Bring the beauty of Biltmore garden's to your home with container gardens. Spring is fast approaching and it's the perfect time to plant bulbs, flowering shrubs, primrose, pansies and lettuce. We spoke with Cathy Barnhardt, Biltmore's Floral Displays Manager, who provided this insightful how-to for creating the perfect container garden.
A simple potted plant could be considered a container garden, but using creative combinations of plants in a container means you can use your imagination, reflect your style, and enjoy the fruits of your labor up close. Container gardening can make your gardening easier, by bringing plants up from the ground, making grooming, and insect control easier. Containers can add accent or a focal point to your porch, terrace or garden.
Consider where your container is going to be placed.
- This will determine whether you need shade loving or sun loving plants, the type of container you will need, and how much care, such as watering, your garden will need. Turn the container occasionally for even light exposure.
- All containers will heat up and dry out more quickly than plants in the ground, so even if the plants you choose are sun lovers, place them so they have some afternoon shade. Fruiting vegetables like tomatoes need the most sun.
- Place your container near a water source for convenience.
- If you will need to move your containers, purchase a rolling caster base to make moves easier and safer. Otherwise, raise your planter on bricks or paving stones to allow good drainage and to reduce the risk of damage to decks or terraces.
- Anything that will hold soil could be a container, but some are better for the plants and easier to work with. Avoid container with narrow openings. As roots grow and fill the soil in the pot, it can be hard to remove plants and soil for a new planting.
- Keep the scale of the setting, and the size of the container to the plant materials in mind. The pot should not overpower the size of the plants. Be sure the pot is deep enough for the plants to develop strong downward roots. Vegetables need deep pots. Smaller pots heat up and dry out more quickly, so give your plants plenty of room to grow into.
- Terra cotta dries out very quickly. The new synthetic resin pots stay cooler and are moisture conserving. They are also light, durable, and often freeze resistant. Stone, cement and wood containers are frost safe and can stay out during the winter. Glazed ceramic pots are a good choice, but be sure there are drainage holes. Dark colored pots will heat up and dry out more quickly.
Provide good drainage.
- Be sure there are drainage holes in your container, and that they remain unobstructed and retain soil by placing pieces of broken clay pots, a piece of screening covered by an inch of gravel, or even layers of old newspaper in the bottom of the container.
Use a good potting soil mix.
- For most plants a good commercial all-purpose planting mix works well as they are designed to be light, retain even moisture, and to drain well.
- Some plants such as cacti or herbs require special potting mixes to thrive. Do the research and you can create your own blended mix. Compost can be used for container gardens, but be sure it is disease and pest free.
- Place soil up to an inch from the rim, and expect some settling over time.
Choose compatible plants.
- Choose plants with similar light, water, heat, and food requirements.
- Mix the sizes of your plants, some tall, some shorter, and some that will trail over the edges of the pot. “Tall, small, fall.”
- Choose plants that are in balance with the container, no more than about twice the height and half the width of the container for an individual plant.
- Some plants grow more aggressively, and may outgrow or overcome the other plants, so choose with care.
- Consider drought tolerant plants for ease of care and water conservation.
Water often and well.
- If the soil is dry to a depth of one to two inches, it’s time to water. Water until the water runs freely out the drainage holes. A good idea is to water twice. Water the plant well, move on to others, and come back and give it a good drink again.
- If a plant is on a surface that water will damage, then use a protective saucer under the pot. If not, then the health of the soil and the plants will be better without a saucer, and you will not have to deal with stagnant water and mosquitoes.
Feed your plants.
- As water drains out of the pot, it carries out nutrients, so fertilize regularly for thriving plants.
- Fertilize with either a slow release or water-soluble quick release fertilizer such as 20-20-20 per the directions. A good idea is to water with a diluted liquid fertilizer about every other watering.
- Just as in your larger garden, you need to prune, deadhead, and pinch back plants as needed. Keep an eye out for disease and pests.
- Pull out any blooming or vegetable plants that are finished or out of season and freshen up your design with a new plant that reflects the upcoming season!