Create a Container Garden


Planting in Containers

Planting in containers has several advantages. Containers allow you to:

  • Use your landscape space more efficiently. Containers can be spaced closer than plants in the ground, allowing you to create a lot of impact with less space and expense. Containers may be grouped for intensified fragrance.
  • Have a portable garden. Use them indoors or out. Move them to the patio for your garden party. Move them for protection from extreme weather. Plants can also be rotated so you can showcase what’s in bloom. Rotate them to the background as blooms fade.
  • Control the soil quality. Your plants have quality soil to thrive in. Use containers in areas with poor soil or poor drainage. Eliminate competition from other plants and reduce accessibility to many pests.
  • Increase access to the gardener. Containers can be worked in with less stooping and bending.
  • Spray and fertilize more efficiently.
  • Isolate for treatment of pest or disease.

Types of Containers

Theoretically at least, anything that holds soil can be used as a container. The category covers everything from plain, decorative, terrariums, from the rustic charm of an old shoe to the formality of bonsai. We will stick to the basics:

  • Clay or terra cotta is porous and dries out more quickly than other materials. The porosity also helps prevent the soil from getting too saturated. Plants in clay pots may need watering more frequently. Clay pots can be waterproofed if you wish.
  • Wood containers include window boxes, barrels, buckets or baskets. Moisture can be a problem. Seal the wood or simply put other containers inside of the wooden one.
  • Plastic containers range from the nursery pots that you purchase plants in to highly decorative versions.
  • Concrete planters offer a formal statement to the garden.
  • Ceramic and metal are primarily used for indoor houseplants. Both offer many decorative options.
  • Hanging baskets can be made from many of the materials above, including wire. Hanging baskets tend to dry our very quickly, so keep an eye on them. Make sure they are hanging from a secure hook.
  • Self-watering containers are designed to wick water and water-soluble fertilizer up from a reservoir built into the bottom of the container.

Choosing Containers

When choosing containers, consider the following tips:

  • Good drainage is essential. Check for the drainage hole(s) before you fill it up with soil. Make sure the drainage holes are unobstructed. Cover the drainage hole with a piece of window screen or a piece of a broken clay pot to allow excess water to drain without losing soil. You may want to add 1″ of gravel to the bottom of large containers to add stability. Any pot with a drainage hole in the bottom needs a saucer underneath.
  • If you plan on keeping the container outside during the winter, buy concrete or tough plastic instead of terra-cotta. Terra-cotta will crumble with alternate freezing and thawing.
  • Choose containers that match the plant’s form and color. For outdoor use, look for planters to match your landscape.
  • Dark colors will get hotter in summer (especially black plastic).
  • Make sure the container is big enough to allow root growth. Check the plant tag to get an idea of the plant’s mature size before planting. If in doubt, get a larger pot. A pot should also be heavy enough to resist wind.
  • A stand with wheels is a good idea for larger pots.

Basic Container Gardening Elements

For a successful container garden project, pay attention to the basic elements:

  • Soil – Good soil is essential for all container-grown plants. Fill the container with quality potting soil up to an inch from the rim – any more soil will wash out when you water. Expect some settling of soil over time.
  • Water – More frequent watering is necessary for container plants. Water when the soil feels dry to the touch. Continue watering until liquid runs from the bottom of the container. In the hot days of summer, containers may require daily watering. If you are combining plant varieties in a container, make sure the moisture requirements are the same.
  • Food – Use diluted plant food. Because water drains out more quickly, so will the fertilizer. You may fertilize your container garden with either a slow-release fertilizer or a water-soluble, quick release fertilizer such as 20-20-20.
  • Light – Provide light requirements as dictated by the variety. If you are combining plant varieties in a container, make sure the light requirements are the same. Remember to turn the containers occasionally to maximize light exposure on all sides.
  • Planting – Space vegetable, herb, and flower transplants about 1/3 closer than in the garden. This guarantees a full container with a great appearance. A tree or shrub root ball should be only slightly smaller than the container. Repot as needed when growth dictates. It’s a good idea to repot every 3-4 years to replace soil which has experienced salt build-up.
  • Temperature – Container plants require extra care to prevent overheating or freezing. Either can cause drying out.
  • Grooming – Prune, deadhead and pinch back as needed. Check container plants often to keep them from getting leggy. Watch for disease and pests. Remove dead foliage and flowers to prevent fungal diseases. Because container plants are closer together, the opportunity for disease is greater.

Take a look at Container Gardening to get tips and plans for dressing up your outdoors with container plants.

