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Outdoor Container Gardening: Planting a Pot of Flowers

Learn all about container gardening, from choosing your pots and flowers, to growing and caring your plants.

Learn all about container gardening, from choosing your pots and flowers, to growing and caring your plants.

Outdoor Gardening

It's the middle of June, and you still haven't put the finishing touches on your porches, decks, and gardens. They still look a little bare. One quick and easy way to remedy this is to plant some pots with flowers, plants, or herbs, which you can place anywhere around your home. There are still plenty of plants left at the markets.

You can make a quick run to your local Home Depot, Lowes, or Target, or any place else where they may have a garden center and pick up a couple of pots, a few flowers, plants, and/or herbs, some potting soil or material, and any garden tools you might need.

Whether you live in a tiny city apartment or on a large country estate, gardening in containers is a way to add color and beauty to your surroundings. Whether you tend a large yard and garden, have limited space on a porch or balcony garden or patio, or grow flowers in a window box or planter, a colorful container of healthy flowers in full bloom is always welcome.

This article offers tips to use as a guide for planting and growing flowers in pots, planters, and containers this summer. The three main elements in creating successful container gardens are: choosing the right pots, getting the right planting medium, and selecting the plants.

Selecting Your Pots

Material: stone, cement, Wrought Iron, Terra Cotta, glazed ceramic, wood, faux, found objects

Size and shape: Use a big container. Bigger is better. A larger pot or container holds moisture longer and provides more space for the plants' roots. The healthier the root system, the healthier your plants will be. The container must have drainage holes in the bottom to allow excess water to escape.

The right pot: Although cement, stone, and wrought iron pots are beautiful and authentic, they are expensive and very heavy. Faux stone and Terra Cotta pots are far more preferable because they are made of plastic (and therefore are lightweight and durable), can be cleaned with water or a damp cloth, and are available in a range of colors and sizes to suit your gardening needs and taste.

Expensive pots or not: I have purchased expensive pots. They're beautiful, but if you plan to place them outdoors, be aware that everyone else who walks by your house will think they are beautiful too. I purchased two gorgeous, very expensive Victorian-wrought iron planters a few years ago.

They were perfect for my 1882, Victorian home and looked absolutely gorgeous on my front porch. They were painted antique white, and I planted them with lush Purple-Wave petunias and lots of greenery. The combination was incredible.

They sat on my porch for a few weeks. Then one morning, when I came out to get the newspaper, the Victorian planters were no longer there. Someone else also thought they were gorgeous and took them right off my porch in the middle of the night.

Now I use only very heavy iron pots on the front porch and station or weigh them down, or very lightweight faux pots on my back deck so I can move them around myself. They're inexpensive, and they look great

Things to Consider When Planting Your Pots

  • color of pot(s) and plants
  • number and kind of plants
  • placement of plants in pot(s)
  • size and type of plants (tall, short, hanging)
  • where plants will be sitting (sun or shade)
  • size and type of pot(s) to use
  • garden tools you'll need
  • type of planting material you'll need
  • whether to use compost or fertilizer
Healthy plants

Healthy plants

Growing Healthy Plants

The key to healthy plants is to create a healthy growing environment for the plant roots. For a healthy root system, water must pass quickly through the soil. As the water drains out, air replaces it in the soil, and an exchange of carbon dioxide is made with the plant roots. This movement of water and air is essential to a healthy plant. You must prepare the pot carefully.

Preparing Your Pot

Drill holes in the bottom, fill halfway up with Styrofoam popcorn, lay broken pieces of Terra cotta or small stones on the bottom (for drainage), use a rich potting soil or potting material or growing mixture.

