Container gardening is very rewarding, and is especially suited to people who live in apartments or home units. Potted plants can be very decorative and, with the new range of pots and containers now on the market, can be used to create attractive focal points in your garden.
To be a successful container gardener you must choose the right plant for your situation and follow some basic rules.
Always use a good quality potting mix (not soil) for your containers. Soil is variable and often too poorly drained to use in pots. Potting mixes should have adequate drainage, good wettability, and suitable nutrient levels and pH. Thrive Premium is a good example of a top quality mix.
Size of Pot
Remember that pots dry out much more readily than soil and are also more likely to be affected by the surrounding air temperature. The larger the pot, the easier it will be to look after. Large pots retain moisture and maintain a more even temperature but it’s a good idea, for aesthetic reasons, to keep the size of the plant in proportion to the container. A small plant in a large container looks like the proverbial ‘pimple on a pumpkin’!
Type of Container
There’s a wide selection of different containers available, each with its pluses and minuses. They include:
Terracotta: Traditional terracotta pots are made from fired clay. They are attractive and fairly expensive. Because they’re porous they lose moisture from the sides but the evaporation from the pot sides helps the mix to stay cooler.
Plastic: Lightweight and economical, plastic pots come in a wide range of colors. Because of their non-porous sides they help to retain the moisture in the potting mix. Black plastic pots absorb heat, which can raise the temperature of the mix to unacceptably high levels.
Glazed Pots: Ceramic Pots are waterproofed with a clear glaze coating. Depending on the size, they can be very expensive.
Potted plants need to be fertilized regularly during their growing period. The easiest way to do this is to use controlled release pellets or, if you prefer something organic, Dynamic Lifter. Liquid fertilisers , Thrive Soluble and Nature’s Way Multi-nutrient Plant Food can also be used but need to be reapplied fairly frequently (at least once every two weeks during the growing season.) If you use dry, granular fertilizer take special care to moisten the potting mix before applying and water well afterwards to dissolve the fertilizer salts. Because the root system of a potted plant is confined it is more likely to be burnt by dry fertilizers.
It is impossible to give a set regime for watering container plants. The best rule is to give plants a good drink when the top centimeter of the potting mix feels dry. It can be helpful to pretend that the container is empty and you are filling it with water – this gives a good indication of how much water is needed. Make sure that the water drains freely and is not left sitting in a saucer underneath the pot. Use a water breaker on your hose so that you don’t ‘blast’ the mix out of the pot.
Water holding crystals – polymer granules that absorb and hold moisture – can be added to the potting mix before planting or can be placed in holes around the root system of an established potted plant.
If your pot is in a very hot position, or is made of a porous material such as terracotta, consider using a specialized potting mix That contains water holding crystals to help retain moisture in hot and dry situations.
Container plants that have dried out can be difficult to re-wet. Treat the mix with a soil wetter . Mulch the top of the potting mix with a layer of organic mulch.
Hanging baskets look delightful but need very special care. Those in the shade are relatively easy to look after but, if hanging in the sun, baskets dry out very quickly. Wire baskets with fiber or bark linings are attractive but it’s wise to put a sheet of plastic inside the liner. Poke a few holes in the plastic sheet to allow drainage before filling with hanging basket potting mix. After planting and watering, any plastic sheet that is visible can be trimmed away with a pair of scissors. The plastic sheet won’t be seen but will make a huge difference to the water-holding ability of the basket.
Plastic hanging baskets are easier to care for because they retain more moisture than wire baskets. The same rule applies with baskets as with other pots – the bigger the container, the easier it is to look after.