Top Tips for Thriving Container Gardens

Planting flowers, vegetables and herbs in containers is a perfect way to brighten up your entrance, patio or balcony. However, life in containers can be tough for plants and you need to pay special attention to looking after them.

Pick the Right Plants

Although most plants can be grown in containers, many plants will thrive in them. Annuals and half-hardy perennials are the most suitable for containers. This includes most shrubs, herbaceous perennials, grasses and climbers.

You could go with annuals such as Mahogany Midget (coreopsis tinctoria) or Fiesta White (impatiens walleriana).

Clematis x cartmanii hort. 'Joe' image: Royal Horticultral Society

Climbers like Joe (clematis x carmanii) or Ivalace (Hedera helix) are also a good pick.

If you are looking for shrubs, then go with Tom Thumb (pittosporum tenuifolium) or Emerald ‘n’ Gold (euonymus fortunei).

If you want to grow your own fruit and vegetables in your container garden, you could plant potatoes, peas, strawberries, chillies and salad leaves.


Find the Right Container

When you are selecting containers for your plants make sure they are large enough, while also ensuring slow-growing plants like camellia and citrus–with a small rootball–are first grown in smaller pots to avoid waterlogging.

Terracotta pots are perfect for long-term growing, while stone pots fit a classic garden well. Plastic containers don’t look the best, but they are cheap and great for plants that need to be moved to warmer conditions during winter.

The key is to have enough holes at the bottom of the container for sufficient drainage, but remember you can always drill more holes in most containers yourself if you like a particular style.


Use the Right Compost

Containers should never be filled with pure organic compost matter or the soil in your garden. It might add too many living organisms, such as worms, which can exhaust the food supply and eventually eat the roots of the plants.

For a permanent container display, use loam-based compost, such as John Innes No. 3. You can also add a bit of organic matter to the mixture, but just ensure your mix is sterilised first.

Multi-purpose on the other hand works well with temporary displays for annuals, for example if you need to move the plants indoors for winter.


Focus on the Right Water Conditions

They key to a thriving container garden is all about balancing the amount of water your plants get. As already mentioned, consider adding a few more holes if your containers only have a few small ones.

If you are planting permanent displays, you need to place something, such as crocks or corks, on top of the holes to prevent the soil from blocking the root, although some people argue against this practice. You can further raise the pot above ground by adding bricks underneath it. Blocking the holes isn’t necessary with temporary displays.

If you use terracotta pots, you need to make sure water retention isn’t too heavy.

You can simply fix this by lining the sides of the containers with a plastic bag. 

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