How to: Container Garden
Thrillers, fillers and spillers for small spaces
Container gardening allows you to add color, texture and culinary delight to your backyard or balcony with little maintenance. It can even stretch your growing season.
“Containers allow you to have plant material in areas where you cannot plant in the ground, such as patios, decks or urban settings,” says Matt Irvin, vice president of nursery and retail operations for Salsbery Brothers Landscaping.
“It also allows you to grow plants such as cacti, succulents and acid-loving plants that may not be well suited to the soil in your garden and landscape beds,” he says.
For a well-rounded container, include fillers, plants that grow and spread to fill spaces between other greenery; spillers, which are vines and others plants that “spill over” to add vertical interest; and thrillers, which are plants that add eye-catching pizzazz.
To get you inspired, our garden and landscape experts share tips for growing ornamentals and veggies in small spaces.
5 Tips for Successful Container Gardening
To maximize rewards from your garden, make sure to select the right plants, Irvin says.
“Consider the size, habit, growth rate, sun/shade requirements and water requirements when choosing plants to group together in a container,” he advises.
One of his favorite sun plant combinations is Diamond Frost (Euphorbia graminea) with red geraniums because it plays off of the appeal of red roses and baby’s breath.
Irvin suggests talking to experts about plant requirements to get the beauty and bounty you desire while considering the level of effort and time you want to commit to maintaining your container gardens.
1. Select the right plants. Group plant varieties according to the levels of moisture and sunlight they need to thrive. Observe hours of sun exposure so you can choose plants according to their individual requirements. Understand that plants are competing with one another to grow –– especially in containers.
2. Use a slow-release fertilizer at the time of planting. Mix a fertilizer, such as Osmocote®, into your soil to give plants a constant stream of nutrients over the three- to four-month growing season.
3. Apply a liquid fertilizer weekly. Doing so replenishes nutrients in the soil used by the plants. Use a quick-release fertilizer, such as the Miracle-Gro® LiquaFeed® All-Purpose Plant Feeding System, for root and leaf feeding. It requires no mixing and delivers the right amount of fertilizer right from your garden hose.
4. Water properly and adequately. Container plants tend to dry out more quickly. Their need for water increases as the size of the plants and daily temperatures increase. During hot weather or windy days, you may need to water plants twice daily. The type of pot will affect this to a degree. Terra cotta dries out faster than glazed terra cotta, ceramic, plastic or metal containers. However, metal and dark-colored pots tend to heat up quicker. The bigger the pot, the slower the soil will dry out. Also make sure your pot has drainage holes for excess water.
5. Prune or deadhead. Most newer hybrid plant varieties have made pruning or deadheading less necessary. However, some spiller plants will grow long, spindly vines if not pruned after planting. Be proactive and prune the vines for a fuller look in your container garden.
Establish a moveable feast in a larger garden box right outside your kitchen.
Vegetables that grow well in containers include beets, tomatoes, broccoli, lettuce, carrots, green beans, cucumbers, radishes and peas.
Peppers and eggplants are a colorful combination that Rose Marie Nichols McGee, co-author of The Bountiful Container, says is both pleasing to the eye and palate.
“There are so many varieties of peppers out there,” she says. “Plant a hot one, such as a Thai chili, on one side and a sweet on the other –– like the heirloom Jimmy Nardello pepper. It’s often used for frying in Italian cuisine.”
She suggests a purple-colored eggplant such as the Ping Tung –– or other slender, flavorful Asian eggplant varieties –– planted in the center of the garden box flanked by the pepper plants.
“Put a stake or another support in with the eggplant because they can get pretty large,” McGee says.
Not a fan of eggplant? A semi-determinate tomato that does well in the Midwest is Celebrity. This variety continues to grow, limited only by the length of the season, and produces stems, leaves and fruit as long as it is alive.