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How To Grow A Healthy, Vibrant Container Garden

Caladium in bloom.

Containers are it. Whether you’re gardening on a patio in the middle of a city, or have acres of land in the country, containers can – and should be – a gardeners’ best friend.

They add flare to front stoops and porches, as well as offer surprising pops of color when hung from fence posts. They also give the gardener an outlet to add MORE, even when the garden may not have any space.

I am a city gardener, so I have utilized containers on my property for years. Sometimes I go all out, planting a variety of Dahlias, Caladium and Gladiolus, as well as trolling the aisles of the garden center, looking for discounted annuals that I know just need a little tender, love and care. But other years I keep it simple, sprinkling low-growing wildflower seeds in empty pots and popping a few Caladium bulbs in a planter.

Sap buckets being planted with Dahlias, Gladiolus & Caladium.

I will admit that a must-have for my garden, year after year, are Caladium bulbs. They are just too easy to grow, it’s almost a crime not to. I drop the bulbs into a pot (usually in threes), water them to remove any air pockets and leave it for weeks. The spectacular, unique color that Caladiums bring to my garden is a constant conversation-starter with my friends and I’ve turned them all onto these shade-loving beauties.

Dahlias and Gladiolus can also be planted in pots – just make sure you use pots that are deep enough. Scattered throughout this post are photos of my sap bucket plantings this past season. You will notice the gorgeous blooms of the Dahlias and Caladium, but no Gladiolus. That’s because my sap buckets just weren’t large enough and my Gladiolus never bloomed. But that’s OK – I know for next year to try a deeper pot.

Shade-loving Begonias are also a favorite for container gardening, especially when planted in hanging pots. Once blooming, they instantly give off a romantic, cottage garden-y look.

Canna Lilies and Calla Lilies lend themselves to container gardening and are perfect for creating a tropical oasis on a balcony in the middle of New York – because why not? Also, if you love cut Calla Lilies (and who doesn’t) you could create a cut container garden, placing it near your door so it’s really easy to come out and cut your summer bouquets.

We have a variety of summer-blooming bulbs, including Nerine Lilies, Ranunculus, Rain Lilies and more, that thrive in containers. Many of these varieties are also low growing, meaning they can be planted in smaller pots and window boxes, creating a conversation-starter at the entrance of your home.

Dahlias in bloom.

And, of course, you can always plant smaller perennials in containers. Varieties like Lavender, Coral Bells, Sedum and more thrive in larger containers with well-draining soil. Designing a container with perennials is really like designing a small garden bed, you’ll want to make sure you put varieties together that require the same amount of light and that will complement each other with foliage and blooms at different times in the season.

Flowering Spurge, Sedum, Bee Balm & Coreopsis.

5 Steps to a Healthy, Vibrant Container Garden:

  • 1. Pots that drain! Purchase pots that have drainage holes in the bottom. And if you’re in love with a pot that doesn’t have a drainage hole (or want to turn sap buckets into containers) you can easily drill holes in the bottom. Adding broken pottery or anything of that sort just doesn’t cut it – there needs to be a drainage hole for your plant to thrive.
  • 2. A great potting soil mix. I use an organic potting soil mix that also helps with drainage.
  • 3. Organic fertilizer. At the time of planting, and every month or so, your container plants love a little organic fertilizer. Any all-purpose fertilizer will do the trick.
  • 4. Check your sunlight for plant placement! This is important; Caladium and Begonias thrive in some shade, Dahlias and Calla Lilies need full sun.
  • 5. Sometimes, plants will die. This is OK. This is life and I’m sure you all know that this is definitely gardening. Go through the checklist and if you’ve done everything right, maybe this plant just doesn’t like your garden. Make a note for next year.

I find the gardening off-season to be my favorite time to scheme and organize my spring planting, which includes taking stock of what did well in containers last year, what didn’t and figuring out why. I also make note of how many containers I have, what varieties I definitely want to plant and some new varieties to try. Happy (container) gardening, all!

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