Gardening in Containers

Gardening in containers, planters, boxes, and pots can be extremely rewarding if you know the secrets to keeping your flowers happy during the hot summer months.

Gardening in Containers – 5 Easy Steps to Success

gardening in containers

Gardening in Containers can be extremely rewarding if you know the secrets to keeping your flowers happy during the hot summer months. This article will discuss the planting and care of flowers pots that you have planted yourself, or are about to plant, not the ‘hangers’ that you see in abundance in garden centers, grocery stores and florists. While those are beautiful and often inspired works of horticultural art, the pots are too small and the soil too light to support the many flowers planted in them. Shriveled plants are not a happy sight so why choose these inferior planted products summer after summer? Read on to find out how to make summer container gardens that remain beautiful right up until first frost.

First step for a long-lasting container gardenBUY HEALTHY PLANTS

Find the appropriate plants that will thrive in either hot humid, or hot dry weather, depending on where you live. Your container plants can be annuals or perennials, or even dwarf shrubs. Shop at a well tended garden center where plants are cared for consistently. Plants that have wilted over and over again are very stressed and will take a long time to bounce back. Some garden centers refresh their stock regularly, and some don’t. I recommend frequenting the shops that receive fresh plants weekly or bi-weekly.


gardening in containers

Use the right soil mix in your containers. In a garden trug or wheelbarrow mix a light vermiculite based planting medium 1: 1 with compost or composted manure and a little bit of grit or course sand. Please don’t use compost made from sludge, or anything that smells or looks nasty to you. Don’t use dehydrated cow manure or chicken manure. Good compost should smell sweet and be a pleasure to touch and work with. The idea here is to create a soil mix that has water holding capacity that the compost provides as well as good drainage and aeration that the sand provides. Into your soil mix you should also add polymer particles, such as ‘Soil Moist’, following directions carefully. These water-absorbing polymer particles are designed to hold water in the soil after the soil itself as dried out. When full of water these particles look like little jagged pieces of clear Jell-O. And to top it off sprinkle in some granulated fertilizer. Now you are ready to fill your containers.


gardening in containers

Start with good quality containers. Large containers are far superior to small containers when it comes to successfully maintaining a long-lasting container garden. Terracotta dries out faster than glazed ceramic/terracotta and plastic.

Most plants respond enthusiastically to deep cool soil that stays moist consistently. Self-watering containers, as they are known, are not really self-watering! They just have a built in reservoir in the bottom of the pot, under a platform inside the pot that holds the soil. The dry soil above sucks up water through capillary action from the reservoir below. There is a tube with a cap connected to the reservoir that reaches up from the reservoir to peek out the top of the soil enabling you to fill the reservoir. These can help a lot with keeping your containers consistently moist.

Notice that I use the work ‘consistent’ a lot in this article. Plants, like children and all living things, need consistent loving care.

Rolling plant stands, or rolling plant caddies as they are also called,  are a really good idea for large containers on a deck or smooth patio. They give you flexibility as to where you site your containers because you can move them around easily, and lift the container off of the surface. That is crucial especially so wooden decks don’t rot, and stone patios don’t stain.

Fourth Step – PROPER WATERING OF CONTAINER GARDENSgardening in containers

This fourth step is kind of obvious, but still requires mentioning and discussion. You must realize that rain is not adequate for watering containers. What a relief when we see in the forecast that there will be rain and we think we can skip watering. Not so fast. You might get your garden beds watered this way, if they are out in the open and not under trees, but normal rain is not enough to soak your containers, even the small ones. Containers need regular, thorough soakings for the plants to thrive and flower like you want them to.

They should be kept moist, not wet. Your containers may dry out after just one hot day but may be all right in dry soil until the next morning’s watering.  If plants can’t make it for 24 hours without water you’ll need to water them in the evening as well. Smaller containers will dry out faster than larger ones, obviously.

If you can’t water while you are on vacation, try to rope someone in to help, a fellow gardener who understands the importance of proper watering, or install a container irrigation system. Very cheap and relatively easy using kits from places like Lee Valley and Gardeners Supply. As long as you have a working water faucet nearby, an irrigation system designed just for container plants can help you immensely in your goal to have flowers until frost.


Although you put some granulated fertilizer in the soil mix, that fertilizer will be depleted within 2 to 3 months. Start watering weekly or bi-weekly with liquid fertilizer 10-15-10 or 20-20-20 or similar. Never fertilize in the hot sun, or into very dry soil. Never use more than the directions say. One of the downsides to using chemicals is that if you use too much you can really damage your plants. Not true with organic fertilizers, generally speaking, although too much of anything is never a good idea!

I like to use a mix of liquid fish and seaweed emulsion. If the smell is not for you, then use a chemical liquid fertilizer. (I break the organic rules occasionally when it comes to container plantings since the soil is contained in a pot and not part of the larger ecosystem, really \ : 0.  I will use Peter’s liquid chemical fertilizer at times when I don’t want to smell the odor of fish and seaweed emulsion to hang around for a day or two.

Trim off the spent blooms regularly. When and if the plants grow long and spindly, trim way back and wait for new growth and a new crop of blossoms! This may take a couple of weeks. If you can’t wait that long, replace the spent plants with new fresh plants. Million Bells (Calibrachoa) is my favorite annuals. It comes in some super gorgeous new colors. But it will get long and ugly and eventually need shearing.

And petunias, for example, are often beleaguered with tiny green caterpillars (offspring of those little white butterflies that flit about the blossoms) that eat every flower bud no matter how small it is. The results are no more flowers, just ugly stems. It can be best to replace these petunias for something else. I avoid petunias for this reason although they do miss their heavenly evening fragrance! Million bells look like mini-petunias without the fragrance.

If you faithfully follow these steps, I promise you that your container garden will survive and bloom until first frost.


  • Impatiens doesn’t need to be trimmed or deadheaded.  Trim foliage plants like Coleus and Licorice to control size.
  • Don’t be worried if there is some yellowing and dropping of leaves as the plants become accustomed to their new environment.
  • gardening in containers takes some experimentation and patience!

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Julia has been practicing green cleaning for several years as the owner of As You Like It Home Cleaning and organic gardening for almost 20 years running Julia Houriet Custom Gardening. She studied landscape design at Radcliffe Seminars in Cambridge Massachusetts. Her expertise is gleaned from education and years of experience.

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