Planter How-to

By Maggie Reed

July 3, 2008 5 min read


Beginner's tips to get a container garden growing

By Maggie Reed

Copley News Service

Whether you live in a small apartment or a mansion, container gardening is an imaginative, wonderful way to add color and texture to your landscape. With planters from small to large, container gardening's versatility fits any space - even a sunny windowsill can become botanical and beautiful.

Containers also allow you to easily change the look of your garden or patio just by rearranging the pots.

When you begin your container gardening experience, here are some points to consider from "Container Plants for Beginners" by Joachim Mayer (Barron's, $19):


They come in many shapes, sizes and materials. Be sure to choose a container that fits your space. If you plan on moving the pots, watch for weight.

- Plastic containers are light and inexpensive. However, their durability depends on the quality.

- Earthenware pots have fine pores that permit beneficial exchange of air in the root region. For the same reason, moisture evaporates through the walls and creates white calcification. They also tend to be heavy, break easily and are not frost-proof.

- Wooden containers are moderately heavy, frost-proof and not necessarily expensive. Make sure the protective coating is nontoxic to plants. It is also best to set them off the ground to prevent rotting.

- Cement containers breathe well, are frost-proof and inexpensive but they are heavy and susceptible to breakage.

- Metal containers can release toxins to plants and tend not to have drainage holes. So, drill some holes and line with plastic. Bubble-wrap works well, and also adds insulation, but be sure to poke holes in it, too.

- Terra cotta is one of the most versatile types of pots coming in every shape, size, texture and design you could imagine. The naturally porous material supplies oxygen to the roots and ensures good drainage. As the pots age and the weather does it thing, the look of the pots change and add a unique character to each.

Remember, if you can make it hold soil and provide proper drainage, you can grow plants in it - shoes, old kitchen pots and pans, coconut shells ... even the kitchen sink, if you are so inclined.


First of all, make sure your pots are clean.

When reusing pots, clean thoroughly with hot water, a little bleach and dish detergent. Scrub away as much dirt and mineral deposits as possible using steel wool or a wire-bristle brush. A knife can be used to remove any remaining deposits. Rinse the pots off with fresh water and you're ready to go.

Make sure there are drainage holes in your pots and add a good layer of gravel or broken crockery at the bottom to help prevent roots from getting waterlogged.

Fill the containers about 80 percent full with a good-quality potting soil. Pat down lightly. Break up the root ball gently before planting to encourage the roots to branch out. After placing each plant, put a little soil around it to keep the plant secure. You can place plants close to each other for an instant finish, or spread them out a bit to allow for future growth.

When all your plants are in, add more soil to bring the level to an inch or two from the plant rim. The root balls should be about an inch below the soil. Finally, water the container thoroughly.


What you choose to plant will depend on where you live and what season you are planning to plant.

A plethora of flowers, trees, vegetables, succulents and more are available. It's best to check with your local nursery.

When buying plants, make sure they are healthy and show no signs of disease or pest infestation. You can buy your plants in supermarkets; however, nurseries offer more guarantees of healthy, well-cared for plants along with expert advice.


It's a bit of trial and error. Plants are living things and as such will sometimes behave in unpredictable ways. You may need to move a plant so it receives more sun. Others may need more shade.

But above all, water and fertilize. The amount of water needed varies from plant to plant, but the rule of thumb is don't overwater. Don't water in the blazing sun and don't water too late in the evening as cooler temperatures on damp leaves promote some fungus diseases. Also make sure water gets between the leaves.

Once flowers have come and gone, cut them back. Leaves that have yellowed, dried or turned brown also have to come off. If you spot signs of disease, immediately get rid of that part of the plant as well.

Use your imagination and have fun. You will find the possibilities endless.

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