The sky’s the limit when it comes to container gardens

Container gardening is very versatile and rewarding. In fact, many people are unaware how effective and fulfilling gardening in containers, as opposed to in ground beds, can be.
The possibilities for types of containers, and the combinations of plants that can be grown in them, is unlimited.
Container gardening can be a great way for the beginner or child gardener to “get their hands dirty,” for the condo or apartment dweller to grow something, or to just add some decoration outside.
The first step is in choosing your container. You can purchase containers in many materials today, such as plastic, clay, metal, or cement, or the new resin products made to look like stone, cement, or metal without the cost and weight of the real thing.
Whatever your budget, you can find a planter suitable for you. Why, just use your creativity as you may have something around the house that could be an interesting planter.
I have seen tires, washtubs, barrels, steamer trunks, and metal containers turned into wonderful container gardens. You are limited only by your imagination.
Whatever you choose, just make sure to add a few holes in the bottom of the container to ensure good drainage.
The next step is to choose your planting medium—this is the soil you are going to add to your planters. It is important to choose the right soil in order to guarantee your success through the whole growing season.
Do not use the soil from your already-established garden as this soil tends to compact over time in a container garden, limiting the growing room for the roots of the plants.
It is wise to invest in a potting mix in a bag suited to container gardening. You can choose a formula called patio mix, container mix, or soil-less mix (these formulas are relatively the same and are designed to not compact when used in a container).
These soils should say on the bag that they are sterilized to prevent disease, and my come with or without fertilizer added.
You will have to fertilize container gardens regularly throughout the season regardless of whether you buy a soil mixture with or without fertilizer, so either formula will work.
Before adding the soil to your container, place a piece of window screen, a coffee filter, nylon pantyhose, or a few rocks over the drainage holes to prevent the soil from washing out.
If your container is really large, you can add foam packing peanuts or bark mulch in the bottom of the container before adding soil so you do not have to fill the whole container with soil.
This also makes the planter much lighter if you have to move it around.
Deciding what to put in your planters can be the hardest part. Almost any plant can be planted in a container—even trees and shrubs with some limitations.
Many garden vegetables can be grown in containers. Most people are familiar with patio or cherry tomatoes grown in a pot, but keep in mind that lettuce, radishes, and even cucumbers supported on a trellis can be grown in a container garden.
Just make sure the container you choose is deep enough to accommodate the vegetables you are trying to grow (herbs are another favourite of container gardeners).
Herbs can be planted in containers and then brought into the house to continue the supply into the winter. Many herbs like sage, rosemary, and parsley (just to name a few) can be grown in the house all winter and brought back out the following spring.
You also can add edible flowers to your herbal container garden if you like.
Perennials can be successfully grown in a container garden. Ornamental grasses, ferns, clematis supported on a trellis, roses, and many other varieties of perennials can make an interesting container garden by itself or paired with annuals.
In the fall, the perennials either can be added to the garden or buried in the container in the ground and then covered with straw for winter protection.
Another great choice for container gardens are plants like calla lilies and dahlias, which are bulbs or tubers that have to be dug up each fall.
By using them in a container garden, you get a spectacular display of flowers, but then don’t lose track of the bulb in the garden when it is time to dig it up for fall storage.
Strawberries also come in a variety suitable for containers called hanging strawberry. The berries are fully edible, and the plant will grow over the edges of the pot making picking very easy.
You can plant small trees and shrubs in a container and then plant it the ground in the fall. If your container is large enough, you even can plant a dwarf variety evergreen and it can stay in the planter for many years.
Just ask at your local nursery for assistance with this.
Don’t forget plants that we use as houseplants. Spider plant, ivy, or dracaenas can be used as accents in container gardens, as well. Just start a few slips in the winter, then add to your planter.
There are no rules about what can and can’t be planted in a planter. You have the freedom to decide what you would like to plant and in what combination.
Don’t be afraid to mix some unusual varieties together, or go with all greenery and no flowers. Vegetables look great paired with herbs and edible flowers, or hanging strawberries with calla lilies in the middle.
Carrot tops are very fern-like and would look great mixed with pansies. Who knows what combination you can come up with.
Now that you have chosen your plant combination, go ahead and plant them. You can apply seeds directly to the soil, cover lightly with more soil, and water.
When designing container gardens with plants of varying sizes, start in the middle and plant your way out to the edges of the container. When using transplants, keep in mind that in a few weeks the plants will grow together in the container so do not over-crowd them.
Once your planter is planted, there are just three easy steps to keep it growing and looking great throughout the season. 
1. Water often and thoroughly
You want to water until you see water running out the bottom of the container. The smaller the container, the more often it will need to be watered.
Cement, clay, and stone planters will hold moisture longer as the container will absorb water, too.
In the heat of the summer, you may have to water a container garden a few times a day. Also remember that hanging baskets dry out quickly as they are small, and exposed to the heat and the wind.
2. If you have planted flowering plants, remember to “deadhead” (which means cutting off all of the spent flowers)
With annuals if you deadhead, you will encourage new flowers to bloom. With perennials, it is a good idea to deadhead before seeds are produced when the flowers finish so the energy can go back into the plant and it can prepare itself for winter.
3. Fertilize regularly
Because the amount of soil a plant can use is limited by the size of the container, the soil in a container garden loses nutrients very quickly. Buy a good all-purpose fertilizer (20-20-20) or one for flowering plants (10-20-10), and follow the directions carefully on the package.
There will be directions on the label specifically for container gardens so mix your fertilizer following these instructions. Less is more with fertilizer, so be careful not to over-fertilize.
Container gardening is just as rewarding as gardening right in the ground, but may offer many different options an in-the-ground garden cannot. You can dress up your house with window boxes, hanging baskets, or other planters.
You can add texture or colour to an already-established garden by adding containers here and there. You can create a garden instantly by adding a container, or turn a balcony or patio into one.
Whatever your needs and desires, you can custom create something just to suit you.

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