By Tracy Beaufeaux, Wright County Extension Master Gardener.
Container gardens are ideal for people with little or no garden space, and they are an easy way to grow a wide variety of flowers, veggies and herbs with easy access right outside your door. Container gardens can be filled with single species, like a large colorful flower or a cherry tomato to munch on right on your deck. They are also great for combinations, with flowers it’s good to have a thriller, a spiller, and a filler, and with veggies and herbs it’s great to match up flavors and purposes, like everything you need for fresh salsa all in one big pot
What about the container, is bigger better? Larger containers are easier on plants as they hold more soil, stay moist longer and are less subject to rapid temperature fluctuations. Maximum size (and weight) of a container is limited by how much room you have, what will support it, and whether or not you plan to move it. Drainage is essential. Holes in the bottom of the pot don’t need to be large but enough to adequately drain excess water. Waterlogged plants can’t get enough oxygen and will die.
What do I fill it with? Use a quality container mix- not garden soil. If your mix seems very heavy add perlite for drainage. These mixes can be found at any garden center or home improvement store. Every year, switch out, at minimum, the top third of the soil in the pot or all of it if the pot is small. Potting soil is easily depleted of nutrients from watering and plant uptake.
How do I care for it? Water container plants thoroughly, wet all the soil in the pot until it runs out of the bottom. How often depends on many factors such as weather, plant size, and pot size. Don’t let soil in containers dry out completely, as it is hard to rewet. Fertilize every other week by watering with diluted fish emulsion, compost tea, or all-purpose fertilizer added to your watering can. You can also use a slow release granular or pelletized fertilizer at the beginning and middle of the season, especially if watering with a hose. Remove tattered leaves and deadhead spent flowers. Prune back plants that get leggy or stop blooming.
What should I plant? That depends on the container’s location. Is the site mostly sunny, mostly shady, windy, or sheltered? The nice thing about containers is that if they are doing poorly in one site you may be able to move them to a different location where they will thrive. Almost any vegetable, flower, herb, shrub, or small tree can grow successfully in a container. Try a theme, pizza? Salad? Herbs? Read the tags for sizes and needs and get creative. For flower containers that remain attractive all summer long, look for warm-weather annuals that bloom all summer or have foliage that remains attractive. Get creative with foliage color and texture. Geraniums, marigolds, wax begonias, coleus, petunias, snapdragons, impatiens are all good choices, but you will find many, many more in garden centers and seed catalogs. Experiment, and if one plant doesn’t work out, don’t worry about it—just cut it down (or carefully yank it out) and try something else. Gardening is always an experiment. Get out your green thumbs and have fun!