Master gardener Paul James can hardly contain himself when it comes to container gardening. Find out some basic guidelines for planting in pots.
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The first consideration of container gardening has to do with potting mixes. "For the most part, you can grow any and all plants in containers using a so-called all-purpose planting mix," James says. These mixes are light and they drain really well, which are the two most important factors. However, some plants prefer — and in some cases actually require — special potting mixes. Cacti and succulents require a potting mix that drains faster than do all-purpose mixes, and that's why you'll find specialized potting mixes for these plants.
However, you can create your own such mix by blending one part sharp builders' sand with two parts potting mix (figure A).
Many popular culinary herbs, especially those native to the Mediterranean such as oregano, rosemary, sage and thyme, actually grow better in potting mixes that aren't all that rich. "Now, to my knowledge there aren't any potting mixes specially blended just for herbs, but it's easy to make your own," says James.
Again, all you need to do is combine one part sand to two parts potting mix, and then add a generous amount of small pebbles (figure B). Such a mix will replicate the gravel-like soils found in the Mediterranean, and your herbs will almost certainly appreciate your efforts.
By far the majority of plants, such as this coreopsis (figure D), will grow fine in a 12-inch diameter pot."Rarely do I pot up plants in anything smaller," James says.
"Little pots like this (figure E) are okay for transplants, but I don't recommend them for permanent or even seasonal plantings because they dry out very quickly and they heat up quickly as well, especially when placed on a paved surface."
Likewise, consider the shape of the container because some pots, while attractive, can pose problems. A round pot looks cool, and it's fine for growing all kinds of plants, but at the end of the growing season when it's time to remove the plant from the pot, that task is often easier said than done. When the plant's roots grow into the wider portion of the pot, it's difficult to get the plant out of the pot without severing the roots, or in James' case more than once, breaking the pot.
The same is true of urns and amphorae. They may look great (figure F), but James suggests thinking twice before planting anything in them.
And keep in mind, shallow pots are fine for shallow-rooted plants, deep pots like this (figure H) are ideal for plants that require more depth.
Realize, too, that not all plants need to be watered at the same frequency. This Carnation of India (figure I) prefers nearly constant moisture, so James waters it practically everyday. But his cacti and succulents prefer much drier conditions, and they may go several days between watering.
Also consider that plants native to arid environments, such as cacti and succulents, don't like to be doused with cold water. The frigid blast can actually send them into shock.
Many tropical plants may develop white spots on their leaves in response to cold water, as well. To remedy this problem, James recommends keeping several watering cans filled with water in the shade. Allow the water to reach air temperature and use them to water the temperature sensitive plants. Be sure to use the cans often enough so the mosquitoes don't have a chance to lay eggs in them.
Container gardens can be as simple as a bowl of water and some plants.