Cooperative Extension Service 
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Hendry County Extension, P.O. Box 68, LaBelle, Florida 33975-0068  Phone (863) 674-4092

Hendry County Horticulture News

Container Gardens - A Novel Solution for Small Spaces

A versatile and easy way to grow colorful annual flowers is in containers.  If it will hold soil, it is a container, while many people think primarily of pots or half barrels as likely containers for plants, just about any "container" is a prospect.  Car tires, old shoes, coffee pots, and just about anything imaginable can be used to grow plants, don't be afraid to try it.  Container growing offers many benefits, not the least of which is that you can put a "garden" just about anywhere.  Balconies or window sills can become urban gardens, or splashes of color can be put on a backyard deck or patio.

Container gardens require less weeding than in-ground gardens, making them ideal for busy people who love gardening but have limited time.  However, watering has to be watched more closely.  Containers can dry out quickly.  Hot sun and breezes can quickly wick moisture from plants.  Be prepared to water daily or even twice daily during hot, dry spells.

If an area receives full sun most of the day, you can choose from a wide selection of sun loving flowers.  If the area receives limited sun, choose plants that tolerate less light, and for shady areas, shade loving plants.  For appealing groupings, include plants of different heights, colors and textures, keeping  in mind that plants taller than one and one half times the height of the container may look unbalanced.

For maximum interest and to create depth, try groups of three to five different sized containers - for example, one or two large pots with plants reaching about 2 or 3 feet tall, one with 18 inch plants, and two with 12 inch or smaller plants.  When grouped, these plants will give a three-dimensional look to your mini garden.  Don't get a round pot and put a dracaena in the middle, surround it with geraniums, and put ivy on the outside.  This is often done in pots, look at nature and see if nature ever does anything like that.

One common mistake is grouping the wrong combination of plants.  Don't mix shade loving plants with sun loving plants in the same container or in the same grouping.  Shade plants will not perform as well in full sun, and full sun plants will not perform their best in limited light. Even if mixed and put in partial sun and partial shade, neither type will give its best show.  Stick to one type in a container and in a grouping.

You can also create a garden that you can vary by planting masses of one color and variety in separate containers, and provided that the containers are not too heavy, plants can be moved and rearranged whenever the need or mood arises.

Choose a container deep enough for the root systems of the plants you will be growing, and one that will hold ample soil for both support and water retention.  A good container should have a drainage hole at the bottom.  Before adding soil, put some gravel or pieces of broken pots over the hole to prevent the soil from washing out with each watering.  Good drainage can prevent soggy soil that limits a plant's uptake of needed oxygen.  Over watering is more of a problem with plants grown in the shade than with plants grown in full sun.  Use a good, sterile, porous potting medium for filling your containers.  Mixing a time release fertilizer into the medium will help feed the plants as they grow.

If you provide enough nutrients and water you can space plants closer together than usual.  In a larger pot, you could plant nine to 12 transplants, depending on their mature size.  Be careful not to over plant, or when the plants mature they will overshadow one another and look crowded.

Color, texture and flower form are the basic elements in designing a container garden. With color, anything goes.  Texture is often brought out by including foliage plants such as leather-leaved ferns, or asparagus sprengeri with its long lacy fronds.  Let trailing plants spill over the edges of the containers to soften and de-formalize plantings.

Flower forms can be grouped into three basic shapes.  Line forms like salvia or snapdragons are tall and spiky.  Mass forms such as daisies, petunias or marigolds have many small or large flowers.  Focus forms such as African marigolds, or geraniums, are characterized by large or distinctive flowers.

Plant individual pots of one type (all salvia, for example, or combine one or two types in a larger pot  (salvia and sprengeri), depending on the look you want for your grouping.  The idea is to combine color, texture and varying heights in a grouping of containers.  Don't create an abrupt change in height, like a really tall plant with a vine hanging down.  Transition in nature is gradual.

Keep your containers well watered, and watch for any wilting when the wind blows.  If no fertilizer was incorporated with the growing mix, be sure to fertilize plants so that they keep growing.  Weed as necessary.

Container growing isn't much different than growing plants in the garden - the basics remain the same, but it can offer versatility and less weeding.  Good luck and good gardening!

Gene McAvoy is the horticulture agent with the Hendry County Extension Service.  Direct your horticulture questions to PO Box 68, LaBelle, FL 33975,  e-mail - or phone 863-674-4092 or 863-983-1598.  You are also welcome to visit the Hendry County Extension Office at 225 Pratt Blvd., LaBelle.   Office hours are from 8:00 - 5:00.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an Equal Employment Opportunity - Affirmative Action Employer authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap or national origin.

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