garden compositions—the 10 commandments of container gardening

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garden compositions—

the 10 commandments of container gardening

Ok, boys and girls, it’s time to gather ‘round for a lesson from the Gospel of Gardening. Put on your best overalls and finest gardening gloves, pull up your wheelbarrow to the potting shed, and sit back on your weeding stool as I present today’s sermon on the Ten Commandments of Container Gardening. These “commandments” are guidelines to help you be successful in your container gardening endeavors.

Success begins with what’s in your SOIL. Just like Grandma used to say: “It’s what’s on the inside that counts.” Having the right type of soil for container plantings is vital to growing season-long plantings, whether they are herbs, vegetables, annuals, or perennials. You want what is often referred to as “soil-less soil,” a product that is a well-draining mixture of compost, vermiculite, peat moss, and water retention particles, and is free of soil-born diseases and weeds. Using garden soil or topsoil will cause the container mix to quickly become compacted, not giving tender roots an opportunity to grow. Look for products like Fafard Complete Container Mix, Monrovia Organics Potting Soil, or Miracle Gro Moisture Control Container Mix.

Let the sun guide you in everything you do. Wherever you place your container, be aware of how much sun (or how little sun) that container will receive. Fill that container only with plants that like the same sun requirements. For instance, Lantana is a full sun plant that needs at least 6 hours of sun to bloom well. Don’t mix Lantana with Torenia, a plant that fries in all day sun. Know the sun requirements of your plants, and don’t believe everything you read on the plant tag! Full sun in Michigan (where a lot of tags are made) is much different that full sun in Tennessee. When trying a new plant, talk to someone knowledgeable about the sun requirements for that plant.

Know your own gardening limitations and do not covet your neighbor’s abilities.  Take an honest look at your time constraints or physical limitations and only plant what you can maintain. Choose low maintenance annual plants for your summer containers like mandevilla, allamanda, begonia, duranta, caladium, or Kimberly queen ferns if you know you have little time for deadheading and watering. Install irrigation tubing to your containers if you know you’ll be traveling or working long past watering hours.

Know your gardening style and plant accordingly. If you love a cottage garden container look, plant lots of annual, perennials and flowering shrubs. Look for loose airy plants like gaura, bidens, callibrachoa, gaillardia, scabiosa, or butterfly bush. If you enjoy a more formal look, use boxwoods, topiaries, compact shrubs like Gumpo Azaleas, annuals like geraniums, or perennials with a uniform look like Veronica Sunny Border Blue or Dianthus Pixie. Choose planters that reflect that style also. It is quite incongruous to see a log cabin style home with formal cast iron urns by the front door.

Remember when planting your container to keep it holey. A container without a hole is a water garden. Make sure you have good drainage—most plants do not like to be water-logged and tend to die more quickly from root rot than drying out.

Always loosen the root ball of your plants when transplanting them in your container. Use either your fingers or the blade of your trowel to relax the root ball before you put it into the planter to ensure that the roots start to reach out into the soil rather than keep wrapping around the root system.

Make sure you know what size your plant will grow to during the growing season.  Instant gratification is a common theme in our society so folks often will plant way too many plants to fill up a container in the early spring, only to find that the only plant that they see in August are the Wave petunias that overtook the containers. Read carefully the height and width potential of your baby plants.

Don’t forget to fertilize! Annual plants are generally heavy feeders so use both a slow release fertilizer such as Osmocote when planting, then feed regularly throughout the season with fertilizers like Colorburst, Bloombooster, Monty’s Joy Juice, Daniel’s Fertilizer, or Flowertone.

Check regularly for pest and disease. There are several good products for treating Aphids, pests, and fungal disease such as Bayer’s All Purpose Flower Care, Neem Oil, and many of the “Garden Safe” products.

Remember the words of Hortius Culturii, “A plant without fertilizer is weak.  A plant without water is dead.” Don’t forget to water your plants…

Remember to come see the Westhaven Courtyard Tour May 14-16 and visit our Spring Market on May 15 during the tour!


Editor’s Note:Barbara Wise, floriculture director withSouthernLand Company, LLC, brings her gardening expertise and experience to readers of House &Home &Garden™.  You can now read more of Barbara’s plant musings at or follow on twitter@bwisegardens.    E-mail your questions to her at

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