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Tips for Preparing Your Pot

  • Use containers between 15 and 120 quarts capacity. Small pots restrict the root area and dry out very quickly. The size and number of plants to be grown will determine the size of the container used. Deep-rooted vegetables require deep pots.
  • Make sure your pot has adequate drainage. Holes should be 1/2 inch across. Line the base of the pot with newspaper to prevent soil loss.
  • In hot climates, use light-colored containers to lessen heat absorption and discourage uneven root growth.
  • Set containers on bricks or blocks to allow free drainage.
  • Line hanging baskets with sphagnum moss for water retention. Keep baskets away from the afternoon sun.
  • If you choose clay pots, remember that clay is porous, and water is lost from the sides of the container. Plants in clay pots should be monitored closely for loss of moisture.

Growing Mixture

Ensure your planting medium drains rapidly but retains enough moisture to keep the roots evenly moist. Your compost will make excellent potting soil. Check the requirements of the plants you grow to determine whether you will need to add sand.

If compost is unavailable, purchase a good quality potting mixture or make your own from equal parts of sand, loamy garden soil, and peat moss. Commercial potting mixes are usually slightly acidic, so you may want to add a little lime.

Most container gardeners have found that a "soil-less" potting mix works best. In addition to draining quickly, "soil-less" mixes are lightweight and free from soil-borne diseases and weed seeds. These mixes can be purchased from garden centers.

When you add your soil to your container, leave a 2-inch space between the top of the soil and the top of the container. You will be able to add 1/2 inch or so of mulch later.

Selecting Flowers for Your Pots and/or Containers

Select flowers and plants suited to the light conditions where the container will be placed–use flowers that like the sun for a sunny place, use shade-lovers for a shady place.

Annuals are usually the best choices for containers if you live in an area with freezing temperatures during the winter. Plant the flowers fairly close together to give the pot a full look sooner. If you are planting in early spring, protect from frost. You may combine herbs and flowers, flowering and green plants, a combination of various flowering plants, or vegetables and flowers.

I have pots all over my deck, near the backyard gate, next to my brick home, down on the brick path leading through the yard, and on my front porch. I get a lot of sun, so I rely primarily on sun-loving red Geraniums, Purple wave petunias, Vinca vine, and several small creeping plants that hang over the edge of the pots. Sometimes I use Spikes.

When I plant in pots, I use plants of varying sizes and plant on three different levels: Spikes or tall plants in the middle or the back, middle-sized plants next, and creepers and vines close to the edge so that they spill over.

Annuals suitable for containers: Alyssum, Begonias, Geraniums, Impatiens, Lantana, Lobelia, Marigolds, Periwinkle, Petunias, Nasturtiums, Pansies, Salvia, Zinnias (these are only a few of my favorites). Check the Internet for more ideas (see pictures above)

When I began growing flowers in my garden, I didn't care if I planted an annual, perennial, or biennial or half-hardy annual or frost-tender annual, or tender perennial. But if you are planning and designing your flower containers or researching the various types of flowers and plants to use, you may need to know these definitions.

What You Need to Know to Design your Own Flower Pot

Annuals: An annual grows from seed and blooms, sets seed, and dies in just one growing season. Petunia and marigold are examples of flowers widely grown as annuals. Annuals need to be replanted each spring. Most annuals bloom continuously from spring through fall.

Perennials: A perennial flower lives for three or more seasons. It may or may not be mature enough to bloom the first year from seed. (Hint: P is for Permanent and for Perennial). Perennials will need periodic rejuvenation and/or replacement, typically every three to five years. Most perennials bloom for only a short period -- a week or two or three -- once a year.

Biennials: A biennial grows vegetatively in its first year, lives over the winter, and finally blooms in the second season. Once it has bloomed and set seed, it dies. Foxgloves and hollyhocks are usually biennial.

Sun or Shade: Determine where you plan to set your pot(s). Be sure you know whether the plants you select for your pot(s) are sun or shade plants. There's nothing worse than to plant a pot full of beautiful Impatiens, set them in the sun, and watch them die. Impatiens are shade plants and flourish in shady spots. There is one variety that will grow in the sun, but make sure you know which is which.

