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Introduction to Container Gardening

March 8, 2022
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By John Fromer, Maine Master Gardener Volunteer

Welcome to the world of container gardening! This exciting and versatile gardening style works for everyone and every garden style. With our short growing season here in Maine, container gardening extends the season to year-round. Our blog will help you with ideas and practical, accurate information so you can always succeed. 

Our blog will explore many topics related to container gardening, focusing on shade gardening. In addition, we will discuss ways to bring in birds, butterflies, and pollinators, plus how to use garden accents to add interest to your space. 

This blog will unfold like a story over the seasons yet be a resource you can come back to time and time again. If you have questions or want specific topics addressed, do not hesitate to contact us at info@canopygardenshop.com or just stop in. We’re always glad to see you and will do our best to offer products and advice to help you realize your garden dreams.

Perhaps this is a good time to introduce myself. My name is John Fromer. I have gardened my whole life and am a Maine Master Gardener Volunteer. My wife Kathy and I have owned Appleton Ridge Flower & Vegetable Farm since 1998, growing gourmet vegetables and herbs, cut flowers and perennials. Last year, I grew the organic seedlings at our sister company Plants Unlimited just up the road. The year before, I worked in the perennial department at Plants Unlimited. For many years, I have taught classes and workshops at Merryspring Nature Center, the Master Gardener program in 4 counties, MOFGA, Midcoast School of Technology and this year at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. This year, you can find me at Canopy in our new greenhouse, Star Barn, or helping people like you.

What can you do with containers?

Containers can brighten a dark corner of your house or yard. If you are short on space, containers give you the flexibility to grow plants on a deck, under a window, a porch railing or hanging on the wall. Moreover,  Containers can be outside in warmer weather and brought in for the winter.

You can grow a wide range of plants in containers. Grow flowers, vegetables, herbs, tropical houseplants, grasses, succulents, shrubs and trees. Group containers for a significant effect or single ones to stand out by themselves. Mix and match colors, sizes, textures and height for a dramatic impact.

Where can I put my container garden?

Container gardens grow in the sun or shade. It is important to select the right plants and containers for the space where your garden will be. Sun and wind exposure are essential factors to consider. Container weight may also play a role as large containers may be difficult to move and the weight can be too much for an old porch.  

Large containers should be on a solid, level base while small ones can be on an angle to break up the uniformity. For example, in ancient Roman times, pots were planted with vining plants and set on an angle to help the plants find the trellis they were to grow on.

Containers can be moved and rearranged during the season but be sure to keep shade plants in the shade and sun-loving plants in a sunny place where they will grow best. Unlike in the garden, where moving plants during the blooming season can cause delayed blooming or worse, moving plants in containers does not affect the plants’ growth.

Containers also look great in the garden mixed in with flowers, vegetables or herbs. A saucer under each pot will keep the roots from growing into the soil. You can play off the flower colors with colored pots or go with cement or terracotta for a more classic look.

About containers

Container size, color and materials are important to the plant’s health. If you are growing long term in a container such as trees, shrubs and perennials, the container needs to be large enough to support the root systems over the years as the plants grow unless you repot. The correct growing medium and fertilizer are critical to all aspects of a plant’s health and ability to grow to its potential. The soil you use for long-term growing versus annuals or vegetables is quite different.

Containers are available in several materials, including terracotta, cement, and clay, while glazed pots come in a wide assortment of colors. Cement pots, like statuary, tend to be light gray in color and clay pots are usually off-white to dark gray.

Some pots have drainage holes in the bottom, while ones without holes are for dropping in a plant in a plastic grower’s pot. The drainage holes must have a way for the water to drain past the bottom of the pot. Set these pots up on bricks or feet so the roots do not get waterlogged.

 Light color containers reflect light while dark colors absorb heat from the sun. A tomato in a darker-colored pot sitting in the sun may dry out faster, but the absorbed heat will keep the soil warm overnight. Terracotta pots are porous and dry out faster than glazed ones, thus requiring more frequent watering, as do dark-colored pots in the sun, even if they are glazed. Cement containers with soil and plants can stay outside year-round here in Maine. Cement works best for permanent plantings of trees, shrubs, roses or perennials where they will be outdoors and exposed to the winter weather.

Is container gardening right for you and your lifestyle?

Well, yes! There are so many sizes, shapes, colors and materials to choose from that you can do a lot with just a few pots. Additionally, the plant choices are diverse enough for both sun and shade that you can have color all season long.  

Match your container garden to your lifestyle. Larger containers dry out slower than smaller ones because they hold more soil reducing the number of times you water. Providing the right amount of water and watering frequency is critical to growth but will differ from pot to pot depending on what plants you are growing and the exposure to light and wind. To always have your container garden looking fab, size the number of containers and their uses to fit into the time you have to water, feed and care for each plant.  

If time is limited for watering, grow succulents. If you grow trees in pots, mulch them to keep moisture in and weeds out. This will reduce the number of times you will have to water per week. A hanging basket or window box exposed to ocean breezes in the sun might need watering twice a day. Large pots hold more soil and plants, which, from a budget standpoint of time, effort and cost are different than having smaller pots with smaller plants in them. These are just some things to think about.

You can mix and match containers to accomplish any design goal. Consider rotating your planting to align with the seasons. Force tulips and daffodils over the winter for early spring blooms, then plant a spring and summer display. As we get into the fall, pull the annuals and plant asters, mums and flowering kale. Follow that with late fall and winter decorations.

Finally, plants in pots make great gifts. From a tiny little pot with a cactus in it to more substantial offerings, we have something you can give that will be welcomed and meaningful. Just right-size the gift so the receiver can care for it!

Summary

I hope you have enjoyed this initial entry. As you can see, there is a lot to talk about with container gardens and garden accents. Next, I will discuss which plants you can grow in containers to attract hummingbirds, butterflies and pollinators.

At Canopy, we have a fine collection of exceptional containers, statuary, benches, birdbaths, gifts and more. Our sister company, Plants Unlimited, is just up the road and has thousands of plants from which to choose. So please check this blog often and tell your friends to visit us at Canopy to see what is new!