Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
March, 2008
Regional Report

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The variegated leaves of this flowering maple brighten a shady nook in my garden.

Adding Character With Containers

Containers are everywhere in my garden, lush and vibrant, filled with annuals, perennials, grasses, roses, vines, and shrubs. My collection of more than 50 terra-cotta planters serves a variety of purposes. One group of containers greets visitors and invites them to climb the front steps; another beckons family and friends down a path and into the woodland garden at the north end of our property. I've grouped some pots as focal points at the foot of the arbor, and others frame a seating area under a large maple tree. I use a single terra-cotta pot on a pedestal of an old tree stump to form the intersection of several converging paths in the side yard. And, in a corner of our back deck, I've assembled a collection of large pots to provide screening and privacy from the house next door.

In my garden, containers are not just ornaments but an integral part of a garden design that is still evolving. I rely on them because they can be picked up and moved around, which makes them the perfect partners in my quest to produce a lush and beautiful setting without depleting my gardening budget.

There are only three basic steps to successful container gardening. First, provide your plants with a suitable environment. This usually means a large container filled with well-draining growing medium to provide plenty of room for root growth. Plant closely within the containers for best appearance, and be sure to water and fertilize as often as necessary.

Choosing the Right Container
Just about any plant can be grown in a container, from flowering annuals to small trees. The bigger the plant, the bigger the pot needs to be. I try to keep the pot and plant in proportion. A small plant in a big pot looks just as funny as a huge plant in a small pot. As the plants grow, transplant them into larger pots.

Containers come in a variety of styles and materials. I prefer terra-cotta pots simply because they're durable, and I think they develop character as they age. But I also use glazed ceramic pots in situations where I want to add a contrasting color to a planting of mostly green foliage. After you've selected the appropriate containers, drill a few drainage holes in the bottom if there aren't any already. I place small rocks or pieces of plastic weed barrier over the holes to reduce soil loss when watering. In very large containers, you can place a layer of several empty, capped soft drink bottles in the bottom to reduce the amount of soil needed and to make the pot lighter.

The Best Soil
Packaged potting soils have just the right balance of aeration and moisture-holding capacity for ideal root growth. Don't use garden soil. It rarely drains properly, can be very heavy when wet, and may harbor plant diseases.

Water Frequently
Plants growing in containers dry out faster than those in the ground and will need more frequent watering. To test soil moisture levels, stick your finger into the top few inches of soil to see if it's dry. A dry pot will also feel light when picked up or tilted on its side. If dry, thoroughly soak the soil with water.

Fertilize Often
The frequent watering required to keep potted plants healthy leaches nutrients out of the soil. To compensate, I fertilize mine twice a month during the growing season with a half-strength solution of liquid fertilizer.

Final Design Tip
I think it's important to place containers in groups. To me, a group of containers is more engaging than one lone pot. And when that special occasion arises and you want to spruce up your entry to welcome guests, your containers will be ready to provide just the right touch.

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