Container Gardening Ideas and Garden Containers


container gardening ideas

How to Plant Up Your Garden Containers

Whatever type of garden container you choose, the methods of filling them will be much the same, although the type of compost may vary. But always play around with them for a while before you fill and plant them up, until you are sure that they are in the right place, as it is no fun humping any but the smallest ones when they are full.

Apart from the usual drainage holes, they will also need a minimum 5cm (2″) layer of drainage material, except in the very small pots. It is quite a good idea to put something over the holes and under the drainage layer to keep the holes from becoming blocked, minimise the amount of soil washed away and to prevent a variety of nasties from creeping up for a cozy rest. Perforated zinc does the job well, and you can also use hessian or nylon curtains, or a pair of laddered tights could be crumpled up in the bottom of a pot. Another excellent material is the thin fibreglass sheeting used as carpet underlay.

For the drainage material itself you can use bits of broken brick and flower-pots, stones that you have raked from the garden or picked up on the beach, gravel, Vermiculite or chopped up bits of polystyrene. Pebbles and gravel are usually cheaper when bought from a builder’s merchant rather than from the garden centres. The larger the container, the sturdier your drainage material should be.

After this, spread a 2.5cm (1″) layer of granulated moss or pulverised bark to help conserve moisture. A layer of well-rotted and chopped up turves would be good if you have some but you will need to have planned this in advance. Very greedy feeders could have some well-rotted manure added at this stage or, failing that, some home-made compost. Then you are ready to add the potting compost; this can be John Innes 1, 2, or 3, the contents of last year’s Gro-bag or one of the peat-based composts. Lime-haters can be given a compost free of lime, and alpines can generous amounts of grit mixed into theirs. At a pinch, you can, if you have a very good garden soil, use some of that, with the addition of plenty of peat and coarse sand to improve its texture.

You can also add your own leaf-mould and garden compost if they are ready to use and you have enough to spare. Tired city soil will not do, however.

For very large garden containers, such as water-tanks and raised beds, it will be more economical to use bags of mixed soil, adding peat, manure, compost and leaf- mould to improve and enrich it. The better the growing medium the better the display your plants will give you, and the better their health will be also. Once the containers are filled and planted up it is good to add a final top-dressing of gravel. This helps to conserve moisture, prevents soil splashing out during heavy rain or careless watering, gives the plants a cool root-run and stops the soil becoming compacted. If the containers are raised up a little, see if you can insert some kind of drip tray beneath them, as this will help to prevent staining and slippery algal growth on the paving.


Choosing Plants for Garden Containers

Almost any plant can be grown in a container, although some will be more successful than others, whilst the more vigorous may grow a bit too big for their boots and have to be planted out in the open garden or given away. Having said that, some ‘thugs’, such as the Russian Vine, would soon be out of control if planted in the open ground but can be kept within bounds of a sort when container-grown. The Russian Vine, when left to itself in a garden will quickly strangle everything in sight and probably lift your roof as well. One that I planted on a side wall of my house, in a moment of sheer madness I hasten to add, shot up two storeys in one summer, found an airbrick I did not know existed, crawled through this and suddenly appeared fountaining out of the chimney pot; but when it began to demolish the chimney, it had to be cut down and dug out. Planted in a container, on the other hand, it remains quite decorous and will twine itself prettily along a trellis or over an arbour.

container gardening ideas It is, as always, a good idea to choose a fair proportion of the plants from those that keep their foliage throughout the year, as a collection of dead-looking twigs in bare pots will not do much to lift the spirits in the dark days. It will usually be desirable to have variations of height and shape of both plants and containers, if the the scheme is not to appear monotonous, except perhaps if you have chosen a very formal plan where uniformity may be part of the whole look and effect. For a more relaxed effect, some kind of triangular planting could be just right, with a tree or large shrub at the back, and the other plants descending and spreading out in an irregular and slightly abandoned fashion.

Apart from the permanent planting, keep some garden containers to be filled with bulbs and annuals as the seasons change. If you have a quiet corner where plants can be rested when they aren’t doing anything special, you can ensure that those in full view are always at their peak.

