Containers Equal Instant Gardens

Written by: Jackie Zilliox  | Reprinted from Summer 2007
If you’re going to create a landscaped garden, it takes time, money and a plan. Usually, because of the reasons mentioned, you have to create landscaped gardens in phases to achieve the overall full look you have in your mind’s eye. But with container gardening you can use mature plants and have an instant garden.
Container gardens are especially helpful when trying to soften the edges and corners of hardscapes. A grouping of potted plants on a patio is the perfect solution to break up a large expanse of wall, create a screen for privacy, or use as a focal point elsewhere in the garden.
Containers come in all shapes and forms. To begin with, you can use anything you want for a container. An old wheelbarrow, window box, urn, glazed pot or items tagged for the dump. Some of the old favorites include containers made of terra cotta, cast iron, wood, cement and glazed ceramic. The newer container materials are hypertufa, which looks like stone but has less weight, and fiberglass that is frost-proof and feather-light. But before buying your containers, consider what type of plants you want. If your plants are very tall, or wide, the container size should be in scale with the plants. A good rule of thumb–buy bigger than you think you need.

“Proper drainage for container gardening is imperative,” says Ann Waring, St. Mary’s County master gardener. “You can use natural coffee filters to cover holes in the bottom, they last one season. Drywall joint tape is also a good option, dirt doesn’t come out and they last several years.”
The next important step for a container garden is growing medium. When you place a lot of plants in a small space, you’ve really got to use good potting soil, preferably one with a fertilizer in it.
“I use Green World-Magic Earth Premium Planting Mix,” says Waring. “It is a good soil amendment. However, composting is preferable.”
Ray Greenstreet, of Greenstreet Gardens in Lothian, recommends a new product called Potter’s Gold.
“Potter’s Gold is a true soil potting mix,” says Greenstreet. ”It is made from by- products from the Chesapeake Bay and is produced on the Eastern Shore. It fits into our philosophy of featuring products and plants that do well in this Del-Marva area.”

Adequate water is an important maintenance step with a container garden. A water-retaining granule can be added to your potting mix that keeps your containers from drying out too quickly.
When selecting plants, remember that they should have similar light and watering needs. Other than that, the sky is the limit.
“When choosing plants,” says Greenstreet, “think of thrillers, spillers and fillers.”
One of Greenstreet Garden’s favorite combinations is a white bird of paradise, a purple ‘Moses in the boat’, orange geranium, fiber optic grass, yellow zinnia, coral portulaca, yellow lantana, orange million bells, and waterfall blue lobelia.

Waring suggests containers for tropicals that aren’t winter hardy, because they grow very fast and need a lot of water and fertilizer. Some tropicals she overwinters in her garage where it doesn’t get below 40 degrees. She also uses grow lights.
Waring’s favorite tropical container combination includes repeating petunias with tropicals such as palms, bananas, hibiscus, mandivila vines, canna, and coleus for color.
Container gardens are also a good choice for a small water feature or vegetable garden.
“Our newest product, the Earth Box, is great for vegetables,” says Greenstreet. “It is a deep plastic box that has wheels. Its unique feature is its capillary water reservoir underneath a grid that keeps the plants from getting water logged. There are open spaces in the corners for a small amount of soil to sit in the water and wick up into the plants. There is also a plastic cloth top that stretches over the soil to trap the sun’s heat and provides a quicker maturity date on your crop.”
A few choices for your portable vegetable garden are Patio or Small Fry tomatoes, Jalapeno or Yolo Wonder peppers, and Liberty or Crispy cucumbers.
So whether you want an instant flower or vegetable garden, pick your pots, fill them up and enjoy an instant landscape.