Wednesday, May 24, 2017


You've stepped into the third installment of my attempt to give advice 
relating to container gardening.  
When I started this series, I thought it was going to be one quick post. 
 Because...container gardens aren't that hard right?

Working on this post made me highly aware 
of many instances where container gardens go wrong.
Or just don't quite go right.
It's also made me more aware than usual of how easy it is to judge.
If you have a tried and true system that you love, then LOVE IT!
I'm glad you know what works for you and you're not required to change for me!
I don't always get it 'right' nor do I always care that I get it right.
There are some examples in my yard right now
of containers that are not display worthy.

I'm writing for the person who is overwhelmed,
has no idea how those containers they saw ended up so pretty,
and no idea that they could do it TOO!
After talking to several people and understanding where they went wrong
I revised my assessment for what could be helpful to non-gardeners.
There is a need for perspective and space assessment.
Today we're going to talk about how to use the installation step (actually planting stuff!)
to your best advantage (so you can be lazy too)
And then we'll have the big reveal.
As a refresher, I'm using a recent weekend project for my church as the example.

Before picture....
There's a lot of preparation and planning that goes into a successful container garden.
At this point, I know you want to get on with the planting
but I have a couple last things to plug.
Proper drainage and soil.
It is so easy to slam some dirt into a pot and then walk away.

By mid-summer, you're wondering what the heck happened-
why that pot is not draining or why your soil is hard as a rock.
If you've invested in big pots, then you will have a really hard time excavating 
in the middle of the season to figure out what is wrong.
So...we're back to boring old prep work again for a while.


Drainage is not a sexy word.
But in the container gardening world, it's important to understand.
Plants need watering-remember goldilocks?
Not too much, not too little...just the right amount.
That means the pot will have to hold water-but not too much.
Never use a pot that doesn't have holes in the bottom.
Pots without holes in the bottom are for decoration.
They need you to place a pot that will drain inside of them
and remove that inside pot to water.
Every time you water.

Your BIG pots should have holes in the bottom.
Sometimes they have a hole provided by 
the manufacturer but it will prove insufficient.
We drilled extra holes in the bottom of the large beige pots
used in this project so they would be sure to drain out.
It's a BIG plus if you can find one with self watering or 
extra drainage like the tall black one below.

Even when your pot has enough drainage holes at the bottom,
it's a good idea to add a layer of gravel.
I have skipped this step a few times and regretted it.
The plants go hog wild and before you know it, 
there's something clogging the holes at the bottom.  
Then they can't drain and it's a mud-pot.
Just bite the bullet, buy a $3 bag of gravel and put it in there.
Each of the beige pots have a bag of gravel in the bottom.

We used mixed river rock in the bottom because it was cheapest...any medium size gravel will do

Stage It

Before you plant....stage the pots where you want them to go.
This is especially important if you are the size of a hobbit (like me).
When you fill these pots with gravel, then dirt, then plants...
then won't be able to budge them.
If you stage them beforehand, you have one last opportunity
to make adjustments before you're committed.

The Dirt

Fill with a potting mix that is made for containers.
There are lots of ways to mess this step up.
I know that there are people who want us to use soil and compost and everything
...and you can do that too...
so long as you have a degree in soil science.
Most everyone else should just buy the Miracle-Gro 
or the extra special potting mix from the big box home improvement store.
You need to fill the soil to within two inches of the top.
This project took 8 bags.
Do not skimp.
If you skimp, your plants will be fighting to be seen over the rims of the planter.
They might also be sitting in water more than they need to be.
They won't get the proper access to sunlight and it will take a while for them to start growing.
They might end up weirdly tall and leggy.
Don't over fill.
If you overfill, your water is likely to run OUT of the pot 
instead of staying inside the pot-where the roots are.


Now we get to the planting part.  This is often the most exciting part but is...
sadly, an easy place for things to go wrong again.
Some plants you're planting will be brand new babies.
These need to be handled gently when taken out of
 the plastic store bought pots.
Gently....flip the plant upside down and squeeze the bottom
 of the plants while holding your hand over the soil line.
The little baby plant should fall out into your hand.
Stems between your first two fingers, soil keeping it from falling through.

Place the plants in the pot in the relative space that you want to put them.
You're trying to be gentle to these little babies.
Once you're happy with placement, then bury the roots so that the line of soil
is even with the depth of the soil in the pot..
If your soil didn't have an added fertilizer
then add some now.  
Osmocote is a slow release option or you can 
use more natural ones like blood meal and bone meal.
(yes, that is really what they are-blood and bone concentrated down)'re almost done.
Water that pot until water runs out of the bottom.  
It needs to be thoroughly soaked.

Demo Project?



Here's what our final project looked like on day one.
It will look very different in two weeks.
The tallest plants get 4-6' high so should stretch to the top of the brick.
The vines that drape over the side get 2-4' long.
I pinched the red tops off of the salvia in the auxillary pot...I may end up going back to pull them out altogether but didn't want to do that right away.
We have almost no repeats in these pots...there is one of everything EXCEPT deep purple petunias. There are repeats across the pots that tie them together (petunias, coleus, gomphrena, dahlias).
We used lots of foliage for color since it shows up better from a distance than flowers.  

Purple and lime green!  the best combo ever!

Side view

Sweet potato vine, dahlia , ornamental pepper, sage and canna lily in the back...

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