Container Gardening

If you have a small garden, courtyard, or no garden at all, container growing might be the perfect way to fill your outside space with some of your favourite plants. Nathan James Dodd considers the different types of container that are available and how best to use them.

Created by Nathan James Dodd on Monday, 11th of May, 2015.


Container Gardening

Whether it's flowers you prefer, or fruit and vegetables, with container growing it's possible to have a magnificent array of colour throughout the year or a tasty harvest in the summer and autumn.

Style And Substance

Containers come in many shapes and forms - contemporary or traditional, plain or decorated. Our illustration shows the new Marberry Barrel Planter by Rowlinson.

If you find a style that you like and will suit both what you are growing and the location, consider the various merits of wood, ceramic, stone and plastic.

Terracotta for example looks attractive and blends in well with most landscapes but is a permeable material that allows the soil to dry out quickly. Also, because the clay fills with moisture, they are susceptible to frost damage causing flaking and cracking.

Cheap wooden containers may rot so, if it's a softwood, check that the timber has been pressure or dip treated. Cedar is an exception but will, together with hardwoods such as teak, last for many years.  

Stone can be expensive but ensure that plastic containers are UV resistant and will not deteriorate. In addition to these containers available at your garden centre or online, you could experiment with re-cycled hard wearing household items such as old sinks and shower basins.

Preparing The Planter

Whatever is chosen, make sure there are drainage holes in the base. If there aren't, drill some and then raise the container off the ground to allow excess water to be released. When filling with compost, cover the holes with broken pot so they don't block

Don't be mean, make sure the container is large enough for the number of plants and deep enough for them to develop good root systems in a decent amount of soil that doesn't rapidly dry out.

As for the growing medium, most plants don't like to be waterlogged, good drainage combined with moisture retention is essential.

Soil based composts are recommended, don't use peat based compost as it dries out too readily. Either buy specially formulated container compost or you can mix your own from good top soil, loam, leaf mould and grit. Add some lime and general fertilizer and remember to leave some space at the top of the pot for watering and mulching.

Make sure that the compost fits the plant's requirements as far as pH is concerned, use ericaceous compost for acid lovers such as Japanese Maples, Heathers and Camellias. If you are mixing your own, leave out the lime and use an acid top soil.

Planting Choices

As far as planting is concerned, there's very little if anything you can't grow in a container. Winter pansies, spring bulbs, summer flowers, shrubs with autumn interest, herbs, alpines, conifers, even fruit trees. 

As any nutrients in the compost will be easily washed away, be sure to apply a regular liquid feed. Slow release plant food tablets are a good idea and during the summer daily watering is essential.

Whether it is to soften a hard landscape or to fully utilise a limited space, there's no doubt that containers can enliven and transform what may be an empty or lifeless environment into a productive area full of colour and fruitfulness.

For ideas as to what planter will suit you best, visit the planters, pots and containers section on GardenSite.

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