6 Simple Steps to a Gorgeous Container Garden
Learn how to put together beautiful arrangements you can showcase all season long.
If you’re looking for an easy way to bring a pop of color to your porch, patio or yard, consider a container garden. While it’s true that you can simply stick some petunias in a pot and be done with it, a truly stunning result can be had just by putting in a little bit of additional effort. All you need? The right mix of plants, a winning arrangement and a pretty planter. Use these six steps as a blueprint to create a gorgeous container garden every single time.
Step 1: Pick the Perfect Container
Containers are similar to plants in that they have unique attributes to take into account, like style, weight and how weather sensitive they are. Other factors to consider are size, appearance and budget. Take note that the bigger the container, the less time you’ll have to spend watering. Just be sure that your container of choice has holes on the bottom so that any extra water can drain out. Here are some commonly found types of containers:
Concrete: Although concrete pots can be extremely heavy — especially when full — they are able to withstand virtually any type of weather.
Terra-Cotta: Also known as clay pots, terra-cotta containers are known for their versatility and affordability. From plain to those decorated with vibrant glazes, terra-cotta pots can be found in a wide variety of styles. The downside? They tend to be a bit fragile. The containers will crack or chip if not handled with care, and can be harmed if left out in freezing temperatures. Always empty and store terra-cotta containers inside during the winter months.
Metal: Galvanized buckets and tubs make great choices for container gardens. Just keep in mind that they tend to heat up fast in the sun and can cook your plants. To counteract this, simply line the vessel with garden fabric and place it in the shade.
Wood: Find a pot made from wood that is durable, such as treated pine or cedar. You can coat wood containers (all surfaces) with a waterproofing sealer to help them last longer. Just be sure the sealer can be used on outdoor wood.
Plastic, Resin, or Fiberglass: Typically more affordable and lighter in weight, containers made from these materials can be manufactured to look like other types of containers. They may not be as high quality or long-lasting, but will achieve the look you’re after.
Repurposed: Anything from old watering cans and tin buckets to birdbaths and old baskets can be used to hold plants. Bonus: The thrifted look has a great rustic style.
Step 2: Choose Color Palette & Plants
Settling on a color scheme for your container garden can help direct you towards a good mix of plants. For example, you can either focus on the foliage and flowers of the plants you’d like to include, or use the color of your pot as a jumping off point. It’s important to only use plants with the same water and light needs. Plant them in odd numbers and include a minimum of one fill, one thrill and one spill plant. A combination of these three plant types will bring balance and interest to any kind of container garden.
Fill: These plants give the arrangement a full appearance. They are typically lower and more mounded. Place them around or in front of the thrill plant.
Thrill: Thrill plants bring height and a striking vertical factor to the arrangement. Ornamental grasses, tall flowering plants, or foliage plants are all good options.
Spill: Plants that drape over the edge of the container are spill plants. They should be placed on every side of the container that will be seen.
Step 3: Limit Number of Plants
Beware of overcrowding your container garden, as doing so will stunt the growth of the plants. Decrease your chances of overfilling a container by adhering to these ratios:
10” to 12” pot: 3-4 plants
14” to 16” pot: 5-7 plants
16” to 20” pot: 6-9 plants
Step 4: Fill Container With Potting Mix
Now that you’ve chosen your container and your plants, it’s time to start planting. Add an all-purpose potting mix to your container until it’s two-thirds full. Avoid garden soil since it is too heavy and doesn’t drain as efficiently as needed. To cut down on potting mix in extra large pots, simply place smaller empty pots upside down in the container before filling in around them with potting mix.
Tip: Prevent potting mix from spilling out the bottom of your container by putting a broken chunk of terra-cotta pot over the drainage hole. Just be sure that water can still drain out. It’s not a good idea to layer rocks on the bottom of pots since doing so actually makes it more difficult for water to get out.
Step 5: Add the Plants
Before placing the plants in your container, gently squeeze the pot they’re in to loosen up the roots so that they slide right out. Do not pull on the plant itself or you could harm it. Position the plants so that their roots are a couple inches beneath the lip of your container. This will ease watering later. Use potting mix to fill in around the plants, ensuring their stems aren’t any deeper in the soil than they were in their original pots. Lightly pat down on the potting mix around the plants with your hands to remove any big pockets of air.
Step 6: Water Plants
Help settle the soil by watering your container garden. If needed, fill in with more soil until all the roots are covered. The soil level should remain a couple of inches under the lip of the container so that liquid will not spill out while watering.
A day or two after your first watering, check to see if the top of the soil is dry to the touch. If so, water again. You’ll know if your container garden has enough water when it starts draining out the bottom. If you have a saucer beneath the pot, keep it empty so that the roots of your plants don’t sit in stagnant water and rot.