Why start gardening?
There are many reasons why container gardening may make sense for you. For example:
You can control the soil mix, so you can grow plants that may not suit your natural garden soil. Tropical plants, succulents and other specialist plants can easily be grown in containers even if they would not thrive in your soil or region.
You can move containers around, effectively “reshaping” your landscape as the mood strikes. Containers can be moved around to take advantage of changing sun patterns.
Prized plants can be moved indoors when the weather turns cold.
Container gardening allows the green thumb to thrive even if you live somewhere without a yard. Apartment dwellers can still garden!
What you need
Equipment / Tools
A variety of containers
Plants of your choice
Materials and tools to create a container garden
The Spruce / Meg MacDonald
Choose the right soil
A common gardening mistake starts with the soil. Some people think they can dump regular soil from the outdoor garden into a container to grow plants. In reality, it’s best to use a specialized potting mix in your containers, not garden soil you dig up from outdoors. Once you’ve decided on the type of plants you want to grow, research the best soil mix for that plant and use it. Local garden centers or home improvement stores sell a wide variety of soils and potting mixes.
Filling a large container with soil can be expensive. If you plant a tree or a large shrub in a large urn, they need a lot of soil for the roots to expand. However, if you plant flowering annuals with shallow roots, you can save money by adding “filler” to the bottom of the container. Use inert materials that still promote drainage such as crushed aluminum cans, non-biodegradable packing peanuts or plastic bottles. Place a piece of landscape fabric over the filler and top with potting soil. This will save money and lighten the weight of the container if you plan to move it around.
Fertile soil mixture is poured into the clay pot next to potted plants and flowers
Choose the right container
The options for planting containers are almost limitless. All it depends on is your imagination (and your budget). Don’t overlook containers that can become hanging baskets.
Don’t overlook “found” items around the house. Many common objects, from whiskey barrels to teacups, can be used as containers for plants. Make sure there is proper drainage in the container and that the soil mix is suitable. Keep in mind that the smaller the container, the less potting mix it will hold. This makes it more critical that the soil moisture remains correct because you have less room for error.
Stacked clay and white pots placed on the table top for planting
Ensure good drainage
People usually worry about keeping their containers well-watered, but overwatering them can be just as big a problem. Even plants can drown. Making sure your planters have good drainage may be the single most important thing you can do to make your container gardens healthy and sustainable.
Plastic pots are more likely to drown plants than clay pots. That’s because clay “breathes” while plastic is impervious to evaporation. Whatever potting material you choose, make sure it has proper drainage holes (or add some), so water doesn’t collect at the bottom of the pot.
White plastic pot lifted to show drainage holes before planting
Choose the best plants for a container garden
The plants for container gardens can be practical (vegetables and herbs) or simply decorative as a living flower arrangement. Do you want something harmonious or dramatic? When choosing plants, consider structure, size, color and care. When it comes time to choose plants, consider the following:
Light: Vegetables and herbs need six to eight hours of sunlight each day to thrive. For decorative container gardens, choose plants that all have similar light requirements. Do not try to mix shade loving plants and full sun plants in one container.
Water Requirements: Cacti and ferns in a container can be a disaster. One needs very little water and the other requires constant humidity.
Small flowering plants are added to the clay pot next to herbs and cacti
A good way to get ideas for your container gardens is to look at pictures online, container gardens in your neighborhood, and home and garden magazines. You can get a lot of inspiration for plant combinations and color schemes by seeing the successes of other gardeners. Talk to experts at your local garden store or your gardening neighbors. They can help you create a container garden that works for your space and budget.