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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.

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Photo: 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.

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Photo: Flynnside Out Productions. From: Brian Patrick Flynn.

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.

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Photo: Shutterstock/Suzanne Tucker

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.

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Photo: Shain Rievley

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.

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