Winterizing Your Container

In winter, container plants face several challenges. They may dry out or freeze. Freezing can harm both plants and containers. Most plants go into dormancy in colder months as well. The procedure varies by the severity of the winters. Annuals in containers can be discarded at the end of the season. In general, for plants that you want to keep over the winter:

  • Give the plants a final watering.
  • Cut back perennials.
  • Wrap the container in an insulating material. Burlap, old blankets, even bubble wrap can work. Containers can also be insulated with mulch or leaves, anything to protect the plant and container itself from damage.
  • Instead of the above, if you have space, move containers into a sheltered area such as a garage or basement.

Control Weeds in the Lawn and Garden

Recognizing Types of Weeds

By definition, a weed is any plant that is growing where you do not want it to grow. Flowers growing in the lawn or grass growing in the flower bed would be considered weeds. Botanically, there are three types of weeds:

  • Broadleaf (ex. dandelion)
  • Grassy (ex. crabgrass)
  • Grass-like (ex. wild onion)

Weed seeds exist in almost all lawns and gardens, and spread in a number of ways. They can be dispersed by wind, water, animals, soil amendments, poor quality grass seed and lawn and garden equipment. Many weed seeds remain dormant for years before they begin to grow, since they must reach the soil’s surface and receive the proper amount of sunlight and moisture before they germinate.

There are three main classifications of weeds:

Annuals normally grow, produce seeds and die within a single year. In warmer climates, some annuals may survive a second year. In general, annual weeds are the easiest to kill.

Biennials live for two years. Biennials devote the first year to vegetative development and the second year to flowering and seed development.

Perennials live from season to season and produce seeds each year.

Controlling Weeds by Promoting Desirable Plants

In the fight against weeds, the most important element is to promote the best environment possible for the growth of desirable vegetation. There are a variety of lawn and garden conditions that can discourage desirable plants, increasing the potential for weed development:

  • Incorrect watering
  • Improper fertilization
  • Soil compaction
  • Insect damage
  • Disease
  • Poor drainage
  • Improper sunlight
  • Excessive wear on a lawn

How to Remove Weeds By Hand

Removing unwanted plants by hand or with garden tools is the safest, most selective and environmentally friendly way to control weeds.

You can remove weeds at any time, but immediately following a good rain often makes it easier. Attack a weed as soon as it shows up. Pull the weed close to the base, lifting out as much root as possible.

For larger weeds with extensive roots, like thistles and dandelions, use a garden fork, spike or slim trowel. Keep the hole as small as possible. Place the end close to the weed’s base and plunge it deep into the ground. Loosen the surrounding soil. Grab the weed under its crown and pull out the entire root.

For best results in pest control (including weed control) with minimal chemical use, consider following an Integrated Pest Management schedule. For more information see Control Pests in the Garden without Chemicals.

Using Herbicides to Control Weeds

Manual weed removal may not be practical for large lawns and gardens or for areas overgrown with many weeds. In these cases, you may choose to use herbicides. When you apply them properly, herbicides are very effective at eliminating weeds. Herbicides are available in two main categories:

Systemic herbicides enter the plant through the roots and leaves and move throughout the inside of the plant.

Contact herbicides kill from the outside in. They attack the exposed parts of the plant, killing the weed by reducing its ability to feed itself through photosynthesis.

Within these two categories, herbicides may also be selective or nonselective:

Selective herbicides, when you apply them as directed by the manufacturer, kill only certain plants. A good example of a selective herbicide is a lawn weed killer designed specifically for the removal of broadleaf plants. These products will remove the weeds without killing the established lawn in which the weeds grow. Young, freshly sewn grass would still be susceptible to the herbicide however, since it would not have had an opportunity to fully establish itself.

Nonselective herbicides kill plants without discretion. They will kill all plants they come into contact with. You can use these products, for example, when preparing an area for planting or when attempting to establish a new lawn. Through their use, all living vegetation — including problem plants — can be removed from an area, giving the gardener a clean slate with which to work.

Finally, herbicides are either pre-emergent or post-emergent.

Pre-emergent herbicides are designed for application before the targeted weed germinates, and are an effective preventative method for controlling weeds. Crabgrass preventer is a good example. Pre-emergents establish a chemical barrier that will not kill established plants, but will prevent weeds from successfully growing. The protective barrier breaks down in six to eight weeks. Use of a pre-emergent, therefore, requires proper timing to be effective – apply them very early in the season. Be aware that pre-emergents can harm some desirable ornamental plants and turf grasses. As always, read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Post-emergent herbicides are designed to attack weeds that are already established and growing. All of the contact weed killers are post-emergents. Apply post-emergents later in the growing season, after weeds are established but before they have gone to seed.

The timing of pre- and post-emergent herbicide application is critical. Applying them too later or too early is basically a waste of time and the herbicide.

