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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 grow is fair game.  The benefits of container gardening is offset with challenges as well.  This page discusses this aspect of outdoor ornamental gardening. 

Benefits and Advantages 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 to a garden - like a garden ornament Potted plants require more frequent fertilizing
Can control soil and grow special needs plants in a microenvironment Porous pots build up mineral deposits that can harm a plant over time.
Mini-water gardens for aquatic plant can be created using solid containers In winter,  plant roots freeze much easier in pots and containers 
Easily transportable to change locations for a plant without shock Plants need to be repotted to larger sized pots as they grow.

 How to Properly Plant in a Container

Make sure any container has sufficient drainage holes on the bottom

Do not use saucers that retain water on the bottom of any pots

Cover drainage holes with screen or panty hose fabric to allow water, not soil to drain out

Tease the roots of the plant before planting in the container

Fill with a well draining soil mixture suitable for the type of plant to be grown in the container

Leave at least an inch of head room for watering.

Water newly potted plants twice to allow for initial compacting

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 a proper symetry

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 compatible to the entire grouping

 Placement of Container Grown Plants

Container grown plants can be used anywhere;

1.  In and among garden bed plants

2.  Along walkways and at 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 and succulents

2.  ground glass to add sparkling color to base of plant

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

4.   Any non-toxic decorative material that is aesthetically pleasing and effective 

What about Bonsai - aren't they containered plants?

You bet they are, in fact the work bonsai means "grown in a dish".  This is a very specialized topic in itself.

For some information about Bonsai and other references,  CLICK HERE.


A Tip:  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 park) leaving 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.

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

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

A Cautionary Tip: Fire ants love to build nests in pots regardless of where they are set, so before picking up a pot, check it for fire ant infestation by disturbing it to arouse any inhabitants.  Club soda is effective in killing fire ants without harming plants.

What about a Water Garden in a Container?

A water lily, or other aquatic plants can be grown very effectively in containers (without holes on the bottom or course).  For water lilies,  use dwarf or miniature varieties, and set potted plants 6" to 18" beneath the surface of the water.  For other aquatic plants plants,  a shallower container would be better and they should be grown as a bog plant with clay soil to take root and water on the surface.

Left:  Hymenocalis littoralis variegata grows well in a boggy filled decor pot

Right:  Dwarf water lily (Nymphaea) grows in water filled ceramic container on a deck 


Thrillers:  A centerpiece plant with star quality.  Something big, bold, & beautiful -  attention getting plants

(Examples:  Cannas, Brugmansias, Ornamental Grasses, Cordyline, Bananas, Flax, Hibiscus, Begonias, Papyrus, Yuccas, Caladiums)

Fillers:  Flowering of foliage plants that complement but not overwhelm the "thriller".  Adds mass to the pot & hides base of "thriller"

(Examples:  Petunias, Coleus, Marigolds,  small grasses, Begonias, Pentas, Dusty Miller, Dianthus, Artemesias, Heuchera, Bulbine, Painted Fern, Mums)

Spillers:  Tumbles out of the pot - a graceful cascading plant that  softens the pot edges

(Examples: Lysimachia, Sweet potato vines, Verbena, Ivies, Portulaca, Silver Pony Foot, Vincas, Sedums, Ice Plant,)


Selecting Plants and Design Elements:

Element of scale:  Bigger pots need bigger plants, & smaller pots need smaller plants

Element of contrast:  Color, texture and shapes should be different but complementary

Element of view:  From all sides of the pot, elements should be equal, except when "thriller" is used as the rear of the pot

Element of environment:  Select plants for sun or shade, or suitable  lighting for the pot location


Examples of Container Uses 

 Left  top:  A large single container with Gerbera daisies greets visitors to the entryway.  The longhorn carries the Texas theme to the entryway along with the lone star beveled glass door.

Right top: Bowl shaped container with Pedilanthus, defines the end of a narrow strip bed

Middle:  A cactus and succulent garden is adorned with various clay decor pots and containers to add more interest to the garden.  The limestone wall in the background is adorned with large containers with flowering plants to add and variety to the wall ledge.

Bottom:  Use of spray painted galvanized washtub for a water garden, and a regular pail for a rustic decor planter.

A unique Texas Longhorn planter

A simple globe shaped planter

Cactus and succulent garden with various clay pots intermingled

Using spray painted galvanized washtub for water garden and pail for decor planter.