenges the gardener in different ways than growing in the landscape.

We carry an extensive selection of pottery in a plethora of sizes, shapes, and colors.  Visit us to find both classic options as well as all the latest trends!  Each type has its advantages and disadvantages.

  • Plastic
    • pros inexpensive and lightweight
    • cons may deteriorate more quickly than glazed pottery or terracotta
  • Terracotta (Italian for baked earth)
    • pros inexpensive and readily available, so easy to match
    • cons can stain and discolor with time
    • Terracotta is semipermeable, so expect the soil to dry out more quickly in these containers — this isn’t necessarily a negative feature, and can benefit succulents and xeric plants.
  • Glazed Pottery
    • pros beautiful and durable
    • cons more expensive and heavy — remember it will also be full of dirt and plants!
  • Other options include wood, Hypertufa, metal, or any creative receptacle

If a plant is planted in a pot that is too big, the soil doesn’t dry out properly and the plant often suffers.  Therefore, choose a container that is only slightly larger than the rootball of the plant — about 2-5″ bigger.

We recommend that all containers have a hole in the bottom for drainage.  Be aware that water leaking from the potting soil may stain your floors or patios, so consider using a saucer to protect them.  Saucers can also provide a reservoir of water, which may help plants in the summer.  For pots without drainage holes, extra care must be taken not to overwater.

Do not put a layer of rocks/gravel/etc. in the bottom of the container in an effort to improve drainage.  This common bit of gardening advice is actually wrong, and makes drainage worse.  Instead, incorporate a material such as perlite or expanded shale thoroughly throughout your potting medium.

Ocean Forest Small Bag

When purchasing your growing medium, it’s important to note that potting soil is not the same as garden soil.

  • For containers smaller than 20 gallons a good quality potting soil must be used.  Garden soil is too heavy, and if used in these smaller pots, it will compact, and the plant’s roots will suffer.  Potting soils, on the other hand, are designed to stay fluffy and well-aerated.  For acid-loving plants such as gardenias, use a blend of half acidified cotton burr compost mix with half of your preferred potting soil to maintain acidity.  For xeric plants and native plants, use a very well draining, high mineral/low organic matter soil.
  • For containers larger than 20 gallons, such as stock tanks or whiskey barrels, a garden soil may be used, but it should still be one that drains extremely well.  Xeric, native, and well-adapted plants enjoy the native soil as is.  For plants that need more moisture, potting soils can be added, up to 50% by volume, to maintain the fluffiness of the soil in these larger containers.  For acid loving plants, blend in acidified cotton burr compost instead of potting soil.

Non-native plants such as vegetables, annual flowers, gardenias, etc. will need fertilizer mixed into the medium before planting.  Native plants will not need fertilizer, but will benefit from applications of compost tea or liquid seaweed.

Use a fertilizer appropriate for the type of plant in the container.  Select a higher-nitrogen fertilizer for leafy plants.  Blooming plants will usually need something with more phosphorus than nitrogen, while cacti need a fertilizer with very little nitrogen at all.

Reapply a dry fertilizer

  • Annuals and vegetables are heavy feaders, so fertilize them about once a month.
  • Fertilize every spring and fall at half the recommended rate for shrubs and well-adapted plants.
  • Houseplants should only be fertilized when they are actively growing. Take care not to overfertilize as you can cause a build up of salts in the potting mix and damage your plants. Use a fertilizer that contains a balance of macro and micro nutrients to replace those that are leached out by regular watering and provide those nutrients that the plant would normally obtain from growing in the ground. 

A liquid fertilizer may be used every week or two for veggies and annuals and every month or two for adapted plants.  Use a combination of these dry and liquid fertilizers for optimum nutrition and soil conditioning.  Certain plants may also benefit from an annual mineral supplement.

All fertilizers will list an N-P-K ratio, which describes how much nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) the formulation provides. Our Happy Frog All-Purpose fertilizer (shown here) has a 6-4-5 ratio, which means it provides slightly more nitrogen than potassium, and slightly more potassium than phosphorus.

The method for planting in a container is the same as planting in the ground.  Dig the hole exactly as deep as the rootball of the plant.  Do not to cover up the stem of the plant, unless it is a tomato!  Several different plants can be planted in one container for a dramatic effect, or for an instant vegetable garden.  In this case, choose plants with all the same water and sun requirements.  Although ornamental plants can be somewhat crowded into a pot for instant beauty, consider each plant’s ultimate size.  The more crowded plants are in a pot, the sooner they will need to be transplanted into a bigger pot.  Try to give each plant the space it needs to grow.  Water thoroughly immediately after planting.  Add a layer of mulch, stone, or another material on top for a finished look.  This layer also helps to hold in moisture and prevents soil from splashing up on the plants.

Plants in containers need more frequent watering than those in the ground. Annuals and vegetables need consistent moisture. In the summer, they will likely need water at least once a day. Native and more xeric plants should dry out almost completely between waterings. The best moisture meter is your finger: dig into the soil as deeply as possible to feel the soil for moisture. Occasionally feel the soil from the hole in the bottom of the pot too, if possible. Sometimes the soil will be dry on top, but saturated at the bottom.

Eventually, most plants outgrow their container and become root bound.  Indicators that a plant needs to be repotted are:

  • a decline in growth
  • frequent need for watering
  • inability of the soil to absorb water
  • an obvious mass of crowded roots when the plant is pulled out of its pot

Transplant as in the planting section above. If the plant is root bound, be sure to gently pull some of the roots out of their circling pattern before transplanting into a bigger pot.

Planted Container 4