18 Container Gardening Tips

Try these tricks of the trade to make your containers shine.
Cool Containers

Cool Containers

An array of stylish containers create decorative vignettes in your garden. Chip Wade used cast iron plant in these containers: it's very hardy and gives a feeling of an indoor houseplant. Use graduated pairs of containers for a more interesting composition.

Photo by: Ben Rollins

Ben Rollins

Container gardening is one of the most popular trends among gardeners, both expert and novice. What both realize is that there’s an art as well as a science to creating a pot with perks – one that not only turns heads but remains a workhorse all summer long. 

So what’s the secret to that kind of success? For the answer, we turned to some real experts, the horticulture team at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, for their advice:

  • First and foremost, be sure to add a drain hole if the container does not have one. If you’re concerned about cracking the pot when you drill the hole, place duct tape on both sides of the container where you plan to drill, then drill through the tape, removing it when done.
  • Clean pots once a year with a 10 percent bleach-to-water solution to help eliminate fungal and pest problems.
  • Paint the interior of terra cotta pots with roofing tar to help avoid cracking in extreme cold temperatures.
  • Provide good drainage by placing pots on feet and lining the bottom of the containers with broken shards of old pots.
  • Fill deep, large pots with one-third mulch, packing peanuts or even empty smaller pots turned upside down to consume space. This not only will require using less potting soil to fill the pot but also helps with drainage.
  • Use a quality soilless potting mix – heavy potting soils tend to hold excess water – and replace at least once a year when you replant the pot. Old soil loses nutrients and may contain old rotting roots so it is no longer beneficial to plants.
  • Pack down soil as you’re filling the pot to prevent settling and build to the point of creating a mound above the rim, which provides more planting surface and makes plantings appear fuller. Leave a little lip around the inside of the rim so that water and soil don’t run over the edge when watering.
  • Top the soil surface with a light sprinkling of a slow-release granular fertilizer, such as Osmocote. Because containers require frequent watering, the soil’s nutrients are easily depleted.
  • Be sure to select plants that will tolerate the exposure where the container is located – full sun, part shade, deep shade.
  • When planting, avoid burying the crowns of plants in the soil, which will cause them to rot.
  • Fertilize plants every two weeks with a liquid fertilizer, such as Miracle-Gro or Peter’s.
  • Don’t under- or overwater pots. Instead, use the two-knuckle test: Stick a finger in the soil to the depth of your second knuckle; if the soil feels dry, water.
  • Deadhead and groom plants regularly to keep them healthy and looking their best. Some foliage plants, such as coleus, should be pinched back to prevent flowering.
  • Don’t rely on flowers alone to make your pot pop; utilize foliage plants as well for color and texture.
  • Utilize tropical houseplants in outdoor container gardens for their bold, dramatic foliage.
  • For fuller hanging baskets, use wire baskets with liners so that the sides of the basket can be planted. Cut small holes in the liner (just large enough to fit a plant through), and as you fill the basket with soil, gently push plants through the cut holes. The result will be a fuller-looking basket.
  • Group pots together for more impact and add trellises and other accents to create interest.
  • Add container gardens to planting beds to create layers of texture and height.
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