Container gardening can be as simple as the ABCs

Contain yourself! But not your enthusiasm for growing great plants. Gardening in pots is the easy way to enjoy growing success with flowers, herbs, vegetables, trees, shrubs and even berries.

Your choice of containers can be as cheap as a recycled metal wash tub to as elegant as a footed urn on a pedestal. Today there are more options than ever as lightweight foam pots that closely resemble stone and highly glazed imported pottery allow gardeners to leave containers outdoors all winter long in western Washington.

Here’s the ABCs and the D for gardening in pots.

Always make sure there are drainage holes in your container.

Sometimes this means using a drill or a screwdriver and hammer to pound holes into the bottom of a foam pot or asking the nursery to drill extra holes into the bottom of a ceramic pot. The larger the pot, the more drainage holes it needs.

Tip: to keep potting soil in and critters out, line the bottom of the pot with paper coffee filters.

Another tip: to improve drainage, raise your heavy pots slightly off the ground. You can buy ceramic pot feet, or recycle the tops of plastic water bottles by shoving them under the bottom of your pots as hidden pot feet.

Better soil grows better plants.

Potting soil must drain freely but hold moisture. You cannot use the dirt from your garden or compost as neither will provide good drainage in a pot. Commercial potting soil is weed- and pathogen-free and worth the investment. Either pay for potting soil that already contains slow-release fertilizer or add your own plant food. All plants in pots need fertilizer. Liquid plant foods (like Miracle Gro or Peter‘s )work faster but slow-release plant foods last longer (like Osmocote). For pots that are really crowded with plants that you want to overflow with color, you can use both types of plant food. But read and follow the label instructions. Too much fertilizer will cause the tips of your plants to turn brown.

Tip: to save money fill large pots half-full with crushed aluminum cans or empty plastic water bottles. This provides lightweight drainage material and you won’t need as much potting soil to fill the pot. Annual plants like at least 8 inches of potting soil; shrubs and perennials 14 inches.

Control the watering.

In our climate the No. 1 cause of container garden failure is too much water. It rains a lot here so feel the soil by poking a finger down deep and water when the top 2 inches are dry. Plants need more water as the weather heats up and roots fill up the pot. Hanging baskets, especially fuchsias, can be very thirsty and may need water twice a day. Geraniums bloom better when allowed to dry out a bit between watering.

Tip: water thoroughly, especially after fertilizing, but try not to get the foliage or flowers wet. Stop watering when you see water running out of the drainage holes.

Design with Drama! A Thriller, the Fillers and the Spillers.

Design your pots by choosing one tall or dramatic plant for the middle. This is the “thriller” or focal point. A spiky dracaena is an example.

Next, add two or three “fillers” or medium-sized plants around the sides. Imagine three orange geraniums surrounding that spiky center plant.

Finish off with three to five “Spillers” that spill or hang over the edge of the container. Consider bright purple, trailing lobelia or cascading, white alyssum.

Now your container garden has the drama of three different textures, shapes and levels of planting.


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Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply.

For more gardening information, she can be reached at her Web site,

Copyright for this column owned by Marianne Binetti.

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