Designing Your Container Garden: Container Basics

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I got a whole stack of container and small-space gardening books from the local library and I wanted to share some of what I’ve learned. I think that choosing a container can be a fun part of container gardening—what aesthetic do you want your container to support? Will it be indoors or outdoors? How important are drainage and air circulation to what you’re planning? Do you have a central concept or do you just want a wild array of pots and plants? The following are a few basic considerations, as well as some fun ideas I’ve run across. 

Almost anything can be turned into a garden container. Photo by scrappy annie/ Flickr

Terra cotta containers are pretty popular, and their porous nature leads to less danger of over-watering. Terra cotta tends to take on an aged look over time, which may or may not fit into your ideal aesthetic. Glazed clay containers have reduced air circulation, but the glazes can add spots of dramatic color. Be aware: Clay and terra cotta pots can be heavy, prone to chipping or breaking, and are not frost resistant. Ceramic and stone containers are similar (with ceramic behaving much as glazed clay), with the exception that they are generally heavier and more expensive.

Plastic is perhaps the most omnipresent choice for your container plants. It’s lightweight and chip- and break-resistant. Also, there are lots of designs that can look like almost any other type of container you’d like. The lower cost of plastic pots allows gardeners to more cheaply design color and shape themes. On the downside, plastic pots have less air circulation than pretty much any other type of container, and they allow less water evaporation, increasing the risk of over-watering. If the plastic has not been sun-proofed the container may get brittle or fade. Want inspiration? This hanging garden planter is constructed out of old soda bottles!   

Wood is often chosen by gardeners in search of a more natural look. There are wooden containers constructed specifically for gardening, but you can also use “found” wooden containers, or make your own. Do be careful to choose wood that hasn’t been treated with any harmful chemicals. Wood containers get good air circulation and their rustic looks increase over time. If you’re using a wicker container to plant your herbs be sure to line them with plastic, burlap or landscaping fabrics to cut down on the mess of watering. Looking for something a little more adventurous? Check out this fun idea for a vertical wood garden made out of a pallet.   

Metal containers can be heavy and expensive, but they can also look very tasteful. Plain, dull metals put all focus on your beautiful plants, and aged copper can provide another layer of texture to your garden. If you are interested in choosing metal containers, consider the colors you are likely to plant in them. One method might be to take paint samples that approximate your plans along in your search to more vividly picture your concept. Make sure that any metal containers you choose have adequate drainage holes.

Moss is most often used for hanging baskets, but can be used for other designs as well. These light-weight containers have the advantage of more planting space along the sides as well as at the top, giving you a greater color impact than other container types. Be careful to keep your plants well watered if you plant in moss, as it dried out very quickly, especially in hot weather. Some moss containers have built-in reservoirs to help retain water. If you are making your own moss baskets, pack the moss tightly to retain as much water as possible. You can also construct your own plastic or metal reservoir; just be sure to punch a few holes in it.

Coco fiber is a lightweight alternative to moss. It’s beige to light brown in color and stays together more tightly than moss, as well as being lower-priced. Both moss and coco have good circulation and drainage (sometimes too much!). As an alternative to both, you might consider molded fiber.

Hope this helps you get inspired about the possibilities of container gardening! Check back later for tips on designing with color and texture.

Read More:Contain Yourself by Kerstin P. Ouellet 

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