Xeriscape Landscape Design
and Container Gardens
Planting in pots or containers is a great way to soften hardscape areas. A stone patio can become a burst of color with a few well-placed planters and wooden decks can be festooned with blooms, if that is your pleasure. And the best part is: container gardening is easy!
Why is it so easy when even the greenest-thumbed among us sometimes struggle to establish and maintain a good perennial border? Because everything is within your control. Is it, quite simply, contained. The down side of this is that if neglected a container garden will not last very long. So be forewarned: you will get out a container garden only the effort you put into it. Proceed thoughtfully and you are almost certainly assured of success. Just follow these tips and you will be well on your way to being a container gardener.
Remember that word. It is the basis of all container gardens. Without it plants are suffocated, soil is waterlogged, and pests and diseases thrive. When buying a pot always make sure there’s a hole in the bottom otherwise it’s a non-starter. The object here is to allow water to flow through the container, but to retain the soil, so at the bottom of the pot place some broken pottery or large pebbles before soil is added. You might also put a small square of window screen material over the hole itself – this will discourage those pesky critters from crawling in and making a home.
There are all manner of soil combinations that can be used and I go into more detail in the article “Soil For Container Gardens” but here we will talk in general terms. Once your drainage material is in place fill the pot a third full of your planting mix and water it thoroughly to get rid of all the air pockets. Some people like to soak the pots beforehand if they are made of clay – it helps them absorb water better. Add more planting mix to about 6 inches below the rim of the pot – or 2 inches below the rim of a window box or similar container – and soak thoroughly again. You are now ready to plant.
Although we talk about Xeriscape plants for the garden, in containers you are not limited to these as you can amend the soil and watering to accommodate just about any plant you wish. Think about three things when selecting you plant material:
Try to come up with a mix that will be pleasing to the eye. Choose one large plant with some height to it that will be your centerpiece and then fill in around it. Don’t just mix flower colors together, experiment with different textures of foliage. Having a plant that hangs over the side of the pot is always one of my favorite features.
A simple example would be a center of Coreopsis surrounded by Sweet Alyssum, Coleus and purple Petunia. Have fun with combinations. Walk around your local nursery and see what looks good and imagine how things might look in combination.
With the largest plant in hand dig a slight depression in the soil if needed – the plant should sit slightly proud of the soil when filled to about an inch below the rim of the container. Use your fingers to untangle any roots that may have grown in a spiral at the bottom of the plant and place in the container spreading these roots as you go. Place the smaller plants around the larger one, planting as before, then backfill with planting mixture to about an inch below the rim. Water thoroughly.
I always add a layer of fibrous mulch to the top which helps with water retention and regulation of soil temperature.
You may need to experiment a little with container placement on your deck or patio as sunlight exposure is a factor with more delicate plants. I use a dolly to move the heavier pots around. Just be careful not to handle them too harshly as clay pots, especially, will crack.
It is always a good idea to raise the container about a half inch off the ground to facilitate drainage. Flat stones work well.
We’ve only scratched the surface of container gardening in this article. The possibilities are nearly endless in plant combinations and container styles. Remember, you can also hang them from windows, fences and walls. You can place them within your garden beds for a delicious accent to foundation plants. And I’m sure you’ll come up your own ideas as well.