Outdoor Container Gardening: Planting a Beautiful Pot of Flowers
Picking the Right PotClick thumbnail to view full-size
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 for 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, or 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. Following, are tips to use as a guide to 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 also 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. The faux stone and Terra Cotta pots are much more preferable because: they are made of plastic; therefore, lightweight, durable; they can be cleaned with water or a damp cloth; and they 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 are 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. A few years ago, I purchased two gorgeous very expensive, Victorian wrought iron planters. 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 awesome.
They sat on my porch for a few weeks. Then one morning when I came out to get the newpaper, the Victorian planters were no longer there. Some one 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 light weight 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
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 be able to 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 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.
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 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.
Make sure your planting medium drains rapidly but retains enough moisture to keep the roots evenly moist. Your compost will make an excellent potting soil. Check the requirements of the plants you grow to determine whether you will need to add sand. If compost is not available, 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 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 mostly on sun-loving red Geraniums, Purple wave petunias, Vinca vine and several small creeping plants that hang over the edge of the pots . Sometime I use Spikes.
When I plant in pots, I use plants of varying sizes and plant on 3 different levels: Spikes or tall plants in the middle or in 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 and sets seed and then 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 its first year, lives over the winter, then 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 which will growing the sun, but make sure you know which is which.
When you go to buy your plants, read the little markers sticking in the ground in the pot. If there isn't one, ask a salesperson. Most sales people 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 are going to be big or bulky, carrots, radishes or herbs can be grown in the windowsill. With the right plan you may be able to have several crops from you 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, Thyme
Green or colored Plants Asparagus fern, Coleus, Ivy, Spikes, 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 from even more. As a general rule, 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 needed 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 you garden center to be sure that they contain a complete, balanced solution that includes trace elements.
Watering: In an exposed location, container plants loose 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 place 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 or on either side of a walkway or entrance way 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 colors of red, purple, white and green. 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 are 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. On the porch, I have two black Wrought Iron pots, 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.