Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Garden Bloggers' Design Workshop - Container Plantings: Variety, Soil, and Care

When I first moved to my current garden, I gardened strictly in containers for the first two years. I covered my 800 square foot deck with everything imaginable, leaving barely enough space for eating and sitting. During that time, I learned a lot about container gardening from both failures and successes. The three most important lessons I learned are: anything can grow in a container; the potting soil matters a great deal; and containers must be cared for and freshened up throughout the year.

Anything Can Grow In A Container
Anything that grows in the ground can grow in a pot. Containers are not just about annuals. More can be added to the garden by varying the contents of your containers. For example, two years ago I planted a culinary herb garden near our Children's Garden. I found that it was too far from the house to duck out while cooking for a quick snip at an herb or two. So, last year I relocated the herb garden into pots on the deck. I have one huge pot with dill, chives, and basil; one with rosemary, tarragon, and various kinds of thyme; and a few smaller ones with different varieties of basil. I usually grow any new roses I want to try in pots: everything from the small Clotidle Soupert to the rampant climber Cecile Brunner. Evergreens, shrubs, grasses, vines, even trees can be grown in pot. I have had a lilac growing for five years now in a pot on the deck and each year the blooms get better and better.

When growing shrubs and trees in pots for the long term, I've learned to treat them as really large bonsai plants. Each year, I renew their soil by removing some and adding organic amendments and manure. Also, every few years I trim off the outer most roots of the plants on one side to allow more root development without the danger of the plant becoming root bound. With this treatment, my lilac is still growing in its original planting pot.

The Potting Soil Matters a Great Deal
As regards the potting medium, consider again what will be growing in the pot. For tropical plants that like a lot of moisture like elephant ears, I use a heavy potting soil with lots of organic matter added to it that will hold moisture well. This year I am mixing the organic Gardeners' Gold potting soil with dehydrated cow manure. For my roses, that mixture would kill them because the water would sit too long close to their roots. So for roses, I could take the same Gardeners' Gold, but to it add perlite and cow manure so that the proportions are 1:1:1. This yields a rich, well draining soil. For a plant which likes leaner soil, take out the cow manure and use a less organic potting soil as a base.

Containers Need Year-Round Care
Once the container is planted, the care for that container does not stop there. Since containers are their one ecosystem, I must be very attentive to watering, particularly during heat waves, and fertilizing. Usually, I water every morning and sometimes again later if the weather has been particularly brutal. I also fertilize once a week with fish emulsion, sea weed emulsion, or a liquid complete fertilizer.



In the border, I often use containers which I can change with each season. The pot that sets in the front of our library began in the spring with a melange of daffodils, tulips, and muscari ringed with pansies. In June, I replaced the planting with red hot pokers, caladium, and a very tall phormium. Then in autumn, everything except the red hot poker came out. I add then a three foot tall yellow twig dogwood, pansies, and a few medium sized gourds. After Thanksgiving, I removed the gourds and replaced them with white pine boughs and trimmed back the leaves of the red hot poker for neatness. For this spring, I left the dogwood and the red hot poker. I have added pink primroses and pansies. The constant changing of the containers offers something new for each season and gives me more opportunity to experiment.
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Before the frost, I also move my non-hardy containers that I want to over-winter either into the garage (roses, fig tree) or into the house (elephant ears).
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Containers add so much to my garden and plant knowledge. It is a great way to experiment with different plants and combinations without the commitment of planting in the ground. Also, seeing how a plant thrives in a pot with a specific planting medium helps me understand under what conditions it will thrive in the ground.
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This post is a part of Gardening Gone Wild's Garden Bloggers' Design Workshop - Container Plantings: (http://www.gardeninggonewild.com/?p=940).
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9 comments:

Marie Lærke said...

I absolutely love your garden!!!

I will instantly borrow some of your garden designs for my community garden in Denmark.

Thanks - Marie Lærke (Denmark)

Nan Ondra said...

Thanks for the pointers, HG. I think my mistake with container plantings is not taking the time to add or remove plants to keep things looking fresh, as you do. Your winter shot is particularly pretty!

Pam/Digging said...

I posted about containers today too. While you and I differ in our approach with containers, I think yours look fresh and lovely. Thanks for the pretty pics.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

I wish I was as adventurous as you with your containers. I keep toying with the idea of growing one of the new "Patio" Clematis in a container, but I'm not sure I'd remember to trim the roots as you suggest, as well as changing some of the potting media. Your containers are such an inspiration.

heirloomgardener said...

Mr. McGregor's daughter, I haven't grown any of the 'Patio' clematis, but based on a talk given by Raymond Evison, creator of many patio clematis, they won't need root pruning. He bred his to grow in confined places and to bloom over a long period of time.

Anthony said...

Your containers look fantastic. I may have to print out this post and use it for inspiration this season. Nice work.

minnesota kathi said...

Wonderful post! Your containers are beautiful, thank you for all the uesful information :).

Tony Destroni said...

hi good day . nice post you have . id learned a lot. this is one of the best way of gardening even you dont have much space you can still do planting . thanks for sharing this . i hope you have a post about wind spinner other garden and home accessories , im interested on this i hope you can help me . thank you!

www.cordoba-3d.com said...

Really worthwhile data, thank you for your post.

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