The Ten Commandments of Container Gardening

by Fern on December 9, 2008

in General

  1. Drainage is king. Or queen if you want to be PC. The point is, if you’re gardening outside, you need drainage holes in your pots, pot feet to raise your pot off the ground, and good draining soil.
  2. Do not neglect your pots. Containers can dry out quickly, especially small pots. Water until you see it draining out of the bottom of the pot.
  3. Do not plant a full sun plant in part shade. Know how much sunlight your balcony, patio or porch gets and choose plants accordingly. If you get full sun (more than 6 hours of direct sun a day), you’ll have the most options, but you’ll also have to be careful that your pots don’t dry out too quickly. If you have dappled light, part-shade or full-shade, there are still plenty of options for you.
  4. Remember to take a break from time to time. Too much water can be as bad as too little. Unless you know for sure that a plant likes constantly moist soil, only water your plants when the top two inches of soil feels dry.
  5. Respect your plants’ needs. Since there is a limited amount of dirt in your pot from which to nourish your plants, and some nutrients will wash out of your pot each time you water, you need to fertilize more often than you would an in-ground garden.
  6. Almost any plant can be grown in a container, you just need to match the right sized container to your plant’s needs. However, don’t plant perennials in containers that are too big for them, it could cause their roots to rot.
  7. Containers look better in groups. Just like man needed woman, your pots need friends.
  8. Multiple pots look good, and multiple plants in a pot look even better. A simple way to put together a great looking pot is to use the “spiller, filler, thriller” philosophy.
  9. When planting more than one plant in a pot, mix up foliage colors, textures and sizes for more visual interest. Be sure to pick some plants with interesting leaves, because flowers are fleeting, leaves are forever.
  10. Do not covet your neighbor’s garden, do your own thing! Anything that can hold dirt can be used to grow plants. Plastic pots can be dressed up and personalized with paint. And if you’re converting something into a pot, make sure to drill some drainage holes in the bottom.

My husband keeps on telling me that there were originally 15 commandments, but he watches too many Mel Brooks movies. Anyway, let’s just pretend that there are 15 commandments. What would you add? Think I got anything wrong? Feel free to let me know, I’ll only track you down and smite you…
Just kidding. ;-)

p.s. Don’t forget, today is your last chance to submit your entry to the indoor plant contest.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Sue (Catmint) December 9, 2008 at 3:30 am

I often wait until the plants actually tell me they’re thirsty because they droop. Then I soak them in a bucket of water until they’re saturated and the bubbles stop rising. But I don’t know if that is a commandment, probably it is just a peculiarity.


Fern December 9, 2008 at 12:09 pm

Sue — I baby my plants, I think it would make me too nervous to stress them by allowing them to wilt a little before watering. Also, I have too many pots, and several that are too large, to soak them in a bucket. But I know several people who like that method of watering.


Jen December 10, 2008 at 7:59 am

Beautiful container…I miss Ipomea, for some reason I rarely see it up here. I like the black-leaved one too.


Fern December 10, 2008 at 9:45 am

Jen — No Sweet Potato Vine in Oregon? Maybe it’s too wet for it up there?


Janie December 10, 2008 at 5:58 pm

Choose a good potting soil. I have found regular “dirt” compacts too much in a pot. New potting soil is full of nutrients. Throw the “used soil” on the compost pile to be used next year after it’s been turned in with other compost.


Fern December 10, 2008 at 7:36 pm

Janie — Thats a good one. It was in one of my “commandments” in an early draft, but for some reason I deleted that one. Like you said, people should never use dirt from the garden in their containers. It n addition to getting compacted, you could be needlessly introducing pests and diseases into your pots.

That being said, I don’t throw out the soil in my pots each year. For one, I grow a lot of perennials, so it’s not really possible. Also, many of my pots are huge, throwing out and replacing that much soil would be a huge hassle. And finally, I don’t think it’s necessary. No one would suggest digging up all the top soil in a traditional garden and throwing it out or composting it. Just like traditional gardeners, I amend my soil and treat pest problems as they arise.


Genevieve December 10, 2008 at 9:40 pm

Thou shalt be dramatic:

I think containers are for bold self-expression! They liven up a staid entry, cheer a bare area of the patio or garden bed, or anchor an area and bring color and life. None of that requires muted statements or restrained prissiness. Give me drama, boldness, and color in a pot!


Fern December 11, 2008 at 3:32 pm

Gen — Amen!!!


Ash April 2, 2009 at 9:30 pm

Hi Fern,

I have just discovered your website for the first time, and it is just what I have been looking for. It is fantastic.

I live in North London (UK) and have an apartment on the 4th floor. I am in the process of designing something really spectacular for this summer….could you give me some tips? I can send you some pictures of the space and the plants I currently have..
Many thaks


Fern April 3, 2009 at 7:33 am

Sure Ashley! I just sent you an email.


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