10 Steps to a Container Garden

container garden1. Planning.

Look at where you will be placing your container(s) and note:
–how sunny or shady the area is
–how much rain it will receive (is it on a porch under a roof? on a roof top?    somewhere in the garden or by the sidewalk?)
–how windy is the location (wind can be very drying and make an enormous difference to your gardening efforts)

2. Decide on size, shape, material (plastic, resin, clay, ceramic, metal, wood), and number of containers.

3. Know your local climate and microclimate.

What USDA zone do you live in (climate)?
What are the conditions in your little corner of the world, city, apartment building (microclimate)?

The answers will influence your choice of plants and whether and which ones will winter over, come inside, or die with the frost (in colder areas).

4. Use good quality soil.

Use a container mix, which may have soil or be a soil-less mix.
Do not use potting soils that are full of chunks of wood and stones, or that harden when in the pot (experience will tell you!). They’re useless for good results and a waste of your money.
In the Northeast, a couple of good brands are Fafard’s and Coast of Maine.

You can also make up your own potting mix, and many people eventually do.

Don’t get soil out of your back yard or garden. It will turn to cement in your pot and have many weed seeds ready to sprout.

5. Decide what kind of plants you want to grow, and what sort of display you want.

–Do you want to be strictly ornamental?

Herbs in happy profusion in containers

Herbs in happy profusion in containers

–Grow herbs for your kitchen?
–Have an urban mini-farm on your porch?
–Just get a few tomatoes?

This will help you make your choices.

Make sure to consider the needs of your plants.
If you have a very sunny location, don’t use plants that need shade unless you can provide it.
If you have a shady locale, you will have poor results with sun-loving and needing plants.

How much will you be able to water? If you can’t keep up with the watering needs of your pots, then use plants that don’t need much water, or use self-watering pots (which still will require you to water sometimes, otherwise your plants will dry out – I know from experience!)

6. Time to plant!

If you use a really large container you can reduce the amount of soil you use and the overall weight of the container by using styrofoam peanuts placed in a bag (not loose – very messy) or put upside-down empty plastic containers at the bottom of your potting container.

Decide how to want to position your plants.

–Do you want only one plant or one kind of plant per container?
–Do you want several plants or kinds of plants per container?
–Do you want to use one large container and put several plants together or place several small containers together?

To plant: Place soil in the bottom of your container and fill about halfway.
Take your plant(s) out of the pot(s) it/they came in and pull apart the roots.
Spread them on top of and into the soil and continue to add soil to about 1” below the rim of the pot.

Follow directions for your plant for where on the plant the soil needs to sit.
Gently tamp down the soil.

7. Place your container where you want it to live.

You may want to move it around, or move around several containers until you get the best placement for beauty or catching the sun or shade.
Put your containers in place before you water!
They will be much easier to move, since they are much lighter then.
With large containers you may want to place them before you even fill with soil and plants.

8. Watering.

This is extremely important! Your plants are basically dependent on your for most of their needs!
Always water your plants after you have planted them. This gives them much needed water and also settles the soil.

Know the water requirements of what you have planted, whether the plants require a lot of water or little. You must keep up with watering or your plants will die. Conversely, some plants can drown with too much water, so be aware of their needs.

9. Feeding.

Believe it or not, your plants don’t generally get all their nutrients from the soil or potting medium, especially if you’re using a soil-less mix. You must provide them with nourishment.
Again, your plants are basically dependent on your for most of their needs.
Contrary to what many books and experts say, I like to feed my plants lightly when I plant them. I feel this gives them something to eat while they spread out their roots and settle in.
After this initial fertilizing, feed every couple weeks, or follow the directions on your plant food of choice.

Remember: If your plants are close together in your container, you must feed, and also water, them more often.

Beverly flowerbox10. Maintenance.

Besides watering and feeding, it’s important to keep your containers clean of dead and decaying matter.
This helps reduce the chance of disease and insect infestation.
You can also dead-head for longer bloom time. You may want to prune some plants, or pinch back riotous growth.

Watch out for pests and diseases. There are many organic and conventional solutions for these plant problems.
Remember that even pests are ‘ normal’, and just because you may see them on your plants doesn’t mean that you are a bad gardener!

And, lastly, have fun!