Container Gardening: Plants in Pots

By Donna Vincent

Con­tain­er gar­den­ing has been grow­ing in pop­u­lar­i­ty in recent years. Con­tain­er gar­den­ing is the solu­tion for urban and sub­ur­ban dwellers with only a bal­cony or patio. It is also per­fect for gar­den­ers who have dif­fi­cul­ty with mobil­i­ty and tra­di­tion­al hands and knees” gardening.

Soil is the key. Choos­ing the cor­rect soil for your plants will help them thrive. Soil from the gar­den or bagged top­soil is much too heavy. Pot­ted plants pre­fer a light, fluffy mix that is well aer­at­ed and drains well. 

Pot­ting mix with equal parts peat moss, per­lite, and ver­mi­culite is a great way to start. Some brands even come with fer­til­iz­er mixed in, result­ing in a suc­cess­ful first grow­ing sea­son. Use new soil each sea­son to reduce prob­lems with disease.

Select a con­tain­er that has space for roots to grow and drainage holes in the bot­tom. Both are crit­i­cal as plants that are too crowd­ed will dry out faster and become root bound. Your con­tain­er should be about as large as you expect the mature plant’s foliage to spread. Many sizes, col­ors, and mate­ri­als are avail­able at stores, or you can upcy­cle unique con­tain­ers from your garage, thrift store, or flea market. 

Con­sis­tent water­ing is cru­cial. Small­er pots and those made of ter­ra cot­ta will dry out more quick­ly and need water more often. One sun­ny day with heavy wind or a week­end away with­out water­ing can kill your hang­ing bas­kets. New­ly plant­ed pots will dry out more quick­ly until the roots fill the soil area. Ear­ly morn­ing or evening when tem­per­a­tures are cool­er allow for bet­ter absorp­tion, but if your plants are wilt­ed, it’s still bet­ter to water ASAP. With con­stant water­ing, how­ev­er, comes deple­tion of the nutri­ents in the soil. Water sol­u­ble fer­til­iz­ers such as Mir­a­cle-Gro work great, although I pre­fer Espo­ma organ­ic fertilizer. 

Con­tain­ers allow access to fresh herbs and veg­eta­bles right out­side your kitchen door. Most veg­eta­bles require 6 hours of direct sun­light to thrive. Many root veg­eta­bles are suit­able for con­tain­ers: beets, car­rots, onions, radish­es, parsnips, pota­toes, and sweet pota­toes can all be grown suc­cess­ful­ly in pots. Leafy greens like let­tuce and oth­ers do very well in con­tain­ers. Use suc­ces­sive plant­i­ngs to har­vest all sum­mer long. Many leafy greens can take a few hours of shade as well. Plant cool weath­er plants like spinach, kale, and arugu­la in April and Sep­tem­ber. Toma­toes, cucum­bers, and pep­pers can also do well in large con­tain­ers. Toma­toes need at least a 5‑gallon pot to sup­port their heavy stems and fruit, although there are some small­er patio vari­eties avail­able. Pep­pers are wind pol­li­nat­ed so you will need to have sev­er­al pots close togeth­er or pol­li­nate by hand with a small paint­brush. I nor­mal­ly plant 3 – 4 pep­pers in each 14” pot in my con­tain­er veg­etable gar­den. I grow one large 16” pot of cucum­bers with 4 plants each sea­son using a toma­to cage for them to climb.

Many herbs have dif­fer­ent mois­ture needs, so grow them in sep­a­rate pots. Basil is a warm weath­er annu­al that needs lots of sun and fre­quent har­vest­ing to thrive — remem­ber to remove the flow­ers as they start to form. Rose­mary grows well in pots, and since it’s not cold hardy in NY, you can bring the pot inside in the fall. Just remem­ber that it does not like to be too wet. I grow 5 or 6 vari­eties of mint in pots around my patio, mulching them for the win­ter so they return the fol­low­ing year. 

Pots of flow­er­ing annu­als can pro­vide splash­es of col­or around your home. Give care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion to the amount of sun/​shade they will receive. Col­or har­mo­ny is impor­tant in cre­at­ing an eye appeal­ing arrange­ment. For exam­ple, pas­tel pinks can accen­tu­ate the bold fuch­sia-hot pink shades. Com­ple­men­tary col­ors plant­ed togeth­er, such as blue and orange or yel­low and pur­ple, are also a great choice. Try to stick to two or three col­ors in one pot: too many col­ors are over­whelm­ing. Larg­er con­tain­ers look good with a taller focal plant in the cen­ter sur­round­ed by col­or­ful blooms and trail­ing vari­eties around the edges.

Let this be the year you begin to grow. Don’t let the lack of space or phys­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions rob you of the joy of gardening.

Spring 2021

Volume 39 , Number 1

Share this

The Latest from Landis

Aug 06, 2022

Landis Forest 5K - August 6, 2022

A record turnout! Click here to view all the great photos from this event, and... read more

Jun 10, 2022 | Anne Donnelly

Don't Overlook Your Reciprocal Admissions Privilege

A sometimes overlooked benefit of your Landis Arboretum membership is the American Horticultural Society Reciprocal... read more

May 29, 2022

Scenes From the Spring Plant Sale

Thanks to our many wonderful volunteers, plant consignors, vendors, and customers, the Landis Signature Spring... read more

May 28, 2022 | Fred Breglia, Executive Director

From the Director’s Desk: Q&A, Part III

In this last Q&A session, I am focusing on leaf color change during the... read more

May 28, 2022 | Erin McKenna Breglia, Landis Gardener

From the Garden: Milkweeds for Monarchs!

Many people enjoy seeing butterflies in our Landis gardens. especially the monarch butterfly, Danaus... read more

May 28, 2022 | Anita Sanchez

Life and Death on the Lawn

It’s a beautiful summer day. You’ve finished your stack of books from the Landis... read more

News Archive