CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Some topics come up every year. In the past, I've addressed container gardening, but it's one of the top topics of discussion for many readers, so we'll go over it again!
Think by the numbers when you plan where to put your pots. Like flower arranging, even numbers create a formal look (picture a pot on either side of a door or a stately row of pots along a walkway) as does using multiple pots of the same material. Uneven numbers and pots made from multiple materials are more artistic and free-flowing.
Here's a rundown of the basics.
Containers: Lightweight foam containers, obviously, are lightweight and also inexpensive. They will tip in the wind without a layer of gravel in the bottom, and they damage easily. Terracotta wicks away water, so you won't overwater, but you will need to water frequently during dry spells. They will crack and peel if left out in the winter. Concrete is heavy, can be expensive, but lasts forever. Ceramic adds color to the garden, it can be expensive, and will chip or crack easily -- but they are my favorite for plant health. Fiberglass is nice-looking, affordable, light and durable, but can get soggy -- look for pre-drilled drainage holes.
Placement: Sun or shade? Pots can be added under a tree or in a niche in the garden to add shade plants like coleus to your garden. Herbs that bolt (think mint!) can be put into pots and added to your vegetable area without worry of invasion. Pots can be very heavy, so planting in place is smart. Rolling saucers or plant dollies are a good idea if you want to follow the sun or move the plants when you're entertaining.
Soil: Buy bags that contain sphagnum peat moss, ground bark, perlite, a small amount of fertilizer and a wetting agent. This combination is lightweight, holds moisture, doesn't compact, drains well, allows organic matter to absorb water easily and you won't have to feed it right away. Don't use topsoil, garden soil or cow manure. You don't have to throw out the old soil after one season if your plants were healthy. Just remove the plants and root system, add new potting mix to fill the container and blend well.
Color: Every year, I switch things up. Some years, all of my pots are done in one color family -- I've done pink, yellow, blue and white. Some years, I mix colors willy-nilly, like a rainbow. One year I did all green -- no flowers, just a mix of small shrubs, vines and grasses.
Plants: This is up to you! Be sure to consider the amount of sunlight your pots will receive. The Chicago Botanic Garden recommends grouping plants with similar needs together. "Put sun lovers in one pot and shade-tolerant plants in another. Separate drought-tolerant plants from ones that need moisture. Use the same design techniques for pot gardens that apply to garden beds. Combine spiky plants with cascading ones; feathery ones with solid, succulent ones; and mounding plants with upright ones. Experiment with contrasting textures and even extreme color combinations. Container gardens provide opportunities to be adventurous and grow plants not normally found in large gardens."
Veggies do well in pots, but remember to fertilize and water on schedule. Vines are nice with a little trellis inserted in the back of the pot. You can use tropicals that won't overwinter in the ground. Try a boxwood. It's slow-growing and can stay in the pot for years. I have several pots with decorative grasses that provide a backdrop for smaller pots with flowers. Succulents need bright light and good drainage. They will need one part gravel or sand mixed in with your potting soil. Sedum, sempervivum and kalanchoe are great choices.
Container water garden
Carl Wilson, of the Denver Cooperative Extension, suggests creating a container water garden when a full-scale pond isn't feasible for your yard.
"Even a bowl can hold a small water plant. A nice size container is 12 to 24 inches wide by 12 to 16 inches deep. While you can seal ceramic containers or use liners in wooden barrels, plastic containers may be easiest to use. Just as with container flowers, group various-sized water garden containers to make a big splash. Depending on the size of the container, select a spiky, erect plant, such as sweet flag (Acorus calamus) or yellow flag iris (Iris pseudacorus). Combine with a broad-leaf plant, such as Giant arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) or calla lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica). Add a cascading plant, such as water mint (Mentha aquatica) or parrot feather (Myriophyllumaquaticum)."
"You will pot your plants in containers filled with a heavy, packed clay and submerge them underwater. Use bricks or an old, terracotta pot to prop them off the bottom so the foliage is above the waterline. Finish off the planting with some floating plants, such as water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes) or water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes)." Don't crowd too many plants into a container. Two to three potted plants and some floaters will make quite an impact.