Create an Outdoor Container Garden

Container garden

Container gardening with cacti and succulents

Container Gardening

Container gardens are arguably the most versatile way to garden. You can design one to thrive indoors or out. The outdoor container garden has the most versatility. It can be tiny and set on a table top, fill in a balcony, patio, or small garden space, define the edges of permanent features in the garden, or be integrated into the overall garden design. These gardens are ideal for specimen plants, creating spots of color or sculpting living flower arrangements. You can even grow your own vegetable garden completely in containers. Container gardens are double the fun because you can plant them any time of the year and if you need to protect them in winter, most of them are transportable. If you really want to indulge in container gardening, you can even create an entire landscape in a miniature garden.

Where soils are not fertile, like where I live in the canyon area of the chaparral, containers can be an excellent solution to poor soil. By filling the space we want to plant with a packaged soil, we can get around all that work of digging and amending. Planting in large containers can also be a way to control some  wild critter problems, especially the borrowing types like gophers. Even our pets can sometimes be a threat to carefully planted or delicate areas. The control afforded by planting in a pot, a built up, contained area or any other type of enclosed planting space can reduce some of the work and maintenance of growing plants. Of course, there are other concerns that will have to be addressed like watering smaller spaces that will dry out more easily. But a well-thought-out drip or bubbler watering system should take care of the challenge. You can even set your system on a timer so you don’t have to baby sit your watering on a daily basis.

Make your design fit your garden. Think about what kind of receptacles will fit best with the design and style of your house and landscape. Wander through the isles filled with pots, tubs, troughs and bowls at at your favorite garden center and check out all the different sizes, colors, materials and shapes.

Get creative. Recycle an old sink, wash tub, bath tub, a broken fountain or even plant a worn-out boot or hang a planted kitchen colander, or chipped tea pot. Container gardens can created with a collection of the same type of receptacles, one big container, a mixture of different soil holders all in the same material or color, or an assortment of all the above that are designed to build an attractive, overall effect.

Build your own container. Anything that could hold water can be adapted. Make sure you have holes for drainage in the bottom of your container so water doesn’t build up and rot roots. And add  a pan or tray below to catch drips if your container garden will sit above a surface that can be damaged. Add a layer of drainage material like broken pot shards or gravel to keep soil from sifting out through the holes. Some people like to use newspaper to line the bottom, but this can eventually rot away and leak. Then fill the pot with potting soil, set in and water your chosen plants. (Some people prefer to use no drainage material at the bottom of the pot. It isn’t necessary, but it does keep the soil from leaking out of the holes at the bottom.)

Choose plants that will grow well in the location where they will be planted. For sunny spots choose the many fascinating shapes of cacti and succulents (using a cactus soil mix), and for a lush winter look, plant evergreen plants. For a good design, plant at least one tall, narrow plant and one trailer that will spill down the side of the container. If you want to cheer up your container garden with a burst of color, add annual bedding flowers. They’re easy to change from season to season and can add brilliance when the longer-living perennials are not flowering. Other fun plants for container gardens are herbs or even vegetables. You can add bulbs to a mixed container garden to introduce showy flowers while some of the slower blooming plants are still developing buds.

Container gardens can be accents for the landscape. Add a container garden to decorate an outdoor table. Set containers on retaining walls or crown the tops of pilasters. Cascading plants can enliven a blank wall, cover an ugly tree stump or clothe a space with a sheer drop. Set large containers with tall plants to fill an empty floor space.

Winter container gardens can make gardening easy in cooler, wetter weather. They can accent any space or make a whole garden of their own. And they are a great way to make vegetable gardening with cool season crops like peas, cabbage, fava beans or Swiss chard easy, pest-resistant, convenient and downright ornamental. You can also add some of those annual flowers to perk up a bowl of less decorative edibles. But don’t forget that even edibles can be decorative: use the bronze fennel, red lettuce, yellow-flowering okra or the cascading asparagus pea with its bright red little flowers. Most of these are best planted from seed. Strawberries create their own decoration whether they are planted in strawberry pots or regular pots. Some even grow with decorative pink flowers before setting their delicious red fruits.

Outdoor pots also give you a chance to grow some of the plants you’d love but are too frost shy for you winter climate. You can move the pots under shelter– or even indoors — when cold threatens. Consider some of the dwarf citrus trees or the showy hibiscus for more delicate potted choices.

Whether you are a seasoned gardener or just starting out, planting in containers has a lot to offer both decoratively and practically.

Container Water Garden

Lousiana Hybrid Iris

Bog plant: a colorful Lousiana Hybrid Iris “Black Gamecock”

There is nothing more refreshing than a water garden in the landscape. But some people do not have the time or the space to fuss with a pond or a bog garden. You can make a container water garden that is easy to care for, ornamental and will fit even on a patio or a balcony and still enjoy your own private water feature.

Just like creating a flower or vegetable garden in individual planters, you can use all kinds of containers whether they are pots, buckets, tubs or recycled oddities like an old sink or bathtub. Just make sure you use something that will look interesting and decorative and can hold water without leaking. If you plan to add fish, you will need to make sure you don’t use any material that could prove toxic. Some metals and plastics will leach into the water, polluting it.

Larger water gardens with fish should be equipped with some aeration like a fish tank system or a little, recirculating waterfall or water sprinkler attatchment to keep the water oxygenated. Unless you have a 1000 gallon container or larger, don’t try raising Koi fish, but stick to some of the smaller fish like mosquito fish or goldfish. (There are some very ornamental varieties of goldfish.)You could also keep small turtles in a larger garden offering them some decorative rocks for sunning. Any container garden with living creatures has to be set up wisely so the water does not become polluted. And you will need to check this artificial environment daily to keep it clean and functioning.

To make sure you don’t get uninvited mosquito larvae moving into your container garden water drop in a ‘mosquito dunk’ that will biologically keep mosquito eggs from hatching. Mosquito dunks are available from pond stores and many garden centers. Most fish will also eat the mosquito eggs and larvae – and most turtles will eat small fish. So plan your water population accordingly.

Then there comes the fun part; the plants. Use containers that are deep for growing miniature lotus and miniature waterlilies. Bog plants like Pickerel Weed and the showy Lousiana Hybrid Iris can be set in shallow water. And floating plants like duck weed, azolla or Parrot’s Feather will be fine anywhere. The floaters tend to multiply fast so you will likely have to keep them regularly thinned out.

Sun will encourage plants to flower, but it will also make green algae grow. The algae can clog your water garden and look unsightly. There are liquid additives you can buy to kill off algae or you can hand pull much of it to keep it under control.

Having a container water garden is fun for the whole family, soothing to look at, and makes a fine focal point for big and little landscapes alike.