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Down the Garden Path
Fall 2013

Container Gardening: Thinking Outside the Pot
By Rachel Matthews, Heart of the Hills Garden Club

Containers can be originally intended for plants, or can be adapted from other purposes. When setting up a new container garden I try to consider scale, depth, drainage, and "companions".

Scale: How will the new container be put to use?

  • Will it grace a doorway?
  • Hang outside a window or near a deck?
  • Will it help to define an area or invite visitors to a part of your yard they might not otherwise visit?
  • Or do you want to screen off an area?
  • Will it be used as a cutting garden for flowers or herbs?
  • Are you aiming for bold or intimate?

Depth and drainage: Will the new plants need a deep pot for a hearty root system or can they grow shallow and still be happy?

  • Does the container have sufficient drainage or will you need to add holes?
  • Or do you want to set up a wicking system (see Resources)?
  • Will it be purely decorative or are you also growing food?
  • Will the plants outgrow their container quickly?

Other things to consider

  • Are the plants you have chosen ones that are happy with similar amounts of sun or shade, and are their watering needs compatible?
  • Will you need to replant as the seasons change or do you want a year-round garden of the same plants?
  • Will everything bloom at the same time or can you stagger the colors?
  • Do you want trailing, upright, or some combination or forms?
  • Are you thinking of a single container or a grouping? What sort of statement are you hoping for?

Not all of this has to be either/or. One of the nice things about containers is their versatility! If you find that your "garden" is getting too much (or not enough) sun, you can pick it up and relocate it!

Container Gardening: Thinking Outside the Pot

  • Bad weather coming? Move it to a sheltered spot!
  • No room for a garden? There's almost always room for a container of some kind, even on a small balcony.
  • You can grow a kitchen garden, fresh greens, certainly tomatoes; I have even grown potatoes in a container (and they were good!). Many seed houses (Johnny's, Burpee's etc) sell seeds for "miniature" edibles.
  • I have grown cabbage in planter boxes, and melons and snow peas and beans. Mmmm!

Containers also make watering and feeding simpler. While containers do tend to dry out and will need checking, they can easily be hand-watered and they make good sense in these uncertain times. You can amend your potting mixture with additives like peat and vermiculite to help your containers hold moisture longer, and you can plant things that will give you good color and form without requiring lots of care.

I have used and reused containers. You can use the containers that plants come in from nurseries, you can use found items, and you can create your own!

Recently I have set up two container gardens in cast-off fountains. They often have good drainage and they work well for me.

Do be sure, though, that if you are planting food (herbs, greens, tomatoes, etc.) you are not planting in anything that will leach any nastiness. If you are unsure, ask the county extension service.

Containers are great to plant with kids as well. The scale is manageable for them and results (plant some radishes in with your flowers, hint hint) are almost immediate! Think about adding containers (or more containers) to your garden. You never know who else might enjoy them!

Resources:

 
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Zilker Botanical Garden
Austin Area Garden Council

2220 Barton Springs Rd
Austin TX 78746
512.477.8672
info@zilkergarden.org