GET GROWING: Secrets of successful container gardening

Group containers together to create a potted garden on a deck or patio.

Group containers together to create a potted garden on a deck or patio. – Niki Jabbour

It’s been a challenging spring to be a gardener, but the warmer temperatures have finally arrived and it’s time to get planting. My vegetable beds are now done and I’ve turned my attention to the empty pots waiting on my shady front deck and sunny back patio.

Planting up container gardens is a fun and easy way to add colour to outdoor spaces and it offers the opportunity to get creative. You can grow flowers, foliage plants, or food in pots, just be sure to match the plant to the site. In the shade, stick to shade-loving plants like coleus, begonias, silver falls dichondra, elephant ears, and ivy. In sun, the sky’s the limit with local nurseries offering a very wide selection of annuals for sunny spaces.

Don’t be shy about mixing and matching foliage, flowers, forms, and textures. Of course, sometimes less is more and having a container of one type of plant can also be eye-catching, especially when paired with a stylish pot.

Crystal Godfrey, the owner of Secret Gardens by Crystal suggests planting perennial plants alongside annuals in your containers.

“Perennials add so much interest and then at the end of the season you can take them out of the container and move them to a garden bed,” she says.

Her favourite perennials for pots include coral bells, hosta and ornamental grasses.

Herbs and vegetables also make excellent container plants and can be planted with other edibles or mixed into pots with ornamental plants. When selecting vegetables for pots, pay attention to varieties. Dwarf or determinate tomatoes like patio, sweet ’n’ neat, or terenzo, or cucumbers like salad bush or pick-a-bushel are all ideal for sunny pots and planters.

When planting a container garden, consider the thriller, filler, spiller technique pioneered by designer Steve Silk. It recommends using a tall dramatic plant, (the thriller) in the center or back of the container. The fillers are bushy plants that take up the majority of the pot and spillers are the trailing plants, like sweet potato vine which cascade over the side.

Sometimes just using one type of plant in a pot, in this case a begonia, makes a bold statement. - Niki Jabbour
Sometimes just using one type of plant in a pot, in this case a begonia, makes a bold statement. – Niki Jabbour

Five container garden essentials

1. Picking pots

Select containers that have drainage holes. Good drainage is essential to plant health and if water is allowed to sit in pots after a rain or watering, the plants will suffer. Also keep in mind that porous materials like terra cotta dry out quicker than pots made from wood, plastic, or fibreglass.

2. The right soil mix

Fill containers with a lightweight, well-draining potting mix, not heavy garden soil. Jessica Walliser, the author of the best-selling book, Container Gardening Complete recommends using a 50-50 blend of potting mix and compost in pots. The compost holds soil moisture and adds some nutrients. This is also a good time to incorporate a slow release organic fertilizer into the soil blend.

3. Watering

Caring for container gardens isn’t difficult, but you’ll need to stay on top of watering, with a daily irrigation likely needed for containers in a sunny location. Pay particular attention to vegetables in containers, like tomatoes, which can respond to water stress with a reduced yield.

4. Fertilizing

As noted, it’s a good idea to add a slow-release fertilizer when you fill your containers with potting mix and compost. I then supplement with a liquid organic fertilizer added to my watering can every two weeks to ensure a steady supply of nutrients.

5. Deadheading duty

Deadheading is the regular removal of spent flowers. Once flowers fade, use a sharp pair of garden shears to remove the dead blooms of plants like petunias, geraniums, zinnias, and African daisies. This will encourage fresh flowers and prolong the blooming period.

Niki Jabbour is a radio host and the best-selling author of three gardening books, including Veggie Garden Remix. Find her on social media and at SavvyGardening.com.

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