Container Gardens for Small Places

What you’ll need

  • Containers
  • Trowel

step 1: Select the Containers

Shop for containers as if you were buying furniture for your living room. You want a variety of sizes and shapes, but they should all be the same basic style to hold it all together. They will be grouped on your balcony or patio somewhat as furniture is arranged in a room—some pieces will go together, like a chair and side table, and others will stand alone.

Terra cotta is a classic material for pots. It does an excellent job and is inexpensive. However, the pots break easily if dropped or banged into, and they cannot stand a strong frost. If you use terra cotta, plan on bringing the pots into an area that won’t freeze for the winter. Stoneware, either glazed or unglazed, is excellent but expensive. Plastic pots are both inexpensive and weatherproof if you can find a set you like.

step 2: Select the Plants

At your local nursery or in a catalog, select plants for your container garden. They can be annual or perennial, trees, shrubs, flowers, or grass, but should be small enough to grow in a container. Select plants that are harmonious. One good way is to select a plant you particularly like, then select other plants to complement it.

Look for contrasting textures and different sizes to add interest. In general, large leaves give a tropical look, and small leaves make the garden look larger than it is. Think of harmonious leaf colors as well as flower colors. Leaves aren’t just “green”, but many different colors, ranging from yellow to purple.

step 3: Prepare the Pots

Put a piece of broken terra cotta or a small piece of window screen in the bottom of each pot to keep soil from leaking out the drain hole—and the pots must have drain holes. Add a few inches of  moisture control potting mix to the bottom.

step 4: Plant the Containers

Match each plant to the right-sized container. The container shouldn’t be more than a few inches larger in diameter than the nursery pot. Hold the plant in the container to see where to fill with potting mix. Add enough potting mix so the soil ball will be about 1 inch below the rim of small containers or 2 inches below the rim of large ones.

Knock the plant out of the nursery pot by turning it upside down and tapping the rim on a hard surface to drop the plant into your hand. Set the plant in the container and fill around the sides with potting mix.

step 5: Arrange the Containers

Carry the containers to the new garden area. Arrange them in a way you like, putting larger plants to the rear. They are often most attractive in small groups of 3 to 5 plants. If the surface they are sitting on can get wet, don’t use saucers. Otherwise, place saucers under each to catch the drain water. Prop pots off wooden decks with small blocks of wood or terra cotta feet made for the purpose.

Water the plants thoroughly. The soil will settle some after the first couple of waterings. If necessary, add a little more potting mix to correct the soil level. Keep them watered during dry spells, emptying their saucers after they finish draining, and feed them every two weeks with water soluble all purpose plant food.