Good container gardening methods
I am passionate growing plants in containers. Everything in my coastal Mississippi landscape and garden grows in some form of container. Growing in containers gives me the sense of control I want in the garden. I use a variety of containers: black nursery pots in sizes up to 25 gallons; various sizes of terra cotta (I love the way these will patina through years of use); salad tables (yes, these are containers); and, of course, my beloved commercially available self-watering container garden systems. Container gardening is easy. But gardeners need to know that it is different than growing plants in the ground.
First and foremost, growing in containers requires using the correct “soil,” which isn’t soil at all. In fact, there’s no soil in the correct container mix, which are composed of organic components -- peat moss, coir fiber or bark -- and inorganic components like vermiculite and perlite. I like to use commercial bagged container mixes that have been engineered for optimum physical characteristics and great plant performance. They are found under a variety of trade names, but each of these is similar in its basic recipe. One bit of mis-advice that runs rampant on the Internet is to add gravel or other materials to the bottoms of your containers to increase drainage. It just doesn’t work. You’ll have to trust me on this because the science behind why it doesn’t work is lengthy and involves polar attraction between molecules and overcoming the force of gravity. Proper watering is important. Since a container is effectively self-contained, you must consistently water based on the particular requirements of the plants you are growing. Never just apply a splash of water on the container. Keep watering until you see water flow from the holes in the bottom of the container. Depending on location, such as a porch or patio, you may need a saucer under the container to catch the drainage. Fertilization is another important consideration. Many of the commercial container mixes have some added fertilizer, which is beneficial in getting plants off to a good start, but it is not nearly enough to sustain satisfactory growth through the entire season. I always feed my container plants with controlled-release fertilizer at planting, and I supplementally feed with water-soluble fertilizer through the growing season. One of the fun aspects of growing in containers is picking out the container itself. The selection of containers becomes limitless.
You can go old school like I do and use classic terra cotta. There’s also a large selection of glazed ceramics that would fit into any design scheme. These containers can be very heavy, so you may decide to look for containers made out of foam-like materials that look every bit like their heavier cousins. I also like to grow in the basic, black plastic pots, which is probably a carry-over from my nursery and greenhouse background. While very functional, the black plastic container is very dull. Painting is an easy way to jazz up and accessorize these basic containers. I like to use the textured spray paints that result in a stone-like appearance.
Container gardening is a fun way to enjoy your garden and landscape.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Gary Bachman is an Extension and research professor of horticulture at the Mississippi State University Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi. He is also the host of the popular Southern Gardening television and radio programs.