When you buy your plants, read the little markers sticking in the ground in the pot. If there isn't one, ask a salesperson. Most salespeople in the flower sections will know. Or you might want to do a little research ahead of time. There are plenty of sites on the Internet with pictures and extensive information on plants and planting.

What Grows Well in These Pots?

Vegetables that mature early are ideal for containers are leafy lettuce, mustard cress, or silver beets make the perfect summer salad. You can use 5-gallon containers for the vegetables that will be big or bulky. Carrots, radishes, or herbs can be grown on the windowsill.

With the right plan, you may have several crops from your container garden. Easy to grow and root are cherry tomatoes, peppers, baby carrots, or spring onions. You can plant herbs around leafy lettuce and veggies, which grow quickly.

Herbs suitable for containers and that can be combined with flowers and/or vegetables are Basil, Chives, Dill, Mint, Oregano, Lavender, Parsley, Rosemary, and Thyme.

Green or Colored Plants: Asparagus fern, Coleus, Ivy, Spikes, and Vinca vine.

Taking Care of Your Potted Plants

Sunlight: Your container garden will need at least five hours of direct sunlight each day, and many plants will benefit even more. Generally, leafy vegetables such as cabbage and lettuce can tolerate the most shade, while root crops such as beets and carrots will need more sun. Fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes and cucumbers need the most sun. The amount of sunlight required by flowers varies depending on the varieties grown.

Fertilizer: Since potting mixes drain water rapidly, fertilizer will be washed out of the container as you water. Lighter mixes will require more frequent fertilizing than heavier mixes. It's a good idea to use a dilute liquid fertilizer with every other watering.

Liquid fish emulsion or liquid seaweed are great plant boosters, but remember that you need to provide your plants with a variety of nutrients. Check the labels on the products in your garden center to be sure that they contain a complete, balanced solution that includes trace elements.

Watering: In an exposed location, container plants lose moisture quickly. Some plants will need to be watered daily, especially during hot, dry weather.

Placement of Pots

You can put your pots where you like. They look good on stair steps, standing against a building or next to a window or doorway, in groups of three or five (an odd number is better), or on either side of a walkway or entranceway or gate. They also look good alone, sitting next to a porch chair or bench.

I group my pots on my deck. I have one grouping of three, with coordinating red, purple, white, and green colors. My deck is quite sunny, so I use Geraniums, white lobelia, purple wave petunias, and Spikes. Other good choices for greens would be Vinca Vine or Asparagus ferns.

Another grouping at the other end of my deck, where it is the sunniest, includes all my herb and vegetable pots. I grow herbs for my breakfast dishes. We include fresh Basil, Dill, and Chives in our Spinach-Herb Quiches. I do not grow Spinach, but that might not be a bad idea for next year. Of course, we use tons of Mint and Parsley for garnishes.

The front of my house is landscaped with Hollies and other greenery. I have two black Wrought Iron pots on the porch, exactly like the one you see here (second picture from the top), planted with my favorites combination of flowers for a very sunny area: red Geraniums, white Lobelia, purple wave Petunias, and green Spikes. It really looks great.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Johnd663 on June 30, 2014:

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Johne280 on June 30, 2014:

I think you have noted some very interesting points , appreciate it for the post. bbggeceeckda

JR Krishna from India on October 06, 2013:

I like hubs about plants and gardening.

Your hub gave me insight into the different types of planting pots available in the market.

Nancy Hinchliff (author) from Essex Junction, Vermont on May 06, 2012:

Sorry, I am not a gardener, only a writer and researcher.

Nancy on May 05, 2012:

I love the planter featured under "Picking the right pot". Can you share the "recipe" for which plants I will need to purchase to create that exact pot. Thanks from Apple Valley, Minnesota.

Nancy Hinchliff (author) from Essex Junction, Vermont on May 05, 2012:

JC: For you of for the Geranium?

"potted geraniums: Discover the healing power of geraniums and learn how to make geranium tea, geranium oil infusions or a geranium compress."

