How to Plant a Beautiful, Thriving Container Garden

Perfect for areas with less-than-ideal ground soil or small spaces like apartment balconies, a container garden can add an abundance of blooming color and visual appeal to any outdoor space.

September 23, 2019

Photo By: Shain Rievley

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Photo By: Shain Rievley

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Photo By: Shain Rievley

Photo By: Shain Rievley

Photo By: Shain Rievley

Photo By: Shain Rievley

Photo By: Shain Rievley

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Photo By: Cassidy Garcia Photography

Photo By: Shain Rievley

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Photo By: Shain Rievley

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Photo By: Shain Rievley

Photo By: Shain Rievley

No space? No problem.

Container gardens are ideal for small spaces or urban areas where traditional gardening isn't an option (looking at you, apartment balcony). Thinking of planting your own? Follow our need-to-know tips for happy, thriving containers.

Choosing the Containers

First and foremost, it’s important to start with the right container for the job. You’ll want to look for planters with enough space and adequate drainage holes. If your container doesn’t have drainage, you’ll need to drill or nail a few into the bottom of the vessel. Add filter material like landscape fabric, coffee filters, newspaper or river rocks in the bottom so that excess water flows out of the drainage holes, but the soil does not. Optionally, elevate your pots with stands so that the water isn't blocked from exiting the bottom.

Choosing the Plants

Walking into a plant nursery or greenhouse can be overwhelming. People tend to choose plants based solely on looks, but it’s important to plant with a plan in mind. Take time to read the information card and opt for plants with similar needs, such as sunlight and water requirements. As a rule of (green) thumb, choose a thriller plant (something tall and striking), filler plant (something colorful and mounding) and spiller plant (something that waterfalls over the edge) to create a show-stopping container display.

See More Photos: Easy Flowers to Grow in Pots

Choosing the Soil

There’s no doubt about it: Quality soil is essential for container gardening. You want to use a nutrient-rich potting soil — not garden soil that can often contain pests and other critters. Making your own is the best way to ensure the proper nutrients, but bagged potting soil will also do the trick.

Read More: How to Make Your Own Potting Soil

Money-Saving Tip

Potting soil can add up quickly when you're working with large containers. To take up space and save on soil, fill the bottom of the container with an upside-down bucket, old planter or cut-up pool noodles.

Tallest Plant = Container Height

Follow this quick rule when choosing a "thriller" plant: For a more aesthetically pleasing look, the tallest plant should be around the same height as the planter itself.

Start With the Focal Plant

Once the planter is filled with soil and you’ve chosen your contents, it’s time to get planting. Start with the tallest "thriller" plant first. We planted ours in the back of the container, but the center would be pretty as well. Dig a hole in the soil about an inch deeper and wider in diameter than your plant's root ball. Carefully take the plant out of its original container, loosen the roots and place in the soil. Cover the root ball with fresh soil.

Add Filler Plants

Next, begin adding in the filler plants around the focal plant. We worked from back to front in our container.

Add Trailing Plants

Add a burst of visual interest with plants that spill over the edge, such as the sweet potato vine seen here. This step is a great way to incorporate a pop of color and foliage without taking up too much space in the container.

Fill the Gaps

Finally, fill gaps and create colorful interest and texture with another layer of filler plants in similar groupings.

Mix Varieties Together

Pro Tip: Mix foliage and blooming plants in your garden for an attractive display. The bright colors of seasonal blooms pop against the solid green of the foliage.

Pollinator-Friendly Plants are Bee-nificial

No matter where you live, pollinators (bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, moths and bats) play an essential role in ensuring that you have fresh, bountiful food to eat. No pollinators, no food. Make your backyard a haven for our hardworking friends with a pollinator-friendly container garden that'll pretty-up your landscape while providing them with everything they need to keep saving the world.

MAKE IT: Beckon Pollinators to Your Backyard With a Bee-neficial Container Garden

Try Fruits and Veggies

Did you know you can grow fruits and veggies in containers, too? Almost all varieties can be grown with the right container and care, and dwarf and miniature hybrid varieties have been bred especially for smaller containers. So, get growing and have your veggie basket overflowing with the literal fruits of your labor.

GET INSPIRED: Easiest Vegetables to Grow in Flower Pots

Summer Container Garden Recipes

Planting in the summer? Get inspired by our 15 favorite flower combos.

GET INSPIRED: 15 Summer Container Garden Recipes

Fall Container Garden Recipes

Are cooler temps on the way? Start planning your autumn garden now with these gorgeous cool-weather combos.

GET INSPIRED: 23 Cozy Fall Container Garden Ideas

Consider Different Containers

Why limit your bountiful blooms to just one container? From window boxes to hanging planters to a pair of boots (seriously), the options are endless when it comes to vessels for a container garden.

GET INSPIRED: 14 Simply Stunning Summer Window Box Recipes

Water, Water, Water

Potted plants tend to dry out quicker due to limited soil volume. Therefore, frequent watering is a must. You’ll know it’s time for a good drink if the soil is a light color, is dry to the touch or the plants are wilting (oops). In the summer, daily watering is usually needed, so be sure to give them a long drink to ensure all the roots are hydrated. Pro Tip: Water your plants/soil early in the morning for best results. This will give the leaves time to dry out before nightfall which means less chance of fungus growing overnight.

Read More: How to Water Container Gardens

Fertilizer is Your Friend

Potting mix that has fertilizer in it will give your container plants a good start. But eventually, the nutrients will either be used up, or they'll leach out after frequent watering. When your plants are ready for a boost, apply a slow-release fertilizer that lasts for several months, or feed more often with a liquid or water-soluble fertilizer.

Read More: The Fertilizer 411

Groom With Care

Deadheading and pruning are essential for keeping your plants looking healthy and happy — just be careful not to overdo it. Use garden shears to remove any dead/discolored leaves or blooms, leggy stems that are overgrown or flower spikes that are spent. Doing so will make way for new, healthy growth.

Read More: Biggest Pruning Mistakes

Group Containers Together

Display your newly planted containers in an odd-numbered grouping for an eye-catching display. Varying heights, colors and textures green-up the corner of this pretty patio.

Mix It Up

Go all out and mix in smaller containers and single plants as well. If using a small container like this one, limit the number of plants to just one or two varieties so they can thrive without competing for room and nutrients.

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