Dear Claire: Do You Have Some Container Gardening Tips?
Container Gardening Tips: How to Keep Your Plants Thriving
The way I like to think about container gardening is that your plant is your prisoner in the container. So, you need to be cognizant of what you’re putting into the container.
Container gardening can be difficult and it’s not very forgiving. What I mean by that is if you put a plant in your backyard in dirt, it’s usually going to just send some roots out and find the stuff that it needs. If it’s in a container, it doesn’t really have anywhere to go so you need to provide it with stuff that it needs, most importantly water and food, just like all of us.
With the containers that I have, I learned the hard way that you usually want to have some sort of watering system. For the first few years, I had a bunch of containers in my backyard, and I would just water them every day with the hose. That’s a lot of effort. It’s a lot of work and it’s probably not going to happen. So that’s the first thing.
Also, where you locate the container is a big deal because of the sunlight needed. Of course, when you go to the nursery, if you’re anything like me, I only look at plants that I think look really cool and then only secondarily do I look at the thing on the inside to see what kind of sun it likes and what kind of heat it likes; is it drought tolerant, etc.
Most of the time, especially right now, if you’re thinking about doing containers, you’re going to want plants that are pretty drought-tolerant. Unless it’s in the shade, but even then if it’s in the shade, it’s probably being shaded by the house or by another tree. So that will mean it’s going to need to be drought tolerant because it’s not going to get enough water, especially in the summertime in Portland. It’s not going to get much water at all If we have a good summer, that is. Therefore, you’re going to want to either manage the watering yourself or you’re going to want to manage it by having the right plants that can tolerate having a couple of days with no water.
Another thing is watching where the sun lands on your property is something you should do when gardening in general. In the summer, our sun comes from the southwest and in the winter, it comes from a little bit less than southwest. Therefore, you’ll want to look specifically at your property and exactly where the sun is coming from because in one lot that’s just 50 by 100 square feet, which is a typical lot in Portland, you’re going to have parts that have all shade, all hot sun, or rain. You could take a 50 by 100 lot and have four different zones in it depending on where the sun hits and for how long. So, you really want to pay attention to that before you put a container somewhere because if it’s a big container, it’s going to be hard to move.
Something to consider then, obviously, is what the container size is going to be because this will matter. A lot of people, and myself included, love the big containers because they look amazing. They look architectural, add some structure to your backyard composition, and look amazing. Of course, you want to make sure that you have the right plant for it. If I have a little baby 4-inch plant in a big container it actually hinders the growth of the plant because it’s just too much space for the plant to take up. Therefore, you want to match the space of the container with the size of your plant. If you’re getting a big container, you’ll probably want a gallon container plant to fill that container and space. The other big thing, and most containers that you’re going to get at the store, are going to have holes already drilled in the bottom of them. I’ve seen people do really cool stuff like water troughs or you know, stuff that you use for farm animals to water them — those things are really cool to use as containers, but they weren’t intended as plant containers. So, you must make sure you have holes in the bottom of them and you can drill them with just a regular old drill. You’re going to need probably at least an inch hole in the bottom for good drainage because if that plant has a bunch of water sitting in it, the roots are going to rot and you don’t want that to happen.
With fertilizer, there are so many different kinds to choose from. There are container specific fertilizers, however, I like to opt more for plant specific fertilizer since plants that flower need more of certain things than plants that don’t. If you want to encourage your plant to flower, then you should also fertilize it with stuff that’s going to make it flower. That’s kind of the gist of it. You’re going to spend a lot of money on fertilizer that says it’s for specific plants, such as rose food, which is just flower food, so bear that in mind when you’re looking at the nursery. There’s going to be three numbers on the front of the fertilizer, including nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash. Those are the three things that most plants need to just live and thrive. The numbers correspond to those three different minerals and in essence, is what specifically each plant needs, so each plants actually like different things and different combinations of those three things.
Let’s say you have a container and you want to get super specific with just one plant. You could even mix your own fertilizer if you really want to go crazy. I tried this and it’s pretty fun. However, it’s very labor-intensive. Obviously, always save your plant tags. I suggest putting them in the container with the plant because you’re going to forget what that plant likes. It’s really nice to have a guide that you can just pull out and look at.
If you have any questions, just let me know. If you don’t want to do any of this, I have people here for you that can take care of the plants for you. That’s always an option, however, I like getting my hands dirty. Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed all of the information I’ve thrown at you! Take care.
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