Container Gardening Tips: 5 Tricks For Successful Container Gardening

By Teo Spengler | June 5, 2020
by Teo Spengler
June 5, 2020

Plants in pots are not just for Mother’s Day anymore. Container gardening has come into its own, and gardeners are growing flowers, veggies and herbs in containers ranging from eggshells to old bathtubs. Container gardening has many advantages, and makes planting accessible even if you don’t have a backyard or well-draining soil. But the rules for helping plants thrive in containers are slightly different from bed gardening.

Successful Container Gardening Tricks

Here are my top 5 tried-and-true container gardening tips that will take you a long way toward lush pots of healthy plants.

Use containers with adequate drainage holes

Most plants do not like sitting in wet soil. That’s why “well-draining soil” is one of the most common cultural care requirements on plant tags. The water should pass through the soil, moisten the roots, then flow away. In garden beds, nature takes care of drainage (in most cases). But containers are built to contain things, including water.

If the holes in the bottom don’t give the water a way out, the soil stays damp and the roots rot. Small pots need holes at least ½ inch (1.2 cm) in diameter, while big pots need holes twice that big. You can buy containers with adequate drainage holes or else put in big holes yourself, but don’t rely on rocks or gravel. In the bottom of a pot, these can stop drainage rather than encouraging it.

Buy good potting soil

Cheap potting soil may not be the bargain it seems. To keep plants healthy in containers, the soil should contain generous amounts of peat moss, compost, perlite, vermiculite and rotted manure. What about soil from your backyard? Just say no. Regular soil can compact into a hardened mass in a container. Even in a container, healthy soil equals healthy plants.

Feed your container plants

Most potting soil doesn’t include fertilizer, but container plants do need nutrients. It’s a good idea to mix slow-release or timed-release fertilizer into the potting soil before you plant. This type of fertilizer is water soluble but encased in a resin coating. Each time you water, a little of the fertilizer is released.

You can also use liquid fertilizer blended in with irrigation water every few weeks. If you opt for liquid fertilizer, don’t apply it to dry soil or it can cause damage. Water the potting soil first, then water again with the fertilizer. 

Group plants with similar sun requirements in containers

Containers will either be in sun or shade. That means that every green leaf in a single pot will experience the same amount of rays. Figure out before planting the optimal exposure for each of the plants. For containers destined for direct sun, only include plants that thrive in direct sun. Plants that prefer shade should be grouped with other shade lovers. This just makes sense, but many a container plant has died because the gardener isn’t vigilant about this.

Thriller-filler-spiller formula still works best

It’s been said so many times it’s a bit of a cliché, but it works. Designing a plant container using the thriller, filler, spiller method – with a tall “thriller” plant, bushy “filler” plant and something “spilling” over the sides – is still a great way to build an attractive presentation while helping plants thrive in containers.

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