Tips for Controlling Weeds with Herbicides

Remember these key points when using herbicides for weed control:

  • Read all herbicide labels. Find out whether you’re applying a selective or non-selective herbicide. Since selective herbicides target a specific type of weed, you can apply them more liberally. Non-selective herbicides will kill any plant; so apply these carefully and only to plants you want to kill.
  • Mark your containers. Designate specific spray bottles and sprayers for herbicide use with a permanent marker and keep separate containers for watering.
  • Do not mow or prune before product application. More available leaf surface on the weed is better for absorbing the herbicide.
  • Focus on young, actively growing plants. Apply herbicides to younger plants to stop rampant growth before it starts. Older plants may require stronger chemicals or multiple applications.
  • Make sure the plants you want to keep are mature enough to withstand the effects of the chemical. Young desirable plants may not be able to fight off the effects of most herbicides.
  • You can treat large areas with a hose-end attachment. You can also apply granular herbicides with a broadcast or drop spreader.
  • After plants have germinated, spot treatment is the best choice to avoid chemical damage to desirable plants. Use a spray herbicide for spot weeding. Apply directly onto the weed to kill the entire plant. Repeat as necessary and do not apply to the lawn.
  • Avoid applying chemicals on windy days. The chemical may drift or run onto desirable plants and flowers, killing them as well.
  • Do not mow or prune for several days after herbicide application. This will give the plants time to absorb the chemical and limit your contact with it.
  • Do not discard weeds and clippings where the weeds can spread to other planting areas.

Weed Control with Herbicides and Safety

Herbicides can be effective in controlling weeds, but be careful to handle these powerful chemicals properly and safely. For safety and to see the maximum benefits of the product:

  • Closely follow the herbicide manufacturer’s instructions, including those for use, safety, clothing, protective gear, storage and disposal. Failure to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations can increase the dangers associated with use of the chemicals and decrease their effectiveness.
  • Always wear gloves appropriate for the herbicide you’re using in addition to long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, rubber boots and any safety gear specified by the herbicide manufacturer when applying these chemicals. Wash out all clothing after use.
  • Be sure to use only the recommended amount of herbicide to prevent buildup in water tables that can harm the environment.
  • After application, keep children and pets off a treated area according to the product instructions.
  • Store chemicals in a cool, dry and dark place safely out of children’s reach.

Weed Control Schedule

Like lawn and garden care, weed control duties extend through different seasons.

Early spring – Inspect your lawn as spring approaches and then decide on the treatment. If you’re using herbicide, apply a pre-emergent shortly before annual weeds, such as crabgrass, begin to grow in the spring. A good rule is to apply the pre-emergent before the dogwoods begin to bloom. You may decide to use a pre-emergent combined with fertilizer as an early lawn treatment.

Late spring – In the middle of the growing season, determine which weeds have come back and repeat weed killer application or remove weeds selectively with herbicide or by hand.

Fall – If you’re using herbicide, treat your lawn one last time with a general weed killer after the final mowing. Remove large weeds by hand to ensure they will not survive over the winter.

What a Landscape Contractor can do for Your Home

While it may not seem like there’s any technical expertise that goes into landscaping, you’d be amazed at what these professionals can do for your home. From a comprehensive plan for your flowers, shrubs, and trees to stunning stone and brick features including landscaping walls, walkways, and steps; from an automated sprinkler system, pond, waterfall, or pool to a professional outdoor lighting plan that will illuminate your home’s best nighttime features, a landscape contractor is the person to call to change your home and your home life. But to get the best and most cost-effective results, you need to know a little bit about landscape design and your options for choosing a contractor. Landscape Contractors, Landscape Architects, and Design/Build Firms Landscape contractors can fit into a few different molds. A landscape architect, for example, is an individual that designs your landscape and has extensive knowledge of plant life, land surveying, lawn drainage, and a great eye for landscape design and aesthetics in general. Many professional landscaping companies have at least one landscape architect on staff, in addition to an army of landscape workers. These all-inclusive landscaping companies are also known as design/build firms. Meanwhile, you can also find more low-key landscapers who can help less mobile homeowners plant trees, shrubs, and flowers and/or move mulch, stones, brick to some basic landscaping features. Indeed, many lawn service companies will overlap their services with projects usually considered under the umbrella of landscape contractors. Professional Landscaping Services: Design, Installation, and Costs In terms of cost and scope of work, however, these two molds couldn’t be further apart. A lawn service company won’t “transform” your property, but they may charge only several hundred dollars, maybe a grand or two for larger properties. With a design/build firm, on the other hand, you may not even recognize your property by the time the project is done. If you go all out with an in-ground pool, elegant walkways, and a large patio, the price tag may approach $100,000. But before you get too far, be sure to discuss what works best for your home and lifestyle. The first thing a landscape contractor can do for you is simply avail you of the enormous landscaping options you have. Grass lawns are still the default landscaping choice, but alternatives are gaining momentum as high-maintenance, irrigation-intensive grass lawns are slowly beginning to lose favor. Clover, moss and ornamental grass are viable alternatives. Xeriscaping your entire lawn is also a good idea. Even ultra-realistic synthetic turf and decorative gravel are on the rise.

