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Container Gardening

Tips for effectively growing plants in pots

21 customers gardens July 2006 002_PSP2By Edel Schmidt

Landscaping is about much more than just putting plants in the ground. A visit to any local gardening centre will reveal the various container options open to homeowners today—everything from basic plastic and fibreglass vessels to elaborate concrete and cast iron planters. In fact, container gardening is a great way to makeover your pool, spa or patio area into a lush tropical scene.

For one, container gardening offers you a lot more flexibility in terms of plant choice, placement and longevity. When your plants are in containers, they can be moved around easily, allowing you to change up your backyard landscape in just a few minutes. Even larger plants can be housed in containers on wheels, making for easy transport. This lets you change your scenery depending on what the occasion calls for.

This portability also allows you to move the plants indoors during the off-season, so you can over-winter any tropical plants and have them ready to roll out the following spring (provided, of course, you give them the proper care).

The question becomes, ‘How do you effectively grow plants in pots?’ That’s where a little expert advice comes into play. To be successful, container gardening requires some special attention that’s a little different from your normal ‘down-to-earth’ gardening habits. The following advice will help guide you.

Choosing a container

First and foremost, you must select the right container for your needs. Before starting your search, consider whether you want to leave the container out all year round. To survive Canadian winters, year-round containers must be frost-proof, which typically means they are constructed from fibreglass or plastic.

In addition to being winter-safe, these containers are also lighter and easier to move around compared to traditional materials. There are many sizes and shapes to choose from, in various colours, forms and patterns, many of which can make plastic or fibreglass resemble authentic cast iron or designer concrete. A small hint: If you plan to group your containers in the same space, try to choose ones of the same colour, to create a more uniform look.

Clay pots are not freeze-proof; they can only be used if you plan to move the containers indoors after the summer. Cast-iron and concrete will also crack if left out in the cold, and are very heavy and expensive; fibreglass will give you the same look without the drawbacks. No matter what container you choose, they all must have drainage holes. This cannot be overemphasized enough. Without these holes, your plants will inevitably develop root rot (if the roots sit in water for a long time they will start to rot, resulting in no plant growth).

Selecting your soil

Soil selection is also vital in container gardening. The most important rule is to never use soil out of your garden. It is too heavy and will compact in the container, making it more difficult for the plants’ roots to develop.

There are specialty soil mixes available that are specifically formulated for use in containers; some even come with moisture control, which gives the plants a good start. While these soils are typically more expensive, it is worth your while to spend the extra money to give your plants the best possible advantage. If you’re on a tight budget, you can also make your own moisture enhancers by cutting sponges into chunks and adding them to the soil. They will soak up water, store it and release it if the soil dries out.

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