A gorgeous container garden is one of the easiest and least expensive ways to add color to an outdoor living space during any season.
We’ll share how to plant a container garden including soil preparation, container material, drainage, plant selection and more.
How to Choose a Container
The good news is that plants don’t care what kind of material the container is made from, but you might, so here are some good options:
Teracotta Pots –
Because terracotta is porous, soil in these pots tends to dry out rapidly though they tend to be a bit fragile so avoid bumping or dropping them.
If you live in cold weather, make sure to buy frost-resistant terracotta pots to avoid cracking when temperatures drop.
Wooden Containers –
Though it will rot over time, wood pots has the advantage of being inexpensive with handy people able to create wooden containers at home.
Wood insulates soil well from extreme conditions and is resistant to cracking, but be sure to select a naturally rot-resistant wood such as cedar.
Glazed Pottery –
The glaze locks moisture in so you may not need to water the container as frequently.
Glazed containers provide more color options though they can chip.
Plastic, Fiberglass or Resin –
The main advantage of these pots is that they are a much more lightweight alternative than the above, but on the flip side, tall, lightweight containers can tip over easily.
Make sure that the containers are UV resistant to avoid fading and cracking. These containers also aren’t porous.
Metal Containers –
Gorgeous in contemporary gardens, metal containers can get very hot or very cold which exposes the roots to extreme changes in temperature so make sure to line the container with something, like bubble wrap, for insulation.
Stone Pots –
Though it is long-lasting, stone is extremely heavy and difficult to move around.
Why the Size of the Container Matters
The size and shape of the plants’ root system should dictate the size of the pot so make sure it’s big enough to grow every type of plant you’d like it to contain. Nursery staff should be able to provide this information.
Also, crowding in a container can stress plants though succulents seem to do ok when clumped together tightly in the right soil.
If the container is large, you don’t have to fill it completely with a potting soil mix. Try to find specially-made discs to insert into large pots. Make sure to understand how much root space your plants need and if they will not need the entire pot space, slip in one of these discs and fill the soil in above the disc. The disc will leave empty space between the disc and the bottom of the pot, also making the pot a lot lighter than if it was solid dirt.
Hanging Basket Considerations
Keep in mind that a container garden suspended in the air dries out faster than one on the ground.
Try to find plants that grow downward, such as spider plants (a very popular choice), because you might miss the features of upward growing plants that are already above eye level.
Herb gardens are another popular choice for hanging containers.
The most important aspect of your container garden is whether or not it has proper drainage because the pots must allow water out to avoid rotting the roots.
Make sure to avoid clogging the drainage holes by using gravel (a technique once thought popular). The reason why gravel doesn’t work it will actually water-log the soil. Water won’t pass through the finer texture of soil into the coarser texture of gravel until the soil is soaked. Interesting, right?
Instead, try coffee filters, screen mesh or newspaper over the drainage hole to keep the soil in while letting excess water out.
Similarly, you’ll know if your plants need water if you stick a finger into the soil and it’s dry about two inches down. Then, water until you see it come out of the drainage hole but do not let the bottom of the pot sit in standing water.
Also, many gardening centers can drill extra drainage holes in large pots should you ask, or you can try elevating your container gardens using plant stands for optimal drainage.
Just shoveling dirt from the yard into a pot isn’t going to be enough as it’s just too dense.
First, the type of plants you’re planting determine which kind of potting soil you need. Succulents do better in a cactus mix, for example.
Experts also suggest that store-bought potting soil isn’t sufficient on its own and that something (leaves, pine needles, bark, perlite) needs to be mixed in to promote drainage. Adding a nutrient-rich compost also helps.
This video below gives excellent instruction for an all-purpose potting soil.
If a potted plant had disease problems, you’re better off changing the soil completely and cleaning the pot (some suggest wiping with bleach but make sure your pot material can handle that).
How to Properly Remove Plants from Nursery-Provided Containers
You’ve spent money at the nursery and brought new plants home. Now, the worst thing you can do is kill them by removing them from the plastic containers too aggressively.
Grab the plant by the stem as close to the soil as possible, then try to squeeze it out of the container from the bottom up. Use pressure on the sides to massage it upward.
Most homeowners grab the top of the plant and yank it out of the container. It’s just not going to survive if it’s already under stress.
How to Place the Plants in the Container
Pre-moisten the soil at the bottom of the container so that it compacts. This way you avoid the soil dropping the plants to a lower level than you’d like after watering for the first time.
Arrange the plants above the soil in the manner you’d like them in the pot as planting and re-planting can result in unnecessary stress to both you and the plant.
Insert the plants and water again to settle them in, though don’t fill with dirt to the top of the container–leave room for watering.
PRO-Tip: Hang on to plant receipts! Some gardening centers, like Home Depot, will refund or credit purchases of plants that die within one year–so don’t let a brown thumb deter you.
*Photo credit: Last photo, Flickr/Field Outdoor Spaces