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6 Tips for Container Gardening: How to Grow Plants in Pots

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Apr 23, 2020 • 3 min read

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Ron Finley Teaches Gardening

Container gardening is ideal if you live in a small space or want to add variety to your garden design. Containers are extremely versatile and can hold many plant types—vegetables, flowers, small trees, and succulents, to name a few.

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Community activist and self-taught gardener Ron Finley shows you how to garden in any space, nurture your plants, and grow your own food.

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What Is Container Gardening?

Container gardening is a method of growing plants in containers, rather than planting them in the earth outside. Container gardening allows gardeners to have more control over important growing conditions like sunlight, moisture, and temperature.

6 Types of Garden Containers

There are many types of containers that—when filled with potting soil or potting mix—provide the perfect growing environment for a variety of plants.

  1. Terracotta pots: These reddish-brown clay pots are classic. You'll want to buy a glazed terracotta pot if possible, as the porous nature of unglazed terracotta means your plants will require frequent watering.
  2. Window boxes: This type of container attaches to a window sill and provides a way to spruce up the exterior of your home. Window boxes are perfect for planting colorful flowers, herbs, and other edible plants. Window boxes are available in many materials—plastic, wood, fiberglass, and metal.
  3. Hanging baskets: Hanging baskets provide plants plenty of drainage and aeration. Be wary of hanging them in windy environments.
  4. Plastic pots: Usually the least expensive and most lightweight of the container options, plastic pots are versatile and hold moisture well. Some studies show that the chemicals in certain plastics can leak into the soil, so proceed with caution if growing edible plants in plastic pots.
  5. Metal planters: A durable, modern container style, metal planters last a long time and don’t break as easily as clay pots. Their biggest drawback is that they heat up rapidly if placed in full sun, potentially leading to dry soil and damaged plant roots.
  6. Grow bags: Plastic or fabric grow bags are best for plants with shallow roots. They're cheap, lightweight, reusable, and portable, and they’re perfect for growing potatoes.

Though these are the most popular types of gardening containers, you can create unconventional containers out of sneakers, suitcases, or dresser drawers.

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Tips for Container Gardening

6 Tips for Container Gardening

Container planting is one of the most versatile home gardening styles—providing you know how to do it right.

  1. Add nutrients to your potting soil. If your potting mix lacks nutrients, you may need to compensate by fertilizing your container plants. Different plants require different fertilizer types and regimens, so make sure to research the specific needs of how to fertilize each of your plants.
  2. Choose the right container size. Generally, the size of a plant's root system determines the container size it requires. You can combine multiple small plants in a large pot or add a large focal point and scatter smaller plant combinations around it.
  3. Use the "thriller, filler, spiller" technique. When combining multiple plants in one large container, begin by selecting your "thriller" plant, which should be a tall, bold plant like a geranium or coleus; you can even use a flowering vine if it’s propped up with a trellis. Next, choose your "filler"—this should be a medium-height, billowy plant to fill in the arrangement, such as verbena, salvia, wax begonia, or lantana. Lastly, add in your "spiller," which should cascade over the edge of the container. Some spiller options include creeping zinnia, creeping Jenny, petunia, and sweet potato vine.
  4. Tier your small flowerpots. To make better use of vertical space, arrange multiple small flowerpots in tiers by stacking some above the rest on crates, stairs, or ledges. A tiered assortment of colorful flowers like pansies, lobelias, calibrachoas, and marigolds can create a whimsical display.
  5. Install an automatic drip-irrigation system. Kiss hand-watering goodbye with an automated system that slowly waters your plants directly to their roots. This helps your plants grow lush and full by eradicating variations in soil moisture.
  6. Make sure your container has drainage holes. Without a place for water to exit, your soil will become oversaturated, and your plants might die. You can drill drainage holes in the bottom of some containers (unless they’re terracotta or ceramic).

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