Whether your outdoor space is confined to a fire escape, deck or small yard, you can create a vibrant environment with just a few containers. Mix succulents and flowers with vegetables, herbs and even a couple of fruit trees, and you'll have a container garden that feeds and inspires you and also benefits the wildlife around you.
A wide variety of plants can thrive in containers. In choosing your containers, select one large enough to allow for plant growth and be sure your containers have drainage holes. Window boxes are best for herbs and annual flowers that will eventually spill over the sides of the containers, whereas bigger pots are better for fast-growing shrubs, young fruit trees and many vegetables. Reduce watering chores by choosing light-colored, non-porous containers such as plastic or glazed pottery. To maximize space, include hanging baskets and pots.
Container plants need a quality potting mix, such as Miracle-Gro® Moisture Control® Potting Mix, that will allow for proper airflow and drainage so your plants can root deeply and thrive. Potting mixes are specially designed for containers because they contain a blend of lightweight ingredients and are supplements with nutrients to support plant growth. Make sure you leave about 3 inches of space at the top of the container.
Once the plants are in, gently water until you see water coming out of the containers' drainage holes. Be sure to saturate all the potting mix in the pot, not just around the edges. Closely spaced plants that are packed into a small volume of soil need watering as often as once or twice a day, especially in hot, sunny and dry weather. Pots that dry out too quickly may have more plants in them than the soil can support. Remove some plants, prune them back or move the pot to a less sunny location.
Frequent watering and the limited amount of soil in container gardens make the need for plant food very important. Mix slow-release plant food like Miracle-Gro® Shake 'n Feed® All Purpose Continuous Release Plant Food into the potting soil according to package instructions before planting. Or, you can feed throughout the growing season with a water-soluble plant food, such as Miracle-Gro® Water Soluble All Purpose Plant Food, in a watering can every one to two weeks.
Keep plants looking lush and full by pruning leggy (weak) stems back to buds or branches and removing discolored and damaged foliage. Many flowering plants continue to produce new flowers if you remove the spent blooms before they set seed. Pinch spent flower stems back to just above the leaf or bud.
Protect pots from full sun and wind, and rotate containers to encourage plants on all sides to grow evenly. Plants on the shady side tend to get leggy as they stretch for the sun.
In cold-winter climates, containers plants need protection from freezing temperatures. Even hardy perennials, trees and shrubs can't tolerate completely frozen roots. Terra cotta and ceramic pots may crack if left outside to freeze. So empty their contents into the compost pile and store the dry pots in a protected garage or cellar. For small trees and shrubs in containers, wrap chicken wire around the pots and stuff with loose mulch. Store in an unheated but not freezing garage or basement.