Container Gardening

One of the trends in gardening and landscaping today is the increasing use of decorative containers. Any object that holds soil in which a plant can be grown is fair game. The benefits of container gardening is offset with challenges as well. This page discusses this aspect of outdoor ornamantal gardening.

Benefits and Advangtages

Disadvantages and Challenges

A solution to gardening in very limited and small places

Container grown plants require more watering depending on container material. Clay dries out much faster than plastic, ceramic or metal pots.

Adds decorative aspect and variety to a garden – like a garden ornament

Potted plants require more frequent fertilizing

Can control soil and grow special need plants in a microenvironment

Porous pots build up mineral deposits that can harm a plant over time.

Mini water gardens for aquatic plants can be created using solid containers

In winter, plant roots freeze much easier in pots and containers

Easily transportable to change locations for a pot without shock

Plants need to be repotted to larger sized pots as they grow

How to Properly Plant in a Container

  1. Make sure any container has sufficient drainage holes in the bottom.
  2. Do not use saucers that retain water on the bottom of any pots.
  3. Cover drainage holes with screen or panty hose fabric to allow water, not soil to drain out.
  4. Tease the roots of the plant before planting in a container.
  5. Fill with a well draining soil misture suitable for the type of plant to be grown in the container.
  6. Leave at least an inch of head room for watering.
  7. Water newly potted plants twice to allow for initial compacting.
  8. Mulch potted plants with a mulching material suitable for the plant being used.

Choosing a Plant for a Container

  • Shape of container determines the shape of the plant to use to obtain the proper symmetry.
  • Plant succulent plants in porous containers, others in more moisture retaining containers.
  • Location of container is a factor in plant choice, e.g. sun/shade and wind level in immediate environment.
  • Taller heavier plants need heavier pots to support them, esp. for outdoors
  • Color/texture of plant foliage and flowers should coordinate with container color and texture.
  • Containers look best in groupings, therefore plant choices must be compatibled with the entire grouping.

Placement of Container Grown Plants

Container grown plants can be used anywhere.

1. In and among garden bed plants

2. Along sidewalks and entrances

3. On decks, terraces, top of walls

4. Along walls and fences and in corners

5. Under trees and overhangs

6. As hanging plants, if containers are light enough

7. In clusters of 3 or more for artistic effect

Suggested Mulches for Container Top Dressing

1. River gravel, small stones, or crushed granite – especially for cacti or succulents.

2. Ground hardwood mulch or pine bark for plants needing organic ingredients,

3. Any non-toxic decorative material that is aesthetically pleasing and effective, e.g. ground glass.



#1: Often large containers are very heavy and difficult to move when filled completely with soil. Try filling the bottom of a deep pot or container with light fillers (e.g. pine bark), leafving enough soil on top to provide for your plant’s growing needs. This lightens the load as well as provides for excellent drainage and aeration.

#2: Clay pots build up mineral deposits that can cause excessive salinity to filter into the soil in addition to looking bad. The best way to clean them is with an equal one-third solution of vinegar, rubbing alcahol, and water (and of course scrub brush and elbow grease). To make a pot look old, dip it in cold water and let it set in a shady cool area for a week. Algae will form which will not harm plants.

#3: Tired of clay pots breaking, plastic pots becoming brittle and cracking – try making your own indestructible containers using galvanized buckets, drilling holes in the botytom and spray painting the exterior. A wash tub size makes a good water garden also – without drainage holes of course. This is much cheaper than purchasing decor containers (made overseas). Galvanized containers are much lighter and easier to handle, plus are recyclable.

#4: Dark colored containers absorb heat more than light or reflective colors. They will dry the soil faster., requiring more frequent watering.

#5: Recycle nursery containers. Many nurseries propagate their own plants and will gladly take them to reuse, saving them production cost which passes the saving to the consumer. Most nursery containers or plastic potts are not commercially recyclable and otherwise end up in a landfill.


A water lily or other aquatic plants can be grown very effectively in solid containers. For water lilies, use dwarf or miniature varieties and set potted plants 6 to 18″ below the surface of the water. For other aquatic plants, a shallower container would be better as they should be grown like a bog plantg with clay soil to take root and slightly submerged in water.

I find Nymphea x “Helvoia” to be an ideal water lily for containers. It is a miniature, cold hardy – can survive even in icy waters, blooms perfusely throughout the warmer months and is virtually carefree.

I also placed a 4″ goldfish in the tub and it thrives under the lily leaves. I also placed the container on a deck where it can be easily seen and enjoyed.

Give this easy type of gardening a try.

THRILLERS, FILLERS, AND SPILLERS – A Simple Three Step Recipe for Container Plant Design

  • THRILLERS: A centerpiece plant with star quality – something big, bold and beautiful – attention getting plants.
  • (Examples: Cannas, Brugmansias, Ornamental Grasses, Cordyline, Bananas, Flax, Hibiscus, Papyrus, Yuccas, Caladiums, Begonias, etc)
  • FILLERS: Flowering or foliage plants that complement but not overwhelm the “thriller”. Adds mass to the pot and hides base of the “thriller”.
  • (Examples: Betunias, Coleus, Marigolds, small grasses, Begonias, Pentas, Dusty Miller, Dianthus, Artemesias, Heuchera, Bulbine, Mums, ferns)
  • SPILLERS: Tumbles out of the pot – a graceful cascading plant that softens the pot’s edges.
  • (Examples: Lysimachia, sweet potato vines, Verbena, Ivies, Potrulaca, Silver Pony Foot, Vincas, Sedums, Ice Plant, etc)

You are not limited to three plants so put your atristic touch and talent to work and have fun creating a beautiful container pllant display.


ELEMENT OF SCALE: Bigger pots need bigger plants and smaller pots need smaller plants

ELEMENT OF CONTRAST: Color, texture, and shapes should be different but complimentary

ELEMENT OF VIEW: From all sides of the pot, elements should be equal, except when “thriller” is used at the rear of the pot for one sided view.

ELEMENT OF ENVIRONMENT: Select plants for sun or shade, or suitable lighting for the pot location.


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