If you have little or no space for a traditional garden, then container gardening is your best bet. Container gardens can also be a charming way to embellish your patio, entryway or deck. Although container gardens generally require more watering and feeding, they are quite easy to maintain and care for. Container gardens are also a great solution if you are considering an herb garden (link to herb gardening article) as they can be placed conveniently near the kitchen door or in a kitchen window box.

Choosing Your Container:
Containers are not limited to terra cotta pots and formal urns. Use your imagination! Pick a style that suits the surroundings, but that also suits the plant or plants you wish to grow in it. Consider the style and color palette you are working with. Cobalt blue containers may be a great way to tone down hot color plants, but they may not suit a mediterranean-style garden (terra cotta would be more appropriate). With the increasing range of colors and styles of containers available today, sizable, stylish (and affordable!) containers are easy to find, so make the containers part of the grand scheme instead of just a place to plant.

The only must for choosing your container is that it must have drainage holes. Another consideration when choosing your container is whether or not you need a container that can hold up to freezing temperatures. Soil expands when it freezes, so if you live in a cold climate, it’s best to choose a forgiving material, such as wood. If planting a tree or shrub, make sure that the container is heavy enough so that it won’t blow over from being too top heavy.

Designing your Container Garden
Don’t just place pots any which way. It’s best to consider the space first and then decide on the plants and containers that will create the desired effect that suits your style. Experiment with clustering containers together. In larger containers, don’t be afraid to mix complimentary plants (link to companion gardening article) together in the same pot.

Recommended plants for containers
When choosing plants for containers, again consider your zone and how you will over-winter these containers. This of course is not a consideration if you are using annuals; annuals are great bets for containers as they provide constant color and eliminate over-wintering issues.

Most herbs make great container plants. Old stand-bys like rosemary, thyme, and oregano have been grown in containers for centuries. Some herbs, however, like dill or tarragon do not do well in container culture and are best grown in the bed. That said, I feel container gardening is the best way to keep your herbs handy to your cooking area; consider a window box outside a kitchen window.

Maintenance considerations
Think about how much maintenance you are willing to give your containers. Succulents such as cacti or sedums are great low-maintenance plants, especially for hot, dry areas. Rock garden or mediterranean plants are also well suited for the dryer conditions that are usually found in containers. If you live in a frost-free area, tropicals can be long-lived and striking container plants. In colder areas cold-hardy perennials are good bets to return year after year; be sure to use rock hard plants like hostas or rudibeckias and be sure you are using frost-proof containers. If you have a glassed in porch or a bright garage you can over-winter less hardy perennials or shrubs; be VERY sure to check water conditions at least once a month (plants use far less water during winter months but they still need some).

Add visual appeal with verticality
Putting a trellis in a container is a great way to add verticality to a container garden. Tropicals such as bougainvillea, mandevillea or jasmine provide potent flower power and can be over-wintered as house plants in colder areas. In colder climes, perennial vines like clematis or ivy can give you the same vertical lift and allow you to over-winter in that garage or sheltered place. With a little forethought, most plants can adapt to container culture provided you are willing to cater to their needs.

Dependable, appealing, and undemanding
I have also found that grasses are great container plants; they are undemanding and yet provide great sculptural forms in a wide variety of colors and sizes. Grasses can be found to suit any climate or condition and blend well with most styles of gardens; consider a grass for your container garden.

Planting your Container:
To start, don’t forget that your container is going to be much heavier once it is planted, so it is best, if possible, to plant your container where you would like it to be situated. Layer the bottom of your container with rocks, shards of pottery, or chipped wood in order to assist with drainage but prevent soil loss through the drainage holes. Use a good soil and add time release fertilizer. Fill the container with soil up to where you want the roots to rest. Gently loosen the rots of the plants and rest it on the soil, filling in around it with the remaining soil to about one-inch from the top of the container. Water your container thoroughly after planting. It is a good idea to cover the topsoil with pebbles, chipped wood, dried moss, pine cones, or any other material that will help keep the soil from drying out.

Caring for your Container Garden:
Although container gardens generally require more watering and feeding, they are quite easy to maintain and care for. The soil dries out quickly in a container, so they will need to be watered frequently.

It’s a good idea to cover the topsoil with pebbles, chipped wood, dried moss, pine cones, or any other material that will help keep the soil from drying out. During hot weather, it’s best to water early in the morning or in the late evening to avoid evaporation. You will also need to make sure that you feed your plants on a regular basis with a good fertilizer. If you provide the necessary ingredients to keep your plants happy, containers can be a keystone in the small space or urban garden.

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