"HOW On Earth"- Published in Pink Magazine- August 2009

Container Gardening 101

“August rushes by like desert rainfall,

A flood of frenzied upheaval,


But still catching me unprepared.

Like a match flame

Bursting on the scene,

Heat and haze of crimson sunsets.

Like a dream

Of moon and dark barely recalled,

A moment,

Shadows caught in a blink.

Like a quick kiss;

One wishes for more

But it suddenly turns to leave,

Dragging summer away.”

– Elizabeth Maua Taylor

My favorite type of gardening is container gardening. I love the simplicity, ease, and instant gratification that potted plants can provide. Potting up a simple planter with flowers and putting it on my deck always brings a smile to my face. Container gardening can be very creative. I love coming up with new and different color combinations. This summer I really got interested in all those new sedums and succulents. Their varied textures fascinated me and their minimal needs thrilled me. Container gardening affords endless possibilities. This is the place to try something new, be it a vibrant color or unusual plant or a funky pot.

Here are a few tips to creating some successful containers.

Container Gardening 101

1. Wow, do I ever love shopping for containers. I have always had an appreciation for old Italian terra cotta pots. I also love using those wire baskets in any shape and style. So what do I look for when choosing a suitable container? It must have a drainage hole. If not, then either drill a hole using a masonry bit or you can place the plant in a liner and then put inside your container with crushed stone in the bottom for drainage. Another idea is to use found objects. Tree stumps, shells, feeding troughs, baskets, and watering cans, are all possibilities for containers. Let’s allow our imaginations to run wild and really think out of the box.

2. Place some clay shards or pebbles in the bottom to help drainage and to keep the dirt from washing through.

3. I recommend using a good quality soil mix. Fafard and Monrovia make excellent soil mixes. Moisten the dirt before planting. This allows the soil to settle. Please leave space at the top of your pot, 1-2”, for mulch and ease of watering.

4. I like to set the plants in the pot and rearrange until I get the desired effect. This is the really fun part. When planting, keep the soil level the same. Plants can rot if the dirt or mulch touches their stems.

5. Mulching our containers not only is aesthetically pretty but it provides organic matter, preserves water, cools plants in the summer and warms them in the winter, and keeps the dirt from splashing up. I prefer the small pine bark mulch or moss.

6. Okay, now we get down to the maintenance. Watering, deadheading, (removing spent flowers), pruning and fertilizing are the basic needs of plants. Out of all of these, watering I find is the number one reason for plants not thriving or surviving.

Frequently Asked Questions about Container Gardening:

How much do I water?

The amount of sunlight, the size of the pot, the type of plant, and the season greatly influences the water needs of plants. When buying your plants it is helpful to inquire about the water needs of each plant and only group plants in a container with similar water needs. When watering, water until you see the water coming out of the bottom of the pot.

What vegetables can I plant in pots?

I have had great success with lettuce, bush beans, peppers, radishes, tomatoes (plum, roma, cherry and grape). Herbs also work great, rosemary by far being the easiest. When planting edibles, please use only organic soils and fertilizers and add compost which creates better tasting vegetables.

What plants can I use at my front door?

Front entrances generally are dry and shady. I like to use houseplants such as Dracaenas, Cast Iron, Pothos, Crotons, Spider plants, and Sansevieria in these locations. Leave them in their plastic liners and set inside the container. This way they can easily be pulled out and placed inside during occasional freezing weather.

I have shade and deer. What can I plant?

Begonias, coleus, and torenia will provide color. Also think in terms of texture and leaf color. Ferns are a great choice mixed with Huecheras and Vinca vine.

What evergreen plants make good container plants?

My favorite here is boxwood. This plant is so versatile in sun or shade and handles quite a bit of neglect. Podocarpus and Ligustrum are my next favorites followed by Palms.