Expert Advice

Choosing Plants for Container Gardening

Authored by:

Earth Science

Container gardening is a simple way to add décor just about anywhere- inside the home, or even the backyard patio. Since containers vary in size and shape, they’ll fit in your indoor or outdoor areas with ease, making container gardening a great option for apartment dwellers, and those working with small spaces. However, the success of container gardening often depends on choosing the right plants for your containers. For the best results, keep the following considerations in mind when choosing your plants.

Container Size

The size of your container is one of the first things you should consider when choosing plants. The container should be large enough to allow for adequate water drainage, and root growth. When it comes to containers, bigger is generally better, as larger pots hold more media and therefore more water and nutrients. Always choose plants that are smaller than your container, so they have room to grow into it, and can be trimmed if they grow too large.

Types of Containers

Containers are available in a wide range of shapes and sizes, from materials ranging from peat moss to clay to plastic, wood, and metal. Porous containers, like unglazed terra cotta and peat absorb water and the media will therefore lose water faster than glazed, plastic, or metal pots. That means that porous containers will need more frequent watering. If you have a hard time keeping containers moist in hot summer weather, consider glazed containers or those made from plastic or metal. Don’t be afraid to repurpose or recycle containers into planters. Creative examples include 5-gallon plastic buckets, woven baskets, and even old boots! Just be sure there are drainage holes in the bottom of pots to ensure that they will drain well.

Choosing Media

Consider plant soil requirements when selecting a media for your container. Most plants require media that drains well, but also holds moisture. This ensures that the roots receive enough oxygen and can easily absorb water. Some plants, like cacti and succulents, store water and are adapted to dry environments. They grow best in media which drains extremely well. Potting media designed for such mixes is often called “high porosity” and contains extra perlite.

Note that putting a layer of gravel on the bottom of a pot does not improve drainage. Due to the way water moves through tiny pores in soil, this actually reduces drainage in the pot.

Combining Plants

It’s often desirable to combine different types of plants in one container. This can provide stunning color and texture combinations, all in one pot. However, when combining plants, you will need to be careful to choose plants with similar water, light, and nutrient requirements. Choosing a desert plant and tropical plant, for instance, will create watering discrepancies, causing one plant or the other to struggle.

Container size, shape, and plant growth factors are all practical aspects to consider when choosing plants for your container gardening projects. Once you’ve looked into all of these factors, however, you should also consider aesthetics, or how you want your container to look.

Many gardeners use containers for mixed plantings containing a variety of different plants with a range of colors and textures. When choosing plants for a mixed container, pick plants that have the same soil, light, and water needs. Consider combinations of plants with different growth habits and textures. For instance, a tall plant in the center of the container can be combined with a trailing plant at the edge of the pot and shorter plants in between. And don’t forget about edible plants in mixed containers. Many herbs and leafy vegetables are attractive enough to also serve as ornamentals. Common flowering annuals used in containers include petunias, purple fountain grass, bacopa, alyssum, lobelia, marigolds, and begonias. For dramatic accents, annual ornamental grasses like ornamental millet or fountain grass are excellent choices. Mix and match plants to create a beautiful and unique container garden uniquely styled to your tastes.

If you consider these practical factors, you’ll be able to choose plants that thrive in any container garden. Additionally, as gardeners mix various plants with containers, they’ll also enhance the aesthetic value to their displays. For more information on container gardening, contact us today!