JC on May 03, 2012:

Is it safe to plant a geranium in the same pot with herbs?

Nancy Hinchliff (author) from Essex Junction, Vermont on April 19, 2012:

So sorry. The main thing is to make sure the sun plants are in the sun and the shade plants are in the shade. Then, give them just enough water.....not too little....not too much. Remember to plant them in potting soil that contains nutrients, deadhead them, and talk to them. They need a lot of loving care and attention. :=)

Nancy Hinchliff (author) from Essex Junction, Vermont on April 19, 2012:

Mary Jane, Thank for the WOW.....very much appreciated.

Nancy Hinchliff (author) from Essex Junction, Vermont on April 19, 2012:

NTT, So glad you liked the hub. And thanks for the comment.

joyce laming on April 19, 2012:

i have tried a lot of plants in my pots for my deck and they usuallly end up dying, and awful looking i spend good money and never seem to luck, i don,t understand

mary jane on January 16, 2012:

wow that was great!

NotTooTall from The Land of Pleasant Living on July 14, 2011:

Hi alekhouse,

Very nice Hub. I'm jealous ~ you have a longer growing season that I do in Maryland. I also plant a great deal of combination gardens and hanging baskets . . . so much more interesting to mix up textures and colors!

Nice photos too! :)


Nancy Hinchliff (author) from Essex Junction, Vermont on March 05, 2011:

Thanks, appreciate it.

Surfraz from India on March 05, 2011:

Information in your hub is really fantastic, i like it.

Nancy Hinchliff (author) from Essex Junction, Vermont on January 19, 2011:

Thanks for the comment...appreciate it.

Nancy Hinchliff (author) from Essex Junction, Vermont on January 08, 2011:

Thanks, Julia, for continuing to read my stuff even though I haven't posted anything new in a while. The holidays did me in. Got behind in my writing, some business issues, and trying to work on my memoir. ...will be posting something soon.

Great grow you own lettuce. It's pretty easy to grow and it's always nice to have it readily available.

I've been spending a lot of time working on my four blogs, especially the new one: A Memorable Time of My Life. Gotta new post there for writers on "building a platform to aid in publication" Check it out.

SweetiePie from Southern California, USA on January 07, 2011:

One of these days I really do plan on starting a container garden. I just keep saying someday, but I do love fresh produce. I get a lot from my parents who are avid gardeners, but it would be nice to grow lettuce for myself since I love salads.

Nancy Hinchliff (author) from Essex Junction, Vermont on August 30, 2010:

mark, so glad you liked the hub and that it can be useful to you in some way. Good luck with growing herbs and veggies.

mark on August 30, 2010:

thank you for such a great hub, i had not previously considered using vege's as balcony garden plants, it is defintely something I will be trying out very soon. The Faux stone is brillaint also

once again thanks for a great hub

Nancy Hinchliff (author) from Essex Junction, Vermont on April 01, 2010:

It works just fine. You use less dirt and if you're using faux pots, they will be very light in weight after you've filled them with dirt and plants. ...easy to move around.

Laura on April 01, 2010:

I had just been wondering if we could use styrofoam popcorn/peanuts in the bottom of pots and plant on sound like you know what you're talking about so we're going to try it..!

Nancy Hinchliff (author) from Essex Junction, Vermont on June 16, 2009:

Glad you liked the hub and the pictures. I'm a real flower lover and had a lot of fun finding these pictures.

chicamom85 on June 16, 2009:

I love this idea, I am not a very good gardener, but I do ok with flowers in planters, the photos are great. Thank you for visiting my hubs and for your kind words.


Nancy Hinchliff (author) from Essex Junction, Vermont on June 15, 2009:

If you plant outdoor pots, don't forget to give them a lot of water.

rosecobra on June 15, 2009:

Plants do not like me. I kill them. I've tried and tried but they end up dying. but I'll follow the instructions, thanks

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