In a world of limited time and space, container gardening seems to make more and more sense, allowing you to create special gardens to fit any situation. 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.


In a world of limited time and space, container gardening seems to make more and more sense, allowing you to create special gardens to fit any situation. 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.



Watering



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, they become stressed and unhealthy looking. Watering is a bit of a balancing act. Trying to determine how much and how often can be quite a challenge. My strategy is to water containers thoroughly when the soil surface becomes dry to the touch. This can become tricky depending on the soil used in the container. Most gardeners fill their pots with soilless mixes that lack organic matter and nutrients. Some soils have a tendency to dry out on the surface but stay moist further down the soil profile. In this case digging down into the pot may be necessary. Consider using the same media for all your plantings. This allows you to become familiar with the color change of the soil when it is dry.



During the summer, containers may need water every day. 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 also avoid watering at the end of the day when the sun has gone down. Without sunlight and warmth to evaporate moisture on the leaves the foliage stays wet longer creating an ideal situation for foliar diseases. 



Fertilizing



Fertilizers are important when growing in containers. If a container is watered everyday you can imagine how much fertilizer is leached out of the pot. I use a balanced, granular, time release fertilizer to the potting mix at planting time. This will slowly feed the plants for the next several months. I also begin a liquid feed a few months after planting. This year I am using fish emulsion which my plants seem to love. I use this once a month.



Plant “Grooming”



I also deadhead faded blooms and remove any dead, diseased or dying leaves and stems to avoid contaminating others in the same pot. Deadheading redirects a plant’s energy from seed production back into flower production. Do not be afraid to look inside, above and below your plantings for problems. Many insects like to hang out under the leaves.



Pruning Plants



It also may be necessary to cut plants back to keep plantings in balance. Some plants grow more vigorously than others. Often time’s containers are overplanted and removing a stem or leaf to provide better circulation helps plants stay healthy. 



Some plants need a total overhaul by midsummer. If a plant is ratty and looks spent from the summer heat, cut the stems back as much as halfway. Avoid pruning your plants during the heat of the day, which can be stressful. Prune them, instead, in the morning or evening while the stems are firm yet bendable.



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.



In order to have show stopping containers remember to water regularly, fertilize often and scout for diseases and insects. 



For answers to your gardening questions visit ces.ncsu.edu where you can submit questions via the ‘Ask an Expert’ link, or contact your local Cooperative Extension center by phone: If you live in Pender County, call 910-259-1238; in New Hanover County, call 910-798-7660; in Brunswick County call 910-253-2610.



 



Susan Brown is the consumer horticulture extension agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension in New Hanover County. Contact her at susan_brown@ncsu.edu or 910-798-7476.