Create a Movable Garden

Container gardening has grown far beyond the predictable red geraniums in pots. Here are innovative ideas for combining shrubs, ferns, herbs, perennials and more.

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Soil and Fertilizer

After you choose the plants, select a good commercial soil mix. Make sure it drains well but has enough organic matter so that it doesn't dry out too quickly. For annuals, perennials, herbs and bulbs, look for commercial mixes such as Fafard All Purpose Growing Mix, made of about 45 percent Canadian sphagnum peat with processed pine bark, perlite and vermiculite. Other gardeners like Jungle Growth, which includes charcoal in addition to sphagnum peat moss, pine bark, perlite and vermiculite.

Unlike garden soil, in which there are many naturally occurring microbes and — if you're lucky — worms, mixes can quickly become depleted of nutrients. For that reason, regular applications of fertilizer are recommended. For annuals, especially, mix in some slow-release fertilizer (e.g., Osmocote) when you first pot up your plants. Refer to the label for recommended rates. During the growing season, apply regular applications of a water-soluble fertilizer such as Peters, Miracle-Gro or Watch US Grow. For trees and shrubs, you may want to add some extra organic matter — for example, composted cow manure or mushroom compost.


A good basic rule for watering your containers is to saturate them until the water gushes out the bottom or sides of the pot. During the hot summer months, some containers may need to be watered twice a day. A soil conditioner sold under the name of Moisture Mizer (a polyacrylamide) can be added to the soil to help it retain moisture. At a glance, this gel-like substance resembles small bath-oil beads. I have heard such soil conditioners referred to as "water grabbers." If you use these products, adjust your watering accordingly.

Container gardening is no longer synonymous with the standard red geraniums but includes virtually ever type of plant from trees to herbs. Taking into consideration the soil and light requirements, you can create a green oasis — using different sizes and shapes of pots and combinations of plants — that will provide delight and pleasure for all who experience it. And if you move, you can take your garden with you!

Suggested Plant Combinations for Pot Gardeners

Annuals for sun

  • Combine flowering annuals with foliage plants to create long-season interest: petunias, Scaevola 'Blue Wonder', assorted ivies and Alternanthera 'Wave Hill' (burgundy foliage). Look for heat-resistant varieties of petunias such as 'Purple Wave' or the small species Petunia integrifolia, with magenta flowers.
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis; hardy in zones 8-10), parsley (Petroselinum crispum), pansies ('Imperial Antique Shades') and red mustard greens
  • Lantana 'New Gold' or 'Lemon Drop' with trailing ivies

Shrubs and Small Trees for sun

  • Dwarf butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) selections 'Nanho Purple' or 'Nanho Blue'. A good perennial to plant with this would be Artemisia 'Powis Castle'.
  • Rosa 'The Fairy' underplanted with catmint (Nepeta) 'Six Hills Giant'
  • Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) cultivars underplanted with ferns such as the Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum) 'Pictum' or the autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora)

    Evergreen Shrubs

    • Dwarf varieties of boxwood: look for selections of Buxus sempervirens or B. microphylla.
    • Ilex crenata 'Sky Pencil', an upright, narrow form of holly
    • Dwarf weeping hemlock (Tsuga canadensis): look for dwarf types.

    Plants for a Water Garden

    • Golden sweet flag (Acorus gramineus) 'Ogon'
    • Yellow flag iris (Iris pseudacorus)

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