Container gardening makes great sense

container plants

Learn about gardening in containers during an upcoming class at the New Hanover County Arboretum.

Susan Brown
Published: Thursday, May 8, 2014 at 01:10 PM.

In a world of limited time and space, container gardening makes more and more sense. Growing in containers allows you to create special gardens to fit any space. Successful container gardeners know that a good looking, well-maintained and long-lasting container doesn’t just happen. When a few basic principles are applied, even first-time gardeners can create and maintain attention-grabbing containers.


Growing plants in containers can bring instant rewards. When the temperatures increase plants seem to go into a growing frenzy. If they do not have access to water and nutrients, plants become stressed and unhealthy looking. Watering is a bit of a balancing act. Trying to determine how much and how often can be a challenge. My strategy is to water containers thoroughly when the soil surface becomes dry to the touch. Some potting soil mixes have a tendency to dry out on the surface but stay moist deeper in the pot. In this case digging down into the pot may be necessary. Consider using the same potting soil for all your plantings. This allows you to become familiar with the color change of the soil when it is dry.

When watering I make sure that each pot gets enough water for some to drain out of the bottom of the pot. This ensures that moisture has reached the deepest roots. I avoid watering at the end of the day after the sun has gone down. Without sunlight and warmth to evaporate moisture on the leaves foliage stays wet longer, creating an ideal situation for foliar diseases. 

During the summer, containers may need water every day. A little trick I use if I am going out of town and will not be available to water my plants is to place saucers under containers in hot, sunny locations to help the soil retain moisture for a longer period of time.


Fertilizing is important when growing in containers. Potting soils are made from a variety of materials, including peat moss, vermiculite, bark, and perlite, but rarely contain nutrients unless specifically stated on the bag. To provide the nutrients plants need to grow, I add a balanced, time release fertilizer to the potting mix at planting time. This will slowly feed the plants for the next several months. If a container is watered every day you can imagine how much fertilizer is leached out of the pot. To ensure my plants don’t run out of nutrients, I also begin liquid feeding a few months after planting. This year I am using fish emulsion once a month, which my plants seem to love. 

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