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Guide To Container Gardening

Whether you live in a small city apartment or on a huge country estate, gardening in containers is a great way to add color and a natural ambiance to your home.

There are three important steps that need to be taken in order to create a successful container garden:

  • Selecting the pots
  • Getting the proper planting medium
  • Choosing the plant
In each of these steps, the key is to create a healthy environment for the plant roots to grow in. Water must be able to pass quickly through the soil to have a healthy root system. As water drains out of the soil it is replaced by air, and an exchange of carbon dioxide is made with the plant roots. This movement of air and water is essential to maintaining healthy plants.

Here are a few tips to help you choose from the wide array of available pots, boxes, and troughs:
  • Choose the spot for your garden first, then you can find a container suitable for it. For example, a country style wooden trough would not be suitable for a modern balcony. Neither would classic urn-shaped pots be suitable for a country style garden. And of course you need to pay attention to size and proportion issues.

  • You should carefully consider the weight of the container, both empty and filled with wet soil and your plants. If your outdoor space is frequented by strong prevailing breezes, the container must be heavy enough to keep it from blowing over.

    Additionally, the structure that you place the container on must be able to support it. A large concrete trough wouldn't be suitable for a wooden porch or balcony, and a six foot wooden trough would need a super strong ledge if you wanted to use it as a window box.

  • Clay pots are attractive and make an excellent choice for a wide range of flowering plants and foliage. They're the traditional potting container because they drain well and they wick moisture through their sides. This ensures a drier root environment which helps prevent root diseases. But it also means you'll need to water more often. If you tend to underwater your plants, only drought tolerant plants should be used in terra cotta pots.

    Remember that clay pots can be pretty heavy. They also must be protected in colder climates during the winter months in order to prevent cracking.

    A glazed clay container is non-porous which creates a moisture barrier. Since this will prevent the root system from breathing, glazed pots are best used with a regular terra cotta pot placed inside of them.

  • Plastic pots are inexpensive, lightweight and very functional. They're also available in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, and colors. If you don't like the look of plastic, you can simply apply a faux finish or slip the plastic pots inside other more attractive containers.

    With the proper soil mixture and regular watering, plants do very well in plastic pots. Plastic pots make a better choice than terra cotta if you tend to underwater your plants, but they may need to be weighted down to keep them in place on windy days.

  • Wood containers look very good in country environments, and most plants will do well in them. Wood allows water to drain better than plastic, but it doesn't have the wicking advantage of clay. And wood containers can be pretty heavy when planted.

    Select containers made of cedar, redwood, or cypress because these woods are less susceptible to rot over time. Lining wood containers with heavy duty plastic provides added protection from moisture, but be sure to provide proper drainage.

  • Metal containers make an excellent choice for use in modern settings. Galvanized containers are very good for planting because they won't leach any chemicals or rust into the soil. Unless the container was originally designed to be used as a planter, you'll need to drill drainage holes in the bottom of it.

  • "Found" items can add a bit of whimsy and variety to your container garden. If you're going to plant directly in teapots, old boots, watering cans, or wheelbarrows, be sure to ensure drainage and air movement around the roots of the plants.
Container gardening is a fun way to add a touch of country to any setting. And if properly cared for, your plants (and their containers) will thrive and provide beauty and freshness to your home and garden.

Debbie Rodgers is the owner and operator of Paradise Porch. She is dedicated to helping people create outdoor living spaces that nurture and enrich them. Visit her at

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