What kind of light does your site receive?
Whether the site is sunny or shady, it's important to select plants
adapted to your conditions. If it's shady, you'll be wasting your time if you plant tomatoes & certain flowers.
Group plants w/similar care requirements. For example, a sun-loving,
drought-tolerant herb & a thirsty, shade-dependent fuchsia could not both thrive in the same container.
Your container garden will need at
least 5 hours of direct sunlight each day & many plants will benefit from even more. Use this general rule:
leafy vegetables such as cabbage
& lettuce can tolerate the most shade
root crops such as beets &
carrots will need more sun
fruiting vegetables. i.e. tomatoes
& cucumbers need the most sun
The amount of sunlight needed by
flowers varies depending on the varieties grown. Check the flower guides for sunlight requirements.
If you consider practical requirements first, questions of style don't seem quite so open-ended. You'll find containers that are formal & informal, traditional
& contemporary. Some designers recommend aiming for a good combination of sizes in one or similar materials. But the choice
The most important characteristic of
a good looking container is the lush & healthy plant inside. Once they are growing, many plants - particularly flowers
- overshadow containers altogether.
Will containers be outside in winter?
Some materials, such as ceramic & terra cotta, crack &
shatter in freezing temperatures. Wood rot accelerates in rain & snow, & glazes on ceramic or terra cotta can be damaged
If you plan to leave your containers outdoors in severe weather,
concrete & stone may be your best choices.
you water daily in summer heat?
insulation vary w/the material used. Hanging moss baskets & unglazed terra cotta lose moisture faster than most other
kinds of containers.
Plants in these
containers generally will require more frequent watering than containers made of other materials such as concrete & wood.
What & How to Plant
What to Plant
Choosing plants is somewhat like choosing containers: before you
choose, consider your requirements & the requirements of the plants. Consider the potentials & constraints of your
more about containers
There are many possible containers for gardening (as previously discussed above). Containers
for vegetable plants must:
- Be big enough to support plants when they are fully grown
- Hold soil without spilling
- Have adequate drainage
- Never have held products that would be toxic to plants or people
- Flower pots
- Window boxes
- Baskets lined w/plastic (w/drainage holes punched in it)
- Even pieces of drainage pipe or cinder block
If you're building
a planting box out of wood, you can use rot-resistant redwood, cedar or cypress. Some gardeners have built vertical planters
out of wood latticework lined w/black plastic & filled w/a lightweight medium, or out of welded wire shaped into cylinders
lined w/sphagnum moss & filled w/soil mix.
Depending on the
size of your vertical planter, 2 diameter perforated plastic pipes may be needed inside to aid watering. Whatever type of
container you use, be sure that there are holes in the bottom for drainage so that plant roots don't stand in water.
need containers at least 6 to 8 deep for adequate rooting. The imaginative use of discarded items or construction of
attractive patio planters is a very enjoyable aspect of container gardening.
For ease of
care, dollies or platforms w/wheels or casters can be used to move the containers from place to place. This is especially
useful for apartment or balcony gardening so that plants can be moved to get maximum use of available space & sunlight
& to avoid destruction from particularly nasty weather.
Is the container large enough?
Realistically, 1-gallon containers are about the smallest practical
size you can use outdoors. In smaller containers, plants dry out too fast. The container must be large enough for plant roots
to withstand summer heat.
Is container weight an issue?
If you live at ground level or in a modern penthouse or condominium,
container weight may not be a consideration, but if you're turning an old apartment rooftop into paradise, it may be. A 1-foot-square
container filled w/wet planting soil can weigh 50 pounds.
A 50-gallon container for a tree will weigh several hundred pounds.
Plants in several containers distribute the weight more evenly
than one large one.
How much do you want to pay?
An antique Chinese earthenware jar & an old whiskey barrel might work equally well supporting
healthy plants. However, the barrel might cost as much as a new shovel, whereas the jar might cost more than some furniture
in your house.
What to Grow?