Remember that silver-leaved plants and white flowers can give an especially magical quality to a garden, and this effect is heightened at night. On gloomy days, the golden plants are very cheerful, so you have plenty of scope to ring the changes. If you do plan to move the plants about in this manner, you will find it helpful to have a pot trolley which you can make by screwing castors to strong pieces of timber cut to appropriate size. Onto this you can heave the pots and trundle them around quite happily. Alternatively, you can move the containers on planks, set on rollers made from lengths of strong metal piping or short scaffold poles. Tie a rope to the container and haul away, replacing the rollers as necessary.

If you have to get the garden containers up or down a flight of steps, place boards or an old door over the steps and fix a strong rope round the container. Then you can haul it up or lower it away. Do this with a partner, as it is easy enough to lose a finger or toe if they are trapped between the walls or the paving by a monster, completely out of control. For the sake of your back, keep the moving of full containers to the absolute minimum. When heavy containers have to be moved, try to empty them first. This is not too difficult in many cases, if you have some light plastic pots ready to comfort and protect the evicted plants. If the plants themselves are heavy however, and some of those with large root-balls can be very heavy indeed, tie up their branches in plastic sheeting and place them, in their pot, onto some kind of sheet so that they can be dragged, rather than lifted to their new positions. This is also the way to deal with heavy sacks of soil and peat, etc., if you do not have a trolley or a barrow.


Aftercare of Plants in Garden Containers

The after-care of plants in garden containers and raised beds is simple enough but essential. If you have crocked them up properly, there should be little danger of them becoming waterlogged, but they will need regular and thorough watering, as often as twice as often as twice a day in hot, sunny spells, and windy conditions can also have have a pronounced drying-out effect. In cool, damp, shaded conditions and during the winter months, the waterings can be reduced to once a week or even once a month, but do not rely on rain to do the job for you.

It is quite difficult for sufficient rain to penetrate the foliage and soak into the compost, while plants on a sill or in the lee of a wall may be out of the reach of even the most driving rain. Peat-based composts will need even more frequent watering than other mediums. It is best to make no rash assumptions but to test the soil yourself, every day. There are various little gadgets on the market to do this, but you can make a pretty fair assessment by sticking your finger as far into the soil as possible and seeing if there is any moisture there. Lime-hating plants will prefer rain water, and many plants will be happier with tepid water which have been standing around for a while.

watering garden containers - clever idea Because of all this frequent watering, nutrients can be quickly leached away, so the plants will need regular feeding, about once a week in the growing season. Start feeding roughly six weeks after planting, if the plants are making some growth. Make sure they are watered before being fed, and use tepid water if possible. I prefer the liquid foods and find Phostrogen hard to beat and very economical, but I have used both Maxicrop and Tomorite with good results.

A dose of sequestered iron can do wonders for a bad performer  and one that is showing signs of chlorosis, that is, its leaves are limp and yellowing. Read the instructions on the fertiliser very carefully and follow them exactly; overfeeding with too strong a  mixture will be as bad as, if not worse than, not feeding them at all, and expensive to boot.

Plants should be re-potted every two or three years with compost. If this is not possible, remove the top couple of Iii from the old compost and top-dress with fresh, keeping up the liquid feeds.

All the plants will look better if you regularly remove dead leaves and dead flower heads – unless, of course, the plant bears berries or spectacular hips. The dead-heading will help to keep many plants in flower over a long period. Many shiny-leaved evergreens will enjoy having their leaves washed from time to time, to remove deposits of grime and the odd rapacious insect. Keep your eyes peeled for early warnings of attacks from pests and diseases. Prevention is better, as the saying goes, and the earlier it starts the better. Once garden pests get established, it takes a while to eliminate them, and a horrendous amount of damage can be done in a short time, which may lead to permanent injury or death, in severe cases, whilst, at the very least, the plant will be unsightly.

10. October 2010 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Container Gardening, Gardening Ideas | Tags: , | Comments Off on Container Gardening Ideas and Garden Containers

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