The Essential Guide to Container Gardening

You’ve done it, I’ve done it - everyone’s done it. I’m on about buying a plant when you know that your garden is full. The plant is delivered and then you have to find a home for it. Or you may have a patio garden. All concrete and paving slabs. No greenery to be seen within the confines of your brick enclosure. Someone buys you a plant as a gift. Help! The answer to both these scenarios is, of course, containers. Any plant will grow in a container given a few principles.

Container Gardening 

  • Match the size of the container to your plant. Not the size it is when you plant it but research (read the label!) the eventual size. Plan accordingly, bearing in mind you may have to pot your plant up into successively larger sized containers as it grows.
  • Water: don't rely on rain doing this job for you. A healthy, lush canopy of leaves of, say, dahlias in full flow will stop water from getting into your container’s soil.
  • Compost: match the compost type to your plant. I’m thinking of camellias, perfect for containers, but requiring an ericaceous compost to thrive. Well drained? Add grit.
  • Feed: the nutrients in compost do run out. And without the almost magical interactions that naturally occur in soil, you will need to add fertiliser at some stage. Study your plants and they will show signs of nutrient deficiencies. Yellowing leaves are a good sign you need to feed. Organic feeds are great for all container-grown plants.
  • Drainage: ensure all your containers have drainage holes. Plastic pots often don't and you need to drill your own. If, however, you want to grow a bog garden then block any holes or don’t drill.

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Those are the gardening principles but choosing a container is, perhaps, the most enjoyable yet perplexing part to container gardening. Make no mistake - the choice is vast. So, once you know the style of container garden you want, e.g. cottage feel, modern, then choose your container. This might help: 

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  • Wooden containers: are superb to grow plants and fit into most gardens. They can lend a cottage garden or modern feel, or both. The actual wood is usually treated to prevent rotting and the warmth of wood always serves plants well. You cannot go wrong with a quality wooden container.
  • Plastic containers: add a modern feel in many cases and are long lasting. Quality plastic will last forever. They are physically lighter than other materials so ensure they don’t get damaged in windy weather, but it does mean you can easily move them around the garden as plants flower, or simply start to do their thing.
  • Concrete containers: are heavy and once planted up are staying put. They can look both traditional (if the container looks like stone) and modern (smooth concrete is fast becoming trendy).
  • Upcycled containers; from empty baked bean cans and hole-y wellies to stone water troughs from bleak Derbyshire farms, if it holds compost it will sustain growth. Just stick to the container principles and grow accordingly.  

Containers will add a whole new dimension to your garden. They can, indeed, be the whole garden.