Good drainage is the most important element. Make sure your container has at least one drainage hole and add a layer of small rocks to the bottom to prevent the hole from becoming blocked. Not many plants like to sit in soggy soil any more than you would!
Other elements to ensure success include:
A light mixture of good potting soil, peat moss, and compost or a pre-packaged potting mix will work well. Mix in a little slow-release fertilizer if your potting mix does not already contain some. Use fresh soil each year. Last year’s soil can be dumped in the garden.
Clay or pottery works well for most situations and comes in every size possible. Metal pots are attractive but can absorb excess heat, so use a plastic liner inside a metal pot. Plastic/fiberglass is attractive, lightweight and holds up well. Cement will work but it’s heavy -DUH! Ceramic is colorful but can be expensive. If the budget will allow, go for it. Wood looks great and weathers nicely but will eventually rot. All will work – use your imagination. I’ve even seen an old boot delightfully planted with daisies and ivy. In any case remember: DRAINAGE!
Where you place your container will determine what plants will thrive. Hot, sunny locations will require more frequent watering but will nicely house the brightly colored annuals and perhaps some ornamental grass for added interest. Shade offers opportunities for the endless variety of shade-loving annuals and perennials. And for the in-between – anything goes, try it. Attractive containers look great in those locations where there is no soil – decks, patios, stairs, porches, docks, balconies, hanging on a wall, window boxes, etc. But remember DRAINAGE!
Heavy shade locations will accommodate hostas, impatients, any variety of shade- loving annuals and of course, there is the mixed light location, which can work for most anything. A plant is like a kid, if it doesn’t like the location, it will let you know. Variety is what pumps up creativity. Try trailing vines with tall grasses, or perennial plants, which can be transplanted to the garden for the winter. Vegetables: Tomatoes, peppers, herbs – mint, basil, rosemary, etc. How about personal- size watermelons draping gently over the sides of large containers? Sweet potato vine adds texture, color, and interest as it spills down the sides of large containers, but don’t try to reap the harvest…
Water daily, sometimes twice a day if necessary, fertilize frequently, and prune plants when necessary. Most importantly, have fun with your creation!
One other note, how about some accessories: Consider a house to invite a bird, pinwheels to deter hungry critters, an old picture frame with a mirror for curious lookers. Have fun!!! Did I mention DRAINAGE?
Article by Ellen Watson – Hennepin County Master Gardener, University of Minnesota Extension Office.