Six Tips for Successful Container Gardens

Lisha Utt
Frederick County Master Gardener

Okay, so you’ve been to your favorite garden nursery and selected plants that match the sun and shade requirements of your location. You have a container large enough to hold sufficient soil to support the roots of your plants and most importantly has a drainage hole. Now what? What do you do next to grow a successful container garden?

#1 Plant your flowers using quality potting soil. This is not the time to be frugal. There are many quality potting soils available, most with slow release fertilizers. Never use the soil from your garden in your containers, it’s much too heavy and compact for the roots of your plants.

#2 Plant your plants level with the top of the pot or maybe a ½" below. After the first couple of gentle waterings the soil settles anyways. If you plant two or three inches below the top of your containers, your flowers will spend the first few weeks of spring just trying to get to the lip of the pot. Your pots will look much fuller if you plant them close to the top of the pot.

#3 For lush overflowing containers, plant your flowers next to each other, about an inch or so apart. They do not have to be spaced as far apart like you would if you were planting directly in the ground. Remember you are controlling their environment so you can push the envelope a bit.

#4 Water…..the secret ingredient to fabulous containers! Containers need to be watered daily. Ideally it’s best to water in the morning so the plants are fortified for the heat of the day. Every time your container dries out and the plants collapse, they lose a little of their vigor. So it’s important to water regularly and sufficiently. Water the container until it runs out the bottom of the pot. You’ll notice as the plants grow you’ll need more water that when the container was first planted.

#5 The companion to water is fertilizer, also essential for successful containers. Despite using potting soil with fertilizers included, your plants will need a boost of nutrients during the season. I usually start using a liquid fertilizer a month after my plants are first planted, then every other week after that. Remember you are watering daily and many of the nutrients leach out of the soil. Plus you have a lot of plants in a relatively small space and they will quickly use up the nutrients in the soil, especially as they grow bigger as the summer progresses. Even fertilizing your containers only once during the season will be a help. Be sure to follow all the manufacturer’s directions on the liquid fertilizer.

#6 And finally take a little time each week to keep your containers looking attractive. Remove spent blooms, not only will your plants look better but they’ll produce more flowers. Don’t be afraid to do some judicious trimming, some plants get unruly in the summer and want to take over the container. Most plants will grow back if you overdue it but you may want to hold off on serious trimming until after your garden party.

So follow these six simple tips and I know you’ll be enjoying beautiful containers all summer long. Happy Gardening!

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