Annuals suitable for containers include:
For more information on creating flower gardens in containers see:
growing vegetables in containers....
Small salad green such as oak leaf
lettuce & mustard cress, or vegetables such as silver beet, which have a quick maturing period are ideal.
You may be able to get several crops
of a quick maturing vegetable from your container. Cherry tomatoes & other fruiting vegetables, including peppers or eggplant
can be easily grown in containers, as can root vegetables such as baby carrots, radishes or spring onions.
Try planting quick-growing small
herbs & leaf lettuces around you larger fruiting vegetables. click here to read more about growing vegetables in containers!
gardening navigational menu
gardening - the main page - use your "gardening
button" in the left hand side navigational column
container gardening - what plants to grow & pots
to use - you are here!
of Containers: Even the smallest patio or porch can boast a crop
of vegetables or a garden of flowers in containers. Planter boxes, wooden barrels, hanging baskets & large flowerpots
are just some of the containers that can be used. The container gardener is limited only by his imagination. Consider the
following guidelines when choosing your container.
containers w/narrow openings should be disregarded
glazed ceramic pots are excellent choices but require several drainage holes
avoid wood used for containers that has been treated w/creosote,
penta or other toxic compounds - vapors can damage the plants
choose containers between 15 & 120 quarts capacity if possible
think about the size & number of plants to be grown to determine the size of
the container used
keep in mind that deep rooted vegetables require deep pots
in hot climates use light-colored containers to lessen heat absorption
& to discourage uneven root growth
sit your containers on bricks or blocks to allow free drainage
line hanging baskets with sphagnum moss for water retention
keep baskets away from afternoon sun
You can narrow your choices by considering the advantages &
disadvantages of different materials.
Stone planters are durable & good looking, but rare. In past
eras, stone troughs & sinks were common & much prized by lovers of alpine & rock-garden plants. Most stone planters
today are made of reconstituted stone. A stone planter works best in a ground-floor, permanent location.
Terra cotta containers
Say "flower pot" & most people picture a terra cotta pot. A terra cotta pot at its most basic
is a simple clay pot, a classic of informality. Some terra cotta containers have a tooled design that is more decorative &
formal. Terra cotta saucers are widely available.
Unglazed terra cotta loses moisture quickly because of the porosity of the material. In these
pots, plant roots "breathe," they are cooler, but dry out faster because of moisture evaporation from the pot exterior.
Does this mean a terra cotta pot is the best kind for plants? That is one of the great gardening
debates. However, it's fair to say that serious gardeners frequently choose clay pots because they are inexpensive & because
they absorb excess water, reducing the chance of damage to plants from overwatering.
Terra cotta has its disadvantages. The red-brown exterior is rough & tends to become stained
from fertilizer or algal growth. Some consider this attractive, but it makes pots more difficult to clean & disinfect.
Terra cotta can chip & crack in severe cold & it requires careful handling any time of the year.
Glazed terra cotta, or any ceramic, has a glossy finish that slows moisture loss & evaporation.
Glazed pots are easier to clean but more expensive than the porous ones.
remember: clay is porous & water is lost from the sides of the container - plants in clay pots should be monitored
closely for loss of moisture.
Will you need to capture all water runoff?
If so, choose a container w/ a saucer, or devise a tray or other
system to hold the containers & their drips.
be sure your pot has adequate drainage - holes should be 1/2"
across -lining the base of the pot w/newspaper will help to prevent soil loss
Concrete can be molded into different shapes
w/different textures. It can be used to make reconstituted stone at less cost than authentic stone. Concrete has good insulating
properties, buffering plants & soil from sudden extreme temperature changes.
Weight, however, is a limitation w/concrete,
constraining its use to ground-floor & permanent locations. Concrete should always be fully cured & weathered so it
doesn't affect soil alkalinity.
Drip trays are important for baskets, window boxes, containers
suspended over doorways, or containers placed wherever stains from escaping water might be a problem.
