Container Gardening Offers Limitless Options

  There are several advantages for growing plants in containers.  Containers can be placed a level that allow easy access for those with physical limitations.  The environment of the plant can be changed by moving the plant from sun to shade.  For homeowners that do not have a large yard, container plants offer a great alternative to inground gardening.

  Start by selecting the appropriate type of container for the plant.  For drought tolerant plants select a porous or semi-porous type container.  Clay and unglazed ceramic pots are considered porous.  Wood containers are semi-porous.  These types of containers lose moisture more frequently and are appropriate for succulents and cacti.  Plastic, metal, and fiberglass pots are nonporous.  Pots of these materials hold water well and are lightweight and can be easily moved.  All pots should have drain holes near the bottom.  If the container is sitting on a solid surface, like a patio, then make drainage holes on the side.  Choosing a larger container will benefit root growth and the soil will not dry out as fast.

  Use a potting mix instead of soil from the yard.  Soil from the yard often retain too much water, have little pore space (for oxygen), and may contain harmful diseases and weeds.  There are many high-quality commercial potting mixes available.  Some mixes contain a small amount of fertilizer which will get the plant off to a good start.  The fertilizer will be short lived and routine fertilizing will be needed.  Media from old pots can be reused if the previous plant did not show any signs of disease.

  Liquid fertilizers are desirable after the plants are growing.  This water-soluble fertilizer is a quick way to replace lost nutrients.  Salt accumulation at the bottom of the pot may occur after prolong use of liquid fertilizers.  If this observed, flush the media by running water through it for several minutes.

  Controlled release fertilizers have been coated by materials to reduce their immediate solubility. This type of fertilizer offers available nutrients for several months.  It can be mixed in the media or sprinkled on as top dressing.  Top dressing typically results in less nutrient loss since the nutrients must travel through the media which increases the chances that it will be adsorbed by the plant.

  Slow release fertilizers are designed to release a bit of fertilizer over an extended period.  You only need to apply them once or twice a season.  This type of fertilizer may be too slow to release nutrients for fast growing plants.  One downside to this type of fertilizer is not being able to tell when it is used up.  You must watch for the plant to show distress and needs to be fed.

  Place plants together in the same container that have similar environmental needs, such as light and water.  This information can be found on the plant label or at the NC Extension Gardener Toolbox  Container plants will dry out faster than inground plants.  On sunny days plant may require water twice a day.

More information on container plants can be found in the NC Extension Gardener Handbook which is available at NC Extension Gardener Container Gardening and NC Extension Edibles Container Gardening.

About the Author

Pat Naughton and his family moved from Richmond, Va. to Winding River Plantation in Brunswick Co. in 2017 after Pat retired as a mechanical engineer at a nuclear power plant. He has bee an avid gardener for 35 years and is a Brunswick Co. Master Gardener Volunteer.