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Growing Plants in Containers

annuals in container

Most annual flowers, perennials, herbs, and vegetables grow well in containers, as long as you choose the right pot and care for the plants properly. We'll guide you in how to choose containers, choose soil for your containers, proper planting techniques, and how to care for your container plants. 

There are many benefits to growing in containers:

  • You can grow plants wherever you want, as long as the light conditions match the plants' needs.
  • You can use your creativity in mixing and matching containers and plants.
  • You can grow plants that aren't hardy in your region, because you can move pots to a sheltered location during cold weather.
  • You can provide the optimal soil type for your plants. If your garden soil is heavy clay, you can grow plants that prefer well-drained soil, like lavender and rosemary, in pots filled with a fast-draining potting mix.
  • You can enjoy the beauty and fragrance of herbs and flowers close up, and harvest fresh produce right from your doorstep.

Choosing Containers

Drainage. First and foremost, make sure your container has drainage holes. If you'll be placing the container on a solid surface, make sure the drainage holes aren't blocked. If they are, try placing the planter on "pot feet," casters or on a tray of pebbles. The number one rule of container growing: Water must be able to drain freely.

Material.Water evaporates through the walls of porous containers, like those made from unglazed terra cotta and wood. That usually means you'll need to water more often than plants in nonporous pots. But the porosity can be a good thing for plants that prefer soil on the dry side, like most succulents. Nonporous pots, like those made from plastic, resin and glazed terra cotta, hold in moisture better.

Self-Watering. Self-watering pots contain a water reservoir and wicking system so water is delivered to the plants as they need it. This not only reduces the frequency with which you'll need to add water, it also provides a better growing environment for plants by providing consistent moisture.

Size. In general, small pots dry out more quickly that large pots. Those little unglazed terra cotta pots look lovely but may need watering multiple times on a hot, sunny day. Placing a nonporous plastic pot within a porous pot helps retain moisture. Very large containers, on the other hand, can retain too much water for small plants or those that prefer relatively dry soil. You'll need to check soil moisture before watering so you don't overdo it.

Choosing Soil for Your Containers

Use a high-quality potting soil in your containers. Don't use garden soil, which often drains poorly and may contain disease organisms. Remember that the plants' roots are confined to a relatively limited space so you want to give them everything they need for optimum growth.

Planting Techniques

Don't overcrowd vegetables, herbs and perennials in the containers. Consider their mature size and choose the pots accordingly. Overcrowded containers lead to root-bound plants and the poor air circulation around crowded plants can lead to diseases problems.

Set plants in the container at the same height as they were in their nursery pots. Don't leave roots exposed, and don't bury stems. Plant seeds at the recommended garden depth.

Care and Feeding

The biggest difference between plants growing in containers and those growing in the ground is that container plants will need more frequent watering and fertilizing, because the roots are confined and have limited soil from which to take up water and nutrients.

As with all garden plants, you'll need to keep an eye out for pest and disease problems, but container plants are often less prone to infestation and infection. Sitting on a deck or patio, they're isolated from garden plants, and they aren't exposed to the soil-borne pests in the garden.

Container Happy Plants