Container Gardening

Container Gardening

Tips to get your container garden started
By Kim Sysa, Master Gardener


What is container gardening?
Photo: Kim Sysa

Container gardening is growing plants in containers or pots for aesthetic reasons or when you do not have room for raised garden beds or a garden plot.

What do you need to get started?

You need containers, potting mix, plants or seeds, water, and fertilizer.

What are the benefits of container gardens?

You can move your pots to where they get the best light and can thrive. You have more control over your plants, growing them with the right growing medium and right amount of nutrients. There will be fewer weeds. Depending on the height of the pots, you may not need to bend down to garden.

What size of pots are required?

You will want to use a pot that allows at least 10 inches of soil depth. You can use smaller pots for herbs, flowers, and vegetables such as lettuce. Larger pots (5 gallon) are needed for tomatoes or squash. Do remember: the larger the container is the harder it may be to move around; if you have several they may be too heavy for a balcony. All pots need drainage holes to allow excess water to pass through.

What types of pots are there?
Photo: Kim Sysa

Plastic pots are light, and they come in many colours, sizes, and shapes and are usually the most inexpensive option. Ceramic or terra-cotta pots are much heavier than plastic and will be harder to move around; they can crack in the cold weather and are usually more expensive.

Ceramic pots are available glazed and unglazed. Unglazed pots will dry out more quickly than glazed pots.

Fabric pots are lightweight and breathable. If they have handles, they are easy to move around and can be easily washed. However, they do dry out quite quickly.  Buckets, barrels, baskets, pails, and even old rubber boots can all be used as containers if they have drainage holes in them.

What type of soil is needed?

Soil from your garden or bags of garden soil will be very heavy, get compacted, and tend to get waterlogged. Use a potting mix sometimes called “Soilless” potting mix that is made for use in containers. It is lightweight and drains quickly. Soilless mixes contain peat moss or coconut coir, perlite, and vermiculite. Sometimes they even have a granular fertilizer mixed in. Add compost, manure, or fish compost to the potting soil for extra nutrients.

When should you water?
Photo: Kim Sysa

Early morning is best and water deeply. Watering containers deeply means to water until water starts flowing from the drainage holes. Don’t water too frequently (let the top inch of the soil get dry – you can test this with your index finger) unless it’s during a heat wave. Pots will dry out faster than your soil on the ground and smaller pots will dry out more quickly than larger ones. Mulching your pots will help conserve water.

Should you fertilize?

 Water is very important, but it does wash out the nutrients in the soil. A slow-release granular fertilizer does help at the beginning of the growing season. A liquid fertilizer can be used to feed your plants throughout the growing season. An organic fertilizer is always best so that you are putting fewer chemicals in your environment.

What can you grow? Flowers? Veggies? Herbs?

Most types of plants will do well in containers but make sure you have a container large enough for the full-grown plant. Plants like tomatoes need a large pot whereas plants such as lettuce, herbs, and many flowers can do well in smaller containers.

Plants or seeds?

There are many garden centres around Winnipeg that grow flowers, herbs, and vegetables that are sold individually or in packs of four or six or sometimes more.

Seed packages contain everything you need to know about planting those seeds: the light requirements (sun, part-sun and shade), the depth that you should plant the seeds, how tall they will grow, and how many days to maturity. Choose seeds of plants specifically identified as being suitable for containers, such as “compact” or “dwarf”.

What about container design?
Photo: Kim Sysa

 An easy guide to designing a container is to follow the concept of “thriller, filler, spiller”. Your “thriller” would be the “wow factor”, or focal point of the container, taller, and centred if the container is viewed from all sides or placed near the back if viewed only from one side. “Filler” plants tend to be mounded and surround the thriller, filling the space. Lastly, the “spiller” is placed closer to the edge and trails over the container’s edge. When choosing which plants to plant together in a container, remember to choose plants with similar light and water requirements.

What about fairy gardens?

Fairy gardens can be a lot of fun and are a great way to get your children involved. You can use moss, succulents, herbs, and various plant materials. Many garden stores and some dollar stores have miniature furniture and accessories that you can add to the fairy gardens or even try your hand at making some accessories yourself.

Where can containers be placed?

Pots can be placed on a balcony or deck, along a sidewalk or driveway, and along your front or back steps as well as throughout your garden beds. Most pots are easy to move to a garage, shed, or screened area for cover during inclement weather such as hail or a severe storm. Having your herb pots near your kitchen allows you to snip some herbs while creating your culinary delights.

Container gardening is a great way to expand the space you have for plants in your yard or to garden on a balcony if you do not have a garden. New gardeners may appreciate the opportunity containers offer to start gardening on a small scale.