A drip tray can be a simple saucer under a terra cotta pot or
a reservoir & drip chamber w/in containers. Sometimes drip trays are trays of gravel or pebbles that hold several containers.
These trays prevent stains, increase humidity around plants &
improve overall plant health.
Most manufactured containers have drainage holes. If you have a container w/out drainage holes,
you can make the holes w/an electric drill.
Depending upon the kind of pot, a masonry bit may be required.
In some cases, you may want to set one container w/drainage holes inside a non-draining container.
If you do, put a layer of gravel in the bottom of the outer container & set the container w/holes inside on top of the
Fiberglass makes an excellent though sometimes expensive outdoor planter. Because fiberglass
is frost-proof, lightweight, & durable, it works especially well in roof gardens where weight is a consideration.
Timber & wood containers
Wooden containers vary as widely as terra cotta containers. They
might have the informality of whiskey barrels or the formality of "Versailles" planters.
Wood is a good insulator, moderating temperature extremes, but remember that wooden containers are susceptible
to rot. Redwood & cedar are relatively rot resistant & can be used w/out staining or painting. Add cypress to
the list for the best woods for containers, since they are naturally resistant to rot & most resistant to weathering.
Be cautious in using treated wood for planters & window boxes.
The safest chemical wood preservative is copper naphthenate, which is commonly sold at hardware stores under the trade name
The use of pentachlorophenol, a wood preservative commonly known
as "penta," is restricted by the Environmental Protection Agency in the US. The vapors are toxic to plants & animals.
Creosote can also be toxic to plants. If you use creosote-treated
wood, such as railroad ties, keep all plants at least 6" from the wood.
Lumber treated commercially w/CCA, a chemical consisting of chromium,
copper & arsenicis, sold under many trade names. It is believed to be safe for plants, because these chemicals bind
tightly to the wood & do not tend to leach into the soil. However, plants may show damage if planted in small amounts
of soil heavily exposed to CCA-treated lumber.
One way to extend the life of window boxes & wooden planters
is to line them w/plastic. One advantage of wooden containers
is that they can be built to sizes & shapes that suit the location.
Sometimes you can buy liners w/the container, but even a plastic garbage bag can work. Don't forget to make drainage holes.
Plastic containers are among the least expensive. Because they
are lightweight, they are good for balconies & flat roofs & generally are easy to clean. Although
inexpensive, remember that cheap
plastic pots may deteriorate in UV sunlight.
Plastic can be manufactured in bold shapes & lines to fit
contemporary settings. Because plastic is impervious to moisture, water does not evaporate as it does in terra cotta &
plant roots tend to be slightly warmer in plastic.
Some plastic planters have self-watering reservoirs. These containers, which usually must be
special ordered, work well for people whose lifestyle makes it impossible to tend to regular watering.
Will your containers be mobile?
If so, select lightweight materials, or styles w/castors or wheels.
Metal is not often used as a plant-container material, except for wire & moss hanging baskets.
Metal has no insulating properties & no base metal except lead withstands the corrosion caused by fertilizer salts. Galvanizing
or coating metal w/plastic can overcome this, but the zinc coating that results from galvanizing can be toxic to plants.
Paper pulp pots
These are inexpensive, lightweight & available in many sizes.
They are more water-retentive than unglazed terra cotta or ceramic pots, but less water-retentive than plastic or wood. Their
life span averages about 3 years.
You don't always have to buy containers for your plants - in fact, you might already have some.
If a container has drainage holes, won't rot in one season & will hold a gallon of soil mix, you can grow plants in it.
Plastic-lined baskets, wheelbarrows, chimney flue tiles, large cans, tree trunks, ammunition
boxes, concrete culvert segments, farm troughs, crates lined w/plastic, any of these might suit you. It's all a matter of
personal choice & personal style.
Making your container mobile
You can convert a stationary container to a mobile one by using
pieces of dowel or pipe to serve as rollers. Set the container on top of several parallel dowels or pipes. As you roll the
container forward, move the rear dowel to the front row to keep the container moving.