For those looking to brighten up an outdoor patio or grow a small vegetable garden with limited space, container gardens could be the answer. Growing beautiful flowers, edibles, or a combination of both can be fun and add beauty to an area. The container garden is a good choice for a warm, sunny spot with an accessible water source and some shade for the hottest part of summer. Container gardens can help with weed control and reduce wildlife pest invasions. Arranging plants in containers can enhance garden creativity.
There are a number of great containers e.g. B. old storage water tanks, large buckets, clay and ceramic pots or “smart pots” made of fabric. Larger containers will help hold more soil moisture, and they will hold more plants as well. Choose the right location for the largest pots and fill with soil on site as the containers can become very heavy when moving. Containers can be made from decorative ceramics, cheap plastic, or repurposed items like old shoes or kitchen tools – colanders and kettles are interesting choices. Remember that:
• Clay pots are heavy and porous, require more careful monitoring of the water and can break in frosty conditions outdoors.
• Plastic pots are light, durable and cheaper. They reduce the water requirement of the plants.
• Metal pots hold water well but increase heat absorption. Metal pots are more difficult to transport and more expensive. However, they are more durable and last longer.
• The container size should match the plants. Larger plants like tomatoes or small trees do better in larger containers because they have room for their roots to spread out.
• Drainage is vital to the health of container plants. If the container has holes in the bottom, supporting the pot with rocks or boards will keep concrete or wood soiling to a minimum and allow for better drainage. Another option is to drill holes on the sides of the pots ½ to 1 inch from the bottom. This works well for plastic pots.
• Hanging baskets are fun options to maximize space and add a decorative touch. In this area of hot, dry summers, ceramic or plastic containers manage water better, while peat-lined containers require more frequent watering. Succulents and herbs are good choices for hanging baskets as they tolerate summer weather well. Baskets draped with various herbs are both decorative and edible.
An important consideration for container gardens is soil choice. Do not use garden soil. Potting mixes provide adequate drainage and support for root development and plant growth. Several soil mixes are commercially available, or you can use the UC Davis soil mix: equal parts sand, pine bark, and peat moss. Although good drainage is essential for containers, rocks at the bottom of the container are not necessary and will actually prevent drainage.
When you go to the nursery to buy plants, you will have a plan for your container – theme, plant type, color combinations, etc. Read the plant labels carefully. Growth form, sun and water requirements are listed. Look for healthy plants. Avoid plants with yellowed leaves. Look for excessive root growth at the bottom of the planter and check the root ball for crowded, tangled roots. (If necessary, the roots can be cut off at the bottom to allow the roots to spread for healthy growth).
What to choose – annual or perennial plants? Perennials may be slower to start, but overwinter and last for several growing seasons, while annuals die off in winter. Look for “thrillers, fillers, and spillers” that describe the growth habits of certain plants. Thrillers are larger plants, such as grasses, gaura, and foxglove-type plants. They offer architectural interest and should be the top of your plant selection. Fillers are bushier and fill in the lower areas under the larger thrillers. Examples of fillers are Heuchera, Coleus, Begonia, Gaillardia and Heliotrope. Spillers drape over the edges of the container and complement the design. Spillers can be nasturtium, dichondra, ivy, creeping thyme and mint. Herbs can also be divided into the same growing habits to add variety to a container.
Regardless of growth pattern, all plants in the same container should have similar sun and water requirements. Available sunlight can limit plant choices. Plants in full sun need 6-8 hours of direct sunlight. Many plants tolerate less sun but can become leggy. Many will do well with limited sun and will actually burn with full sun. Check the plants for burn spots and adjust the location if necessary.
Plants grown in containers need more attention to water requirements. Mulching can help reduce water loss and shade the roots. You can check the moisture content of the soil with moisture meters, but sticking your finger 2 to 3 inches into the soil will give you a good measure of the moisture in the soil. You can install a drip system for your containers, but check the system and monitor your planting—drip lines can clog or come loose.
To learn more about container gardening, watch the workshop recording on our website at https://ncmg.ucanr.org/.. Or, for gardening questions, visit Master Gardeners of Nevada County at the Grass Valley Market (in the Penny’s parking lot), Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
Learn more about managing garden pests at our upcoming free workshop, Integrated Pest Management for the Modern Gardener, June 18 at 10 a.m. at the Demonstration Garden, 1036 W. Main Street. At Also on June 18, but at 1 p.m., the third workshop in the series Family Fun – garden care in summer will take place. On June 25th we will present a workshop on houseplants. For more information, visit the MG website at.
Ann Wright is a Nevada County gardener