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Questions about Container Gardening

Here are some frequently asked questions about container gardening, and their answers.
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What kind of containers should I use for my container garden?

For the most part you're limited only by your imagination. You can use plastic, ceramic or clay pots from the garden center, or repurpose household or architectural items, such as an old sink. The key factor in any container is that it can drain. When buying pots, make sure there is at least one hole in the bottom. If you're inventing your own containers, drill or punch holes. If any container seems to remain waterlogged, punch additional holes in the bottom, or in the future use it as a cachepot (a container for a container—plant your plants in a utilitarian pot and then put it inside the decorative container. Remove the inner pot when you water.)

Read about scavenged containers

What kind of soil should I use in my containers?

You need a specific mix, whether you buy it or make it yourself. Soil dug from your garden won't work well because most garden soils are too heavy. (The exception is very sandy soil, which may suffice.) Soil for container gardens needs to be lightweight and porous, to allow air and water to easily circulate to the plants' roots. You can either buy a packaged mix labeled for use in containers, or mix your own. Try using one part organic matter (compost, peat moss or manure), one part bagged loam and one part coarse sand, perlite or vermiculite.

How often should I water my containers?

You will most likely need to water your containers more often than you water your garden. Soil in containers dries out more quickly than the ground does. Check to see if water is needed by pushing your finger into the soil. If it feels dry an inch down, water it until water runs out the drainage holes. Wilting plants also indicates water is needed.

Keep in mind that clay pots and small pots will need water even more frequently than nonporous pots and larger pots. Adding a layer of mulch to any pot will help the soil retain water, just as in the garden.

Should I feed my container plants?

For the most vigorous growth, yes. Use a balanced water-soluble fertilizer every two weeks, following the package directions for the amount to use. However, if the potting mix you started with included a slow-release fertilizer, you may want to use a water-soluble fertilizer less frequently. Plants in containers are more susceptible to fertilizer burn than those in the ground.

Should I put something in the bottom of the container?

Yes. Lining the bottom of the container with gravel or other material will help support the plants' roots and stop the soil from flowing out of the drainage holes. If you are planting shallow-rooted plants, such as annuals (which typically have six-inch roots), you can fill a deep container halfway with a lightweight material, such as packing peanuts or chunks of foam. This will make your container much lighter to move, and it will conserve potting mix.