Container Gardening Part 1 — Containers

By Lori Murray, Cameron county Master Gardener

NOTE: This is the first of a series of three articles about container gardening. Part One deals with the containers themselves. Part Two discusses plant combinations. Part Three describes planting the container itself. They will run consecutively.

Gardening in containers provides gardeners with incredible flexibility.

Whether you’re a person who truly wants a garden but has very little time and/or space or one who is physically handicapped, containers provide a wonderful opportunity. Containers can be anything from a four inch pot to a six foot bed on legs. They’re easily adapted to today’s lifestyles. They can be moved from one spot to another or even one home to another.

Instead of spending hours tilling a garden, you need only to fill a container with potting soil and plant your favorite flowers, vegetables, herbs, vines, or even trees and shrubs. Watering is simple and efficient, and the rewards are boundless. Large containers stand out near an entry or along a path or driveway and are suitable for seasonable plants like chrysanthemum or impatients in the fall or periwinkles (Vinca Cora) in the summer, or even Foxtail Fern year-round. Small containers work well on a patio, a tabletop,or even a windowsill. They can hold herbs, bulbs, and even plants like tulips, narcissus, or daffodils that you have forced for your own personal enjoyment.


Containers come in all kinds of materials. Glazed ceramic pots are colorful and durable and will retain moisture because they’re glazed. They can also crack in cold weather and lose their luster in time. Cast stone containers hold moisture also. They’re strong and heavy. They won’t tip over in high winds but they cannot be easily rearranged. They’re best used as stationary focal points.

Plastics are kind to your wallet but could tip over if you’re not careful aboutthe height of what you plant. They dry out sooner than the first two. Metal doesn’t crack but it can get very hot in summer. Unless it’s galvanized, I personally don’t think it’s worth the rust it will develop in our climate.

If you don’t worry about rust, then be sure the metal is thick because its thickness will determine its life expectancy. Terra cotta pots provide a classic look but require diligent care because they’re breakable. The porous clay walls (be sure to soak terra cotta in water before planting in it) can wick moisture away from a plant and require more frequent watering. They will also crack in freezing weather. All pots require end-ofthe- season care. Remove the soil from those you do not plan to continue to use and scrub with a brush dipped in water and baking soda to make them ready for the next time you want to use them.

Clay pots, strawberry jars, redwood tubs, window boxes, whiskey barrels, old wagons and tea carts, galvanized metal found at hardware and farm supply stores or even yard sales can be attractive containers. The only requirements are that the container can hold soil and provide drainage.

Remember to keep metal containers out of much sunlight because they will heat up, and remember that plastic pots will dry out sooner than pots made of heavier materials. Just be sure you haveplenty of water-absorbing crystals added to your potting mix.

Rememberalso that few plants will survive if they sit in water, so be sure your container either already has drainage holes, or that you make them with a drill or by driving large nails into the bottom of non-breakable materials. You can also add a one inch layer of pea gravel or insert a coffee filterto facilitate drainage.

Plastic liners and polyurethane spray can preserve containers (especially baskets). You can use an inverted tomato cage to train, say, a sweet potato vine, and/or add height and interest by inverting a second pot to make a pedestal.

For very large containers, get a platform with casters to facilitate gently moving the pot without ruining your back. You are only limited by imagination in choosing containers for your patio or garden.