Marin Master Gardeners
University of California
Marin Master Gardeners

Container gardening offers many benefits

Grab a container, great soil, and a few plants and have some fun

Succulents are an excellent choice in containers. Photo: Gail Mason
Succulents are an excellent choice in containers. Photo: Gail Mason
There are many types of containers available: half wine barrels, plastic pots, glazed clay pots, five gallon buckets or other recycled containers can all work. In general you want a pot that will hold soil and moisture but also allow drainage. If your container doesn't have drainage holes, be sure to drill some. If your pot is large, place it where you want it before filling it with soil, as it will be harder to move once it is planted. Select an appropriately sized pot to allow for plant growth. Keep in mind that smaller pots will dry out faster and need more frequent watering. 


Use your imagination  when choosing containers. Photo: Annie Spratt, unsplash
Use your imagination when choosing containers. Photo: Annie Spratt, unsplash
Location, Location, Location
Choose your garden container location based on the cultural needs of the plant you plan to put in the container. Most vegetables need 6-8 hours of sunlight a day, as do a lot of annual and perennial flowers. Some varieties of flowers and foliage don't need as much sun or prefer it to be filtered through trees. If you aren't certain, read about the plant's cultural needs before you choose the location.

Soil
Soil is probably the most important factor in having happy container plants. You want a mix that is light, porous, and quick draining. The soil should retain moisture but also have plenty of air spaces for the roots. A good quality soil mix might cost you a little more but your plants will be much happier and more productive. To aid in retaining water, water absorbing polymers can be added to the planting mix. Time release fertilizers can also be added before planting to fertilize over a designated period of time. The four functions of soil for plants include:

  • Anchorage and support
  • Storage and supply of water
  • Supply of air
  • Storage and supply of nutrients

Drainage
Drainage is critical for plant success. If you’re worried about soil washing out of the bottom of your pot, put a paper coffee filter, a piece of screen, or a shard of pottery over the holes. Make sure the pot will not damage anything when water drains out of it. Irrigation water with fertilizer in it may leave soluble salts in the soil. Allow water to flow freely through the bottom of the pot to help leech out these salts.

No matter the size of a container, be sure it has a hole at the bottom to allow drainage. photo: rawpixel courtesy of unsplash
No matter the size of a container, be sure it has a hole at the bottom to allow drainage. photo: rawpixel courtesy of unsplash

Nutrients
If you do not choose to include a time-release fertilizer at planting time, apply a water-soluble fertilizer weakly, weekly.

Pests
Healthy plants attract few pests. For the occasional infestation, spray with water. Slugs and snails can be gathered by hand.

Cleanup
Even container plants require some weeding. Regularly clean out fallen leaves and other debris, and follow by an application of mulch, which is functional and looks nice.
Container gardening encourages experimentation with different plants and combinations that can easily be moved around to beautify your home or deck.

Photo: Gail Mason
Photo: Gail Mason
     
Photo: Gail Mason
Photo: Gail Mason


Original text by Julie Monson and Kamille Hammerstrom for the Marin IJ
Edited for the Leaflet by Jane Scurich

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