Easy Container Gardening
Whether your backyard is a postage stamp balcony in a city high-rise or a rolling spread of suburban greensward, you can enjoy the fun, fashion and creativity of a container flower garden.
Growing flowers in containers is a simple, sensible and flexible method of decorating your outdoor living space. Its creative possibilities are endless, as you mix and match containers with fabulous flowers to create a signature look for your balcony, terrace, deck, patio, walk or entryway.
Fall is the perfect time to start a container garden.
Spring-flowering bulbs such as tulips, daffodils and fragrant hyacinths are easy to grow and especially suited to growing in containers, especially in areas not hit by winter extremes of hot or cold.
In the spring, after your tulips fade, replace them with annuals or summer bulbs, which will then be available by mail and in garden centers and home stores. With a little planning, you can have growing outdoor decor until the late autumn.
Begin with a Plan
When planning a container garden, the first thing to consider is the site. What scale will complement the area? Will your area look best with large containers, clusters of small containers or a mix?
Are there any physical considerations? For example, if your area is a tar roof or an elevated deck, you'd want to think about seriously before using large, heavy containers that might cause a strain.
If you're industrious, you might think where to add some permanent planters. But don't do anything right away. Take a full season to ponder.
Containers, From Ordinary to Odd
Almost anything you can think of can be adapted as a planter or as a decorative "container holder" to sink another pot into.
Garden centers — which often feature interesting containers — are an obvious place to start. You'll usually find wooden casks, traditional pots and planters, whiskey barrels and many other offerings. In colder areas, large wooden casks are preferable to clay or plastic pots which can crack in extreme weather conditions.
Antique stores, flea markets and even some creative rummaging through the attic or cellar can often yield other, usable options, when you use your imagination. Cascading flowers can turn 'junque' into just-terrific planters or containers).
Some great choices include: an old wooden wheelbarrow, a retired truck tire, old cooper bath, wagon, milk crates, old fixtures — even old VW bug convertibles have popped up as "containers."
When choosing a container, remember that, like potted plants indoors, outdoor containers must have drainage holes for water to run out. This prevents root rot. If you just can't bring yourself or it would be too difficult to drill a hole in a special container, consider planting in smaller pots that would fit inside. These must themselves have drainage holes and be elevated within the larger container so water can drain. (The drainage water should be removed periodically).
If you want to build your own wooden containers, think sturdy. Use screws not nails. Wet soil is heavy and expands and contracts with temperature changes.
A Feast of Flower Choices
To begin your container garden this fall, you can choose just about any bulb you find for sale. Characteristics such as blooming period, color, height, and fragrance should be considered. For example, early-flowering hyacinths offer a heady and fragrant choice for planting in containers along walkways and at entrances. Later-flowering daffodils and tulips are good follow-ups.
One easy planting technique especially suited to container gardens is the "Double Decker" technique. The idea is similar to building a lasagna. Plant a layer of tall-growing bulbs such as pink tulips eight inches deep in the container. Cover with three inches of soil, add a layer of low-growing bulbs such as deep blue grape hyacinths, cover with another five inches of soil, and add an inch of mulch. Water well.
In spring, the results are stunning: a container of beautiful pink tulips above a lush blue carpet of grape hyacinths. Just be sure to pick bulbs that flower at the same time (all that information is on the package) and it's a cinch. To extend your bloom period, you can add a third layer of bulbs between the tulips and grape hyacinths: early blooming Tête-à-Tête narcissi might be nice.
Aside from good drainage, the most important technical consideration for spring-flowering bulbs is temperature. Bulbs need a minimum 15-week cold period, but they mustn't freeze. Bulbs in containers are more susceptible to extremes of heat or cold than those in the ground. So if your area is subject to heavy freezes, move small containers to a sheltered area or an unheated garage or shed to protect them from freezing. Large containers (the larger the better for cold protection!) can be wrapped or padded in burlap or blister-wrap, even set into bales of hay. In very warm climates, make sure containers stay cool enough, position them out of the sun, avoid dark heat-trapping containers, and top off with a plant cover such as pansies, plus mulch.
In the very coldest or warmest climates you can "cheat" a bit and just purchase potted bulbs next spring and pop them into your containers then!
No matter what your climate, be sure to water planted bulbs throughout the winter. And when spring comes, place the containers back out in the sun and get set for a glorious spring!
When spring bulbs have faded you have lots of options. Container gardens are also perfect for perennials, annuals, and summer bulbs such as lilies or dahlias.
One other easy tip for keeping your container world lush and colorful is to use inner pots as inserts in larger containers. That way if a plant starts to look dowdy it's easy to replace. Or if you get the urge to stir things up a bit, it's easier to rearrange your plantings to suit your present mood!
Note: Over-wintering spring-bulbs in containers outdoors is less successful in areas that experience extreme winter heat or cold. For this reason, special precautions should be taken in the following states: AK, FL, HI, IA, ME, MN, MT, sNE, NH, ND, SD, VT, WI, WY.