How to Create a Container Garden: 6 Design Tips
Container gardens are good not only for saving space and limiting the impact on the lawn. They’re also great for trying out unique plants that require special soils and keeping invasive varieties from running wild. Additionally, you can move the containers if you find your plants are getting too much or too little sun.
Container gardens are ideal for beginner gardeners and experienced landscapers looking to introduce more variety. They are perfect for city dwellers with little access to green spaces or tenants with no authority over their yards. They are, in fact, for everyone.
Here are six design tips to get you started.
Add dimension with shelves and brackets
How does a container garden help save space, you ask? When working with containers, you can eschew the traditional vertical garden layout for a stacked arrangement. You can grow upwards, not just outwards. Many use this technique for privacy – plants can act as a barrier between you and a close neighbor.
Create height by using plant supports or installing a shelf. Another tip: use tall and/or standing planters. Avoid wasting soil by first placing a plastic pot (or several) upside down inside the large planter, then filling it to the top with soil.
Be creative with your containers
This is where you can adapt the general idea of a container garden to your personal style. Just about anything can be a garden container. An old colander, a retired rain boot, zhuzh-up paint cans, coffee cans, empty coconut shells – think outside the box. Just be sure to drill holes in the bottom to allow for good drainage.
Plan what you will plant and, if your goal is ornamental, coordinate flower colors with pots. Use different shapes and sizes for “visual weight”. This has the same aesthetic benefit as texture and color diversity in an interior space.
Don’t use the same floor for everything
Even if you have decent soil under your lawn, it’s best not to use it for your container garden. Potted plants, especially edible plants, need lots of nutrition, aeration, drainage, and moisture retention, and you’ll get all of these qualities with potting soil. The potting mix is soilless and therefore sterile, free from fungus and disease.
The all-purpose type is suitable for most plants, but do your research. Some require more drainage than standard potting soil can provide or a particularly high or low pH. Succulents, for example, need a special cactus mix while ferns benefit from the high drainage provided by tropical potting soil.
Follow the Thriller, Filler, Spiller way
Some people really consider container gardening a science. The formula? Thriller plus filler plus overflow.
The “thriller” in this popular method is the highlight of the show – the big bold focal point of the pot. For an ornamental container garden, that means prickly flowers like asters, cosmos and dahlias, or ornamental grass. For a container garden, anything that grows vertically (tomatoes, snow peas, green beans, borage or dill) could work.
The thriller should be tall and planted at the bottom of the pot. It is planted next to a filler, which is medium-sized and mounded or rounded like geraniums, petunias, carrots, parsley or cilantro. Finally, the third part of the equation is spillage. Ivies, cucumbers, gourds and nasturtiums are perfect for cascading down the sides of planters.
The thriller, filler, spill method helps container planters squeeze more into their pots. But remember: the species you plant together should prefer the same soil and light conditions.
Aim for year-round action
Just like a traditional garden, you can keep a container garden blooming and beautiful all year round. Plant the bulbs in pots in the fall for spring color. Fill your containers with cosmos, coneflowers, black-eyed Susans and other summer flowers during the warmer months. Then continue to harvest your leaf lettuce throughout the fall.
The beauty of planting in containers is that you can better control their conditions and prevent invasive species from taking over. Better yet, fill your vegetable garden with different varieties of native flora that take turns blooming. Your resident pollinators will thank you.
Keep it low maintenance with perennials
Starting a container garden is a lot of work and many people don’t want to plant the whole range year after year. This way of gardening already requires a lot of maintenance with frequent watering (potted plants dry out more quickly than plants in the ground) and pruning. Make your job easier by planting perennials.
Perennials, unlike annuals, come back every year. They are a little difficult to grow in containers as their root systems are generally larger than those of annuals, but rest assured that the payoff of not having to replant everything in the spring is well worth it. In addition to ornamental plants, grasses are ideal for this.
Frequently Asked Questions
How deep should a container garden be?
Each plant has its own preference, but generally you want 10 to 12 inch deep containers for your garden. Some, like leafy greens, can grow in shallower soil, while others, like fruiting vegetables, need up to 16 inches.
Can you grow a vegetable garden in containers?
You can absolutely grow vegetables in containers. In fact, it might be an easier way to grow an edible garden because you probably won’t have to deal with weeds, pests, and diseases that spring up from the ground. Plus, the containers are mobile, so you can change the location of your vegetables if you find they’re not doing well.
What vegetables will grow in small pots?
Edible plants that grow well in small containers include radishes, leafy greens, herbs, nasturtium and peppers.
What do you put in the bottom of a planter for drainage?
Rocks are a popular filler to put in the bottom of your planter for drainage, but they can also add a lot of weight to your garden. You can get creative here and instead use things you already have, like the plastic pots your plants came in. They already have drainage holes. Place them upside down in the bottom of your pot and put some soil on them.
Should you wallpaper your planters?
You should definitely cover your planters with plastic or porous landscape fabric if they are made of a material that rots or rusts, i.e. they are metal or wood. Landscape fabric allows for drainage (it simply creates a barrier between moist soil and the pot), but if you’re using plastic, be sure to cut your own drainage holes.