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Container Gardening

Planting in containers provides colour and interest throughout your garden and home. It’s also the perfect space saving solution, and a great winter ‘pick me up’ project. From herbs to vegetables, flowers to palms, the options of what can be planted in pots are endless.

Choose your own look and style to create stunning displays. The options for containers to plant in are endless. With imagination, you can develop an eclectic array of kettles, cups, pots or whatever you can get your hands on, to fill with plantings. Here are few tricks to ensure your success:

Choosing a container

There are no hard and fast rules to choosing the right container for planting, however it does help to bear in mind some common sense guidelines.

  • Larger pots are easy to look after, as they are less prone to drying out.
  • Large pots allow you to plant more than one species of plant, creating variety.
  • Consider the weight if you like moving them around occasionally; otherwise keep your pots in a permanent position.
  • Smaller pots are great for filling in areas like windowsills, small decks and porches.
  • Pot shape is important; a narrow base will be prone to topple over if not supported well.
  • Beware the pot with a narrow neck; re-potting will be an issue and you may have to sacrifice the pot to do so.

What potting mix to use

The quality of the potting mix is usually determined by price; the cheaper the mix the less growth nutrients it has. For successful container gardening you need to use the best mix you can afford as this will promote healthy plant growth and development.

  • If you are planting vegetables or herbs then the decision is easy. There are specifically blended potting mixes to suit plants such as tomatoes, vegetables, herbs and strawberries.
  • Palms and flowers require a mix that has long-term fertiliser added. The bag will state (in months) how long the fertiliser will last for.
  • Keeping the container watered adequately is key to successful plant growth.
  • Choosing a mix that has an added water retention product, such as Saturaid, helps greatly.
  • Saturaid can be added to existing pots that have become too dry.

Choosing plants

This is the area where your taste and style come into play; it’s your space so experiment. Plants are never wasted and, if they don’t work out the way you planned, put them in the garden. You can grow anything in containers and this gives you endless options to express your creativity. There are a few things to consider when choosing your plants:

  • The conditions that the plant requires in the ground are the same for a pot.
  • If you have a very sunny deck or patios then choose plants that like the sun.
  • Herbs make great container plants and can be mixed with flowers.
  • Use a color wheel if you want to match colours.
  • Use lighter foliage to lighten up a dark area.
  • Use annuals to fill holes in more permanent plantings
  • Try to avoid vigorous growing plants as they will soon outgrow their pots and begin to suffer.
  • Envisage the eventual height of the plant; will it balance the size of the pot?
  • Container gardening means providing the right soil conditions for the right plant. Plants that like acid-rich soils are not suited to the garden, but thrive in a container with specific soil conditions.

How to feed

You’ve chosen potting mix with a fertiliser, however it will only last for the time stated on the bag…but the feeding needs of plants continues. Successful pot plants do require feeding and care.

  • If the plants are staying in the container, add some slow-release fertiliser after a season.
  • Scratch up the surface of the soil and add in the fertiliser, then top up the soil level.
  • Liquid fertilisers should be used on a regular basis as they are the best way to get your plants the extra nutrients.
  • Mix up liquid fertilisers in a watering can and water them into the soil.

WARNING - When using bagged potting mix, please follow the instructions on the bag. All potting mix can carry Legionnaires disease, so following the opening instructions on the bag is essential. Follow these same precautions when using potting mix that you have had stored.

How important is watering?

Soil in pots can be susceptible to drying out, as these are plants that are more exposed to the sun. Often the failure of plants in pots will be due to them drying out. Potting mix will shrink as it dries out. This becomes evident when you apply water and it appears to go straight through the soil and drain out the bottom. Here are some tips to help with your watering regime:

  • Water well and give the soil a good soaking.
  • Check for moisture content by sticking your finger in the soil or scratching away the surface.
  • Think about grouping your pots together, as this will make watering easier.
  • Using pebbles for decorative effect will also act as protective mulch and help to conserve and retain water.
  • Use Saturaid by scratching it into the top layer and watering in well.
  • Potting mix will settle, so ensure there is a minimum 50mm gap from the soil to the top of the pot to prevent water flowing over the top when you water.

General tips for success

  • Drainage is important in pots so check that you have enough. A container with insufficient holes will retain water and waterlog your plants. Plastic or wooden pots allow you to make more holes and improve drainage.
  • Other types of pots may require the use of bits of broken pots or rubble to help with drainage.
  • If you are placing your containers on a wooden deck, use pot feet to raise your pots up so they don’t mark the wood. Pot feet will also help with drainage.
  • Slugs and snails like your plants wherever they are, so you will need to supply them with slug and snail protection.
  • When re-using old pots, give them a wash with bleach to prevent transferring pests or diseases.
  • Potting mixes have a ‘use by’ date. Old, dry and dusty mix will be of no benefit to your new plants, so always use fresh mix.
  • Aging your pots requires an alternative method – paint the outside with yogurt and it will quickly start the process of growing mould.
  • Pots can go in the garden as well; they will give your garden some height. Pots that are broken or have no base are perfect, as the plant will push its roots in to the garden soil.
  • Keep the weeds out as they will compete for food and water
  • Dividing plants is still necessary; this is a good time to freshen up the soil before you replant.
  • If you’re going away for a long period of time, put your pots in the garden to give them some protection from the sun.
  • If you are spraying for bugs and diseases in the garden, do the same for your pots.