Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
New England
May, 2001
Regional Report

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Containers of flowers, vegetables, or herbs can dress up a deck and provide food and joy throughout the summer.

Creating Container Delights

I used to think container gardening was only for people who lived in apartments or, who otherwise didn't have gardening space. However, I've grown more fond of container gardening over the years and I now visitors see my pots of flowers, vegetables, and herbs not only on our back deck, but throughout our gardens.

Getting Started with Containers

You can literally use anything as a container. I've seen gardeners using old wheelbarrows, shoes, and even gas grills (without the gas on, of course) as containers for growing plants. The keys to any container is using the right soil and providing good water drainage.

The Right Soil

I use a potting mix that's light and easy to work. I made the mistake a few years ago buying the cheapest potting soil I could find and ended up with a heavy mass of soil in my pots and plants that never thrived. Now I check the potting mix before buying to make sure the soil has generous amounts of peat moss and perlite so the roots can get the necessary air to grow properly.

Let it Drain

Your container of choice needs to have proper drainage holes. Commercial wood, plastic, clay, and fake terra cotta pots come with sufficient holes. However, on found containers you'll need to drill some 1-inch diameter holes in the bottom to allow water to exit the pot. You can also place your plant in a plastic pot one size smaller than your desired pot, then insert it inside. This works well when using decorative ceramic pots that don't have predrilled drainage holes.

Great Plant Combinations

Once you have the container and soil, the fun begins. You can grow almost any plant in a container. Annual flowers, vegetables, and herbs are most common and I've found some great combinations over the years that I like. Our window boxes are usually filled with creeping thyme, sage, and parsley. Our individual colored plastic pots may feature a single plant such as the Surfina-type petunias, dwarf sunflowers, or eggplant. Geraniums underplanted with white alyssum or blue ageratum make a more traditional statement in clay pots, while exotic plants such as cannas and datura in one-half whiskey barrels, give our deck a lush, tropical look.

Container Care

Whatever choices you make, remember to keep them well watered, plant closely to create a dense look, and fertilize with a controlled-release fertilizer that will gently feed plants through the summer. If some plants get scraggly by mid-summer, prune them back. Or pull them out and start over with new plants and designs. As the weather cools and light levels drop in fall, move containers to protected, sunny areas to stretch out as much growing time as you can from the season.

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