Planning Ahead: Maintaining Your Landscape Remembering the seasons is something else a landscape contractor is going to bring to your home landscaping. Homeowners tend to focus solely on what their landscape looks like in spring and summer. Late autumn and winter don’t have to be void of landscaping features. This can involve not only evergreen trees and shrubs but choosing trees with interesting branches that easily catch falling snow. When your landscaping project is done, your contractor will also be able to give professional advice and tips for the maintenance your specific landscape will need. Every tree, plant, grass, mulch, etc is different and requires different amounts and kinds of care. Your local climate can have just as much of an affect as the foliage and landscaping features themselves. A little local and expert knowledge can go a long way to keeping your landscaping looking beautiful and with manageable time and financial investments.

Thai Caladiums – Will they rock the Caladium world

For those of us who fancy Caladiums, and who are accustomed to the types we see in the big box stores, seeing a plant like the one pictured at right is sure to make one’s eyes pop out of their sockets! Having grown this plant firsthand, I can state with certainty that the picture doesn’t do the plant justice. The red color is incredibly intense and it is made even more so by the shiny leaf surface. This particular characteristic is amazingly unlike the Caladiums we all know and love. As a hybridizer myself, I’d love to know what parent(s) the Thai breeders used to come up with this plant and others like it. Until I saw this one, I had never seen a Caladium with a shiny leaf before.

Of course, not all of the new Thai Caladiums sport shiny leaves; as most of them have leaf textures that more closely approximate the kind of Caladium leaves that we are used to. However, one characteristic that these Thai plants do have in common, and which the regular Caladium plants do not have, is a thicker or heavier leaf substance. So far, most of the Thai varieties I have seen or grown have thicker leaves, and in some cases, much thicker leaves, than such familiar horticultural varieties as “White Christmas” or “Postman Joyner”.

What’s Going On?

As far as I have been able to determine, the origin of these new Caladiums is rooted in royalty. The Thai royal household, to be precise, had these plants bred for their exclusive enjoyment and not for the horticulture market at large. The story is that this breeding has been going on for a century or longer, with horticulture in the west completely unaware of it. Now that Thai Caladiums are out of the bag, as it were, we have a chance to see what a hundred years of secret royal breeding can produce.

The Thai Caladium breeders went in different directions than other Caladium breeders, apparently using some species or varieties that are unknown to Western horticulture.

One species being used that is familiar to collectors is Caladium rubicundrum, a larger purple-leaved plant whose leaves also have lighter pinkish-purple spots. I’ve grown this plant myself and was anxious to try breeding with it, but my specimen failed to produce any pollen. Knowing what I know about genetics, I figure that the Thai breeders found or developed a fertile selection of C. rubicundrum and thus were able to use it in their breeding programs. Infertile plants can be made fertile by doubling their chromosomes (increasing ploidy). Such plants often have thicker leaves and are generally shorter and stockier than normal or diploid types. Interestingly, many of the Thai Caladiums have those characteristics, lending credence to my hypothesis.

An example of what I believe is a hybrid involving C. rubicundrum is pictured at left.

Easy as Thai?

My experience growing these plants has shown me that they are not as easy or carefree to grow as the usual Caladiums I have grown in the past. These require a bit more attention, and do not produce the large corms you might expect. They seem to be a favorite with aphids, which will infest the new emerging leaves and cause them to become distorted. Thai Caladiums do not like cold temperatures and will go dormant (or die) quickly when exposed to temperatures in the 40s and 30s. I was surprised to see their leaves show cold burn when tropical Alocasia plants nearby were undamaged. As a breeder, I am convinced that many of these new Thai Caladiums are at least tetraploid, and may be of even higher ploidy than that. This explains to me why many are smaller, have thicker leaves, and grow slower than the Caladiums we have grown for years. Some of these plants may be genetically predisposed to growing year round, as opposed to the seasonal growth we see with varieties like “White Christmas”. You can get a good idea of the Thai Caladium varieties now available by visiting Asiatica Nursery.

All in all, I have found these plants to be very interesting and worth a try, As for their future with me, well, when I get the chance, I’ll try mixing these up genetically with the Western types and